Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Shadow of the Hand of the Daughter of the Mask of the Bride of the President of the Insidious of the Return of Fu Manchu (Reentered)

I first became fascinated with Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu in the 1990s when I began listening to old-time radio through my family's satellite dish, which is where I first discovered Yesterday USA. At one time, one of the network's regular shows was airing episodes of the radio serial Shadow of Fu Manchu in sequential order every two weeks and I became fascinated by the program. Despite the racist reputation Fu Manchu holds, I found the serial to be an outstanding thriller with great cliffhangers.
Image from The Page of Fu Manchu

My father would sometimes pause at the desk of his home office and listen to some of the program. I was surprised to learn he had a fair bit of knowledge about Fu Manchu and eventually he gifted me with his collection of Fu Manchu paperback novels: nine of the original thirteen books (plus two other Rohmer novels he owned). It means a lot to receive something personal of my father's, even if they were a bunch of paperbacks most would consider "trashy" literature. I read most of them during my first year of college and eventually obtained the four novels my father hadn't owned.

The Shadow of Fu Manchu exists in the public domain like most radio programs and at one point I bought a CD containing the entire series. Or should that be "entire" series? When I first heard the show on Yesterday USA it was a series of 40 episodes and that 40th program was the first chapter of a new adventure. Yet, that seemed to be all that still existed. Those 40 shows were the same ones I found on my disc. For that reason, I didn't look any further.

Imagine my surprise in recent weeks when I discovered there were actually dozens of other Shadow of Fu Manchu episodes still in existence! Rather than 40 episodes, the series lasted 156 and there seem to be 85 still around. The first 40 had received a lot of circulation because their sequence was intact, but I'm quite happy to have these shows!

The odd thing about The Shadow of Fu Manchu is that while it adapted many of Rohmer's Fu Manchu novels, it didn't follow the order exactly. After adapting the first novel (The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu) it moved to the third (The Hand of Fu Manchu), then the second (The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu), followed by the fourth (The Daughter of Fu Manchu) and fifth (The Mask of Fu Manchu), then skipping into an amalgam of the eighth and ninth novels (President Fu Manchu & The Drums of Fu Manchu) then concluding with the sixth novel (The Bride of Fu Manchu).

Although the adaptations are reasonably faithful, they do attempt to keep the cast of characters a little more solid than Rohmer. In the books, Rohmer phased out Dr. Petrie gradually, beginning with Daughter, then retiring him completely in Trail as the principal hero, Nayland Smith, would be paired with other sidekicks starting with Daughter. Although the radio version includes the new sidekicks, they keep Petrie around and in a larger role than the original stories; his presence is particularly notable in the Drums/President mash-up, two novels he didn't appear in. Inspector Weymouth, one of the earliest allies of Smith, is also continually brought back in, whereas Rohmer let him drift out early on.

Smith's sidekicks were also squeezed together. The Drums/President mash-up includes President's sidekick Mark Hepburn eliminated, with only Drums' sidekick Bart Kerrigan retained. Smith's sidekicks don't seem to be well-known, given that I see several radio logs for Shadow of Fu Manchu refer to Smith's Daughter & Mask sidekick Shan Greville as "Grebble." I have to say, The Mask of Fu Manchu adaptation is mostly intact and done very well - the actor playing Shan was a familiar voice (one I can't seem to find a credit for on any of the shows I've heard him in) and Shan was always my favourite sidekick after Petrie.

Because of the way in which the serials follow on the heels of one another, rather than being separated by years as when Rohmer wrote them (the books span many decades, in fact), this led the series to adopt a very unimpressive ad-hoc solution to who Fu Manchu's "Bride" Fleurette in the final story is. In the novels, she's the daughter of Petrie & Kâramanèh, but because of the condensed timeline, on the radio she's Kâramanèh's long-lost sister, which, given that earlier in the series they told the saga of Kâramanèh's hard-luck brother Aziz, it seems like giving Kâramanèh yet another sibling in Fu Manchu's power is drawing from the same well.

No matter how many times I think I've heard everything worth hearing in old-time radio, I'm still pleasantly surprised to unearth other wonderful old shows. Discovering I'd been missing out on more than 40 episodes of a favourite series of mine is especially heartening! What else is still waiting for me to encounter it?

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