Europe ,  1968
Directed by Jess Franco.
I can't believe I watched the whole thing. The fifth and last Christoper Lee Fu Manchu film, driving the final nail into the series coffin, although it felt more like it was being driven through my skull.
You know you're in trouble when the first ten minutes of a film is stock footage, especially if some of it is from a previous film in the same series, absolutely if that footage from a previous film is being pawned off as new footage. And that is the case here. We watch, perhaps in horror, as footage of Burt Kwouk and Christopher Lee in The Brides of Fu Manchu opens the film. The footage shows them powering up their energy weapon. But a voice over here tells us that in fact it is a new weapon, one which can cause icebergs to form in the water and sink ships. Ripped right from the pages of Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, the story this time concerns a chemical that can turn the world's oceans into ice. And of course, Fu has captured a scientist who knows how to do it. Only trouble is, the scientist's ticker isn't up to the task. So the nefarious Fu Manchu cooks up a plot to kidnap a doctor, and force him to give the scientist a new, better heart. How evil!
This time, Fu and his minions have set up shop in a castle in Istanbul. He kidnaps a doctor, and also the doctor's assistant (that's right, NOT his daughter), Ingrid (Maria Rohm). He tells the doctor to perform the heart surgery, but he refuses, so Fu demonstrates his awesome power by showing some stock footage of a dam breaking and people getting killed. The doctor does as he is told.
But Fu Manchu made a slight miscalculation in his plans for world domination, by choosing to set up shop in Istanbul. While there, he crosses the local crime boss Omar Pasha, and captures Omar's right hand man, er, woman (Rosalba Neri). Omar storms the castle, but is unsuccessful in his attempt to kill Fu Manchu. On the other hand, he gives Nayland Smith the distraction he needed to come to the rescue. Everyone runs around like mad in the catacombs beneath the castle, then everything explodes for no apparent reason, and the film stumbles to a close.
Filmed on location in Istanbul and in Spain, it is obvious that while most of the cast rushes around Turkey, Christopher Lee sat on his ass in Spain, a real one-set wonder. This has led to speculation that Lee didn't in fact know what dreck he was getting into. But I doubt it. In fact, in interviews with Lee he has a great amount of respect for Jess Franco, and worked with him on several other occasions. He felt that Franco was able to show a certain amount of artistry and style when given complete crap to work with on a short time schedule with a small budget. Perhaps Lee could see a bit of himself in Franco's work, since he too often took parts and tried to make the best out of them when all around him was in shambles.
The film includes a lot of Jess Franco trademarks: long takes, quick zooms, intolerable padding, bad sound dubbing. One scene, in which the doctor and his assistant are transported in coffins from London to Fu Manchu's castle in Instanbul, plays for what seems like hours. First, the ship arrives in Istanbul. Then, they unload the coffins. Then they are carried to a cemetary. Then, etc. etc. etc. When the doctor and his assistant get out of their coffins, I was reminded of another series of films which Christopher Lee performed in that got worse and worse as time went on: the Hammer Studios Dracula pictures. If only he made a picture where Fu Manchu was bitten by a vampire, and became the undead yellow peril. Perhaps Nayland Smith could team up with Van Helsing. I thought about this alot instead of watching the picture, it gave me something more interesting to do.
In the final analysis, producer Harry Alan Towers was able to eke out another Fu Manchu picture on a small budget by employing Jess Franco as the director, and getting stock footage where necessary to pad out the run time. But when the final result is in, one has to ask: why bother? Apparently no one had a good answer for that, and so this was the last of the Fu Manchu pictures to star Christopher Lee. It has since run as an episode of the series Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is right where it truly belongs.
Anyway, perhaps the time for Fu Manchu was no longer right in 1968. Witness this final message, appended to the bottom of the credits:
"Dr. Fu Manchu is based on a mythical and literary character and presented to you as fictional entertainment and not intended to reflect adversly on any race, creed, or national origin."
Oh, great. NOW they tell us.
Posted by Peter Nepstad on April 19, 2004.