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Face of Fu Manchu, The (1965)


Main image of Face of Fu Manchu, The (1965)
DirectorDon Sharp
Production CompanyHallam Productions Ltd.
ProducerHarry Alan Towers
ScreenplayPeter Welbeck
Original charactersSax Rohmer
Director of PhotographyErnest Steward
MusicChristopher Whelen

Cast: Christopher Lee (Fu Manchu), Nigel Green (Nayland Smith), Joachim Fuchsberger (Carl Jannsen), Karin Dor (Maria Muller), James Robertson Justice (Sir Charles), Howard Crawford (Dr. Petrie)

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Sir Denis Nayland Smith thwarts the attempts by the evil Dr Fu Manchu to obtain world domination through the use of a deadly poison made from a Tibetan flower.

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When, ten minutes into The Face of Fu Manchu (d. Don Sharp, 1965), the hero's sidekick exclaims "Not the Yellow Peril again!", he signals the return to feature films of Sax Rohmer's eponymous super-villain after an absence of thirty years.

Although he last appeared in a novel in 1959, the character's last movie appearance had been in 1932, when played by Boris Karloff. As Christopher Lee had already taken the Karloff roles in a couple of Hammer remakes, he was the logical choice to bring back Fu Manchu.

In resurrecting the series, writer and producer Harry Alan Towers wisely opted to set the story in Edwardian England, the time of the stories' greatest success, while clearly being inspired by the recent popularity of the James Bond films. The title character in Dr. No (d. Terence Young, 1962) was distinctly Fu Manchu-like, so Towers' script (written under his Peter Welbeck pseudonym) went straight to the source.

Handled with customary gusto and panache by director Don Sharp, the film eventually resolves itself into a succession of set pieces. Action packed scenes, including shoot outs, fisticuffs and narrow escapes on horseback and boats, alternate with such deliberately slow-paced sequences as the eerily silent execution which opens the film and the discovery of the devastated town of Fleetwick with its thousands of murdered inhabitants. The film also recalls the elaborate assassination methods, secret passages and underground lairs that were typical of Rohmer's contemporary Edgar Wallace, who inspired the then popular series of Krimi films in Germany. This connection is further emphasised by the presence of Joachim Fuchsberger (playing Carl Jannsen), who had already appeared in nearly a dozen Krimi films.

The film was shot on location in Ireland and the abandoned Kilmainham Jail doubles as the Tibetan monastery in the climax and the Chinese prison seen in the opening sequence.

Nigel Green is brilliant as Fu Manchu's nemesis Nayland Smith, an equally driven and self-centred character who isn't so much the heroic alter ego of the villain as another cold-blooded fascist, albeit with a slightly different set of priorities. The character could have easily been played by Peter Cushing in his Van Helsing mode, but Green's flamboyant and macho interpretation is entirely his own, something that was sorely missed in Christopher Lee's four inferior Fu Manchu sequels, in which Smith was played first by Douglas Wilmer and later by Richard Greene.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Execution (3:16)
2. Water torture (3:29)
3. Air attack (2:08)
4. Fatal demonstration (3:00)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu, The (1923)
Justice, James Robertson (1905-1975)
Lee, Christopher (1922-)
British-Chinese Cinema