Face of Fu Manchu, The (1965)
Release Date: October 24th, 1965 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Don Sharp Actors: Christopher Lee, Nigel Green, Joachim Fuchsberger, Karin Dor, James Robertson Justice, Tsai Chin, Walter Rilla, Poulet Tu
n Imperial China, a ceremony is assembled for the public execution of Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee), a man whose crimes are almost without number. He’s brought before a burly swordsman and prostrated near a wicker basket for a swift beheading. Once the deed is done, the rain starts to pour and the courtyard is abandoned, leaving the limp body to soak in the storm.
Back in London, a sudden increase in drug crimes and gang killings involving Asian thugs boosts a European crimewave that puts Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Nayland Smith (Nigel Green) at unease. Although he hasn’t heard the name Fu Manchu spoken about for months, somehow, it’s as if that executed murderer was still manipulating the criminal underworld. When biochemist Professor Muller (Walter Rilla) and his driver are attacked while snooping around a churchyard, the scientist goes missing and the servant turns up dead, strangled by what appears to be a Tibetan prayer scarf – the weapon of choice for Burmese assassins trained by Fu Manchu. When Smith investigates Muller’s suspicious assistant Carl Jannsen (Joachim Fuchsberger), he discovers that Muller’s daughter Maria (Karin Dor) knows something about her father’s disappearance and of Fu Manchu’s interest in his work – involving experimentation with the Black Hill Poppy (or the legendary Seed of Life), supposedly capable of granting everlasting life. Instead, Muller created a chemical that could kill millions, which the ruthless madman wishes to exploit (turning out to resemble a plot from a James Bond movie, especially with the exotic locales and world domination scheme).
Smith, with his partner Dr. Petrie (Howard Marion Crawford), possess a distinct likeness to Sherlock Holmes and Watson. “Very well. I’ll tell you,” volunteers Smith, when quizzical expressions prompt answers beyond the minds of average bystanders (or audiences, for that matter). Mysteries only last a few seconds before the inspector divulges who, what, and where. Fortunately, to supplement the straightforward sleuthing are random fistfights, shady characters (including the daughter of Fu Manchu, played by Tsai Chin), black magic hypnotism, torture (of the semi-erotic kind, involving girl-on-girl whipping, before that gives way to an ineffectively complex drowning death), rivalries, and amusingly unsubtle museum vault infiltration (Ling disguises herself as an elderly lady in a wheelchair, but interrupts the frame so often that it would seem the filmmakers believe viewers will forget her involvement).
To its credit, “The Face of Fu Manchu” approaches everything with the utmost seriousness, which endows the hokey fantasy scenario with a certain gravity. And Christopher Lee’s role, devoid of all emotion or facial conveyance, and sporting a towering, spindly frame, is appropriately sinister. Unintentionally hilarious is Janssen’s skill with physical fighting; not only does he engage in hand-to-hand combat, he dives through windows, escapes assassination attempts, and swings from pulley systems like Tarzan crossed with Indiana Jones. This is all quite unexpected for a lab technician. With its substandard budget, the film lacks the special effects necessary to allow Fu Manchu to actually use his purported sorcery, though there’s still attention to car chases, explosions, aerial bombers, underground dungeons, and fight choreography – which sees nearly every glass bottle and beaker dramatically smashed in an early ambush scene.
– Mike Massie