Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Films Of Fu Manchu!

The Face of Fu Manchu from 1965 is a movie with a great deal of chutzpah. A top-notch cast works diligently to bring Sax Rohmer's original "Yellow Peril" to the screen and by and large do a pretty snappy job of it under the directorial hand of Don Sharp. 

Fu Manchu himself of course is portrayed by the great Christopher Lee who brings a languorous charm to the master criminal, who in this story is plotting to get hold of a deadly gas which can murder people in the thousands. To that end he kidnaps a talented scientist and later his daughter (Karen Dor) to force his cooperation. The rescue of these two form the motivations for the early part of the story.  He is helped in his schemes by his own sadistic daughter Lin Tang (Tsai Chin).

Opposing Fu Manchu as always is Nayland Smith, played wonderfully by the charismatic Nigel Green. Green is the best Nayland Smith I've ever seen, he is a tall and powerful man who commands the screen and seems every inch the adventurer Smith is supposed to be. This is a guy who I believe can go toe-to-toe with the "Devil Doctor".

Helping Smith is Dr.Petrie, played in full-blown blustery Watson mode by Howard Marion-Crawford. Also along for the ride is Joachim Fuchsberger as the love interest of the kidnapped daughter who is there to be the romantic lead and to lend a hand in the fights. Oddly he seems a bit too old for the role, but offers up an energetic hand nonetheless.

This movie was a joint German-English production and so many of the leads do have a decidedly continental accent. There is a surprising amount of action in this one. Several hand-to-hand fights blast across the screen for long stretches and a few car chases add to the spectacle. The weird is injected into the proceedings by Fu Manchu's elaborate system of drowning his enemies and ejecting their bodies into the Thames River.

Perhaps the highlight of the film is the cold murder of an entire English town, a cold and heartless act which is presented with a strange sterile brutality, but which nonetheless adds to the tension. A weakness is that these horrendous murders seem not to have the psychological weight they require later in the movie.

The finale is fine but not surprisingly leaves the door open for a sequel.

That sequel is titled The Brides of Fu Manchu and hit the big screen the following year in 1966.

The Brides of Fu Manchu picks up the action immediately after the first movie. Don Sharp is on hand again to direct and in fact all the regulars return save for the lead role of Nayland Smith. Nigel Green, as able as he was, is replaced by Douglas Wilmer (not "Wilner" as it says on the posters). Wilmer had played Sherlock Holmes before and this Smith feels a great deal of that kind,  less an adventurer and more a cerebral opponent for the great Fu Manchu.

Chistopher Lee and Tsai Chin return as the villainous pair who this time are kidnapping lots of scientists and also their daughters to build a network of power transmission devices which can effectively deliver a death ray to any point that Fu Manchu seeks to attack.The "Brides" of the title are the beautiful bevy of daughters who are kept tucked away in a remote desert temple as their fathers are forced to do Fu Manchu's bidding.

This is a rouser, but lacks the sense of depth the debut movie had and the grotesque, an essential Fu Manchu element seems a bit wanting. 

There are three more in this series, by different directors. I've yet to see them, but I'm eager to do so.

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  1. I’m a big fan of both these Fu films. I also liked Christopher Lee in Hammer’s Terror Of The Tongs (where he played the evil Chun King – not to be confused with the Chinese canned food of the same name.)

    1. I've never seen that Hammer movie. I'll have to seek it out. Thanks.

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