THE FACE OF FU MANCHU (1965)
Written by Peter Welbeck (Harry Alan Towers) Directed by Don Sharp
Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee), assisted by his devoted daughter Lin Tang (Tsai Chin), kidnaps Prof. Muller (Walter Rilla) and his daughter Maria (Karin Dor), forcing him to finish his development of an invisible, fast-acting poison gas, lethal enough to destroy entire populations in minutes. The only man standing in his way is Commissioner Nayland Smith (Nigel Green) of Scotland Yard. With an unforgetable opening sequence in which the title character is executed, this first of five Fu films produced and written by Harry Alan Towers is the best, with good production values, a late 20’s/early 30’s period atmosphere, and most importantly, a genuine feeling of pulp adventure. Though an attempt was made to link this film with the Bond series, mostly in its advertising (the fantastic poster is by Mitchell Hooks, who created the ads for the first Bond films), the story is played straight. Lee is perfect as the diabolical Fu; Green, an actor who doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his wide range and reliability as hero (ZULU), villain (DEADLIER THAN THE MALE), or character (Little John, Hercules), is the very image of upright British heroism, while Howard Marion-Crawford doesn’t lay on the Nigel Bruce-ness too thickly as Dr. Petrie. Solid support comes from Joachim Fuchsberger as Prof. Muller’s two-fisted assistant, Chin as Fu’s sadistic daughter (I highly recommend her autobiography, by the way), Harry Brogan as an absent-minded professor, while Dor is given more action scenes than most heroines of the era, even resourcefully causing the final showdown between Fu and Smith. My only quibble - a minor one - is that Smith has lost the first part of his name (he’s Sir Denis Nayland-Smith in the books) and Fu has lost his “Dr.” Don Sharp’s direction is what one expects from this genre veteran, fast and clear, and Christopher Whelan provides an effective score that is more James Bernard than John Barry. The series declined with each succedeeding film, the final one looking cheap and making little sense, but one should be gratefuil that this entertaining example of solid 60’s action/adventure has been buffed up by Warner Archives with a lovely widescreen DVD release.
- Robert Deveau