The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966)
Country: United Kingdon / West Germany
Director: Don Sharp
Starring: Christopher Lee, Douglas Wilmer, Tsai Chin, Heinz Drache, Howard Marion-Crawford, Roger Hanin, Rupert Davies, Kenneth Fortescue, Joseph Furst, Burt Kwouk, Eric Young
Music: Bruce Montgomery
Based on characters created by Sax Rohmer

Following on from yesterday’s Circus of Fear, The Brides of Fu Manchu is another Harry Alan Towers written and produced film project. It also features Christopher Lee and Heinz Drache who had appeared in Circus of Fear.

The Brides of Fu Manchu is the second in Towers pulp period adventure series featuring Christopher Lee as Sax Rohmer’s indestructible Asian supervillain, Fu Manchu.

Here’s a description of Fu Manchu from the back of the Corgi Crime Paperback, The Mask of Fu Manchu (1967) – apologies for the racist tone:

Imagine a person, tall, lean, and feline; high-shouldered with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan: a close shaven skull and long magnetic eyes of the true cat green.

Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant interllect. With all the resources of science, past and present; with all the resources of a wealthy government – which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence.

Imagine that malevolent being, and you have a mental picture of the yellow peril incarnate in one man – FU MANCHU.

The film opens with a trio of Fu Manchu’s black clothed minions leading French Professor Merlin (Rupert Davies), who is blindfolded, through a series of caves and then into a large underground chamber. Once inside, his blindfold is removed. He appears to be some Egyptian temple decorated with deities and Hieroglyphs. Down each side of the temple run rows of massive stone pillars, and chained to each of these pillars is a beautiful girl. As Merlin is lead through the temple towards an alter at the front, he recognises one of the captive girls as his own daughter Michelle.

At that moment, Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee) and his Daughter, Lin Tang (Tsai Chin) enter the chamber. It is revealed that Professor Merlin is an expert in radio transmission, and Fu Manchu demands that the Professor works on a special project for him. Merlin’s response is simple and to the point: ‘Go to Hell!’

Then Lin Tang has Michelle freed from her shackles and brought before her. It appears that over the duration of her captivity, Michelle has been brainwashed. Lin Tan gives her a knife. First she is told to hold it at her Father’s throat, which she does. Realising that Fu Manchu needs his expertise, Merlin calls Fu Manchu’s bluff and suggests that he cannot be killed. Fu Manchu agrees and adopts another strategy to coerce the Professor. One of the other captive women is unchained from a pillar and brought to a giant stone tablet. To two metal rings embedded in the tablet the girl is tied by her hair. Then, a sliding stone trapdoor is released under the tablet and beneath is a pit of venomous snakes.

Fu Manchu then gives Michelle the order — not to kill the girl — but simply to cut her ‘free’. Michelle obeys and the other girl falls to her death in the pit of snakes.

Professor Merlin is told that unless he co-operates, Michelle will be brought out of her hypnotic trance and made to face the consequences of her murderous act.

Meanwhile in London, Dennis Nayland Smith (Douglas Wilmer) is trying to unravel the mystery of the disappearance of the wives and daughters of many of the world’s leading industrialists and scientists. So far eleven women have been abducted in the last eighteen months – and from ten different countries.

Strolling casually along the Thames is Research Chemist Hans Baumer (Heinz Drache) with his lovely companion Marie Lentz (Marie Versini). Suddenly, a team of Fu Manchu’s Dacoits attack, attempting to kidnap Baumer. However Baumer is pretty good with his fists and fights off the attack.

As the information on the attack is relayed to Nayland Smith, later, do they realise that the Dacoits weren’t after Baumer at all, but after Marie, who is the daughter of Hydro-electric specialist Otto Lenz. Marie works in a hospital, and a second team of Dacoits arrive to kidnap her while she is on duty. Thankfully, Nayland Smith arrives just in the nick of time to fight of the kidnappers.

Nayland Smith suspects Fu Manchu is behind the abduction and attempts to find a lead. Unfortunately, his only lead is Marie, and finally Fu Manchu’s minions manage to kidnap her on their third attempt. But Baumer has a plan. If Fu Manchu has been using these girls to coerce the scientists and industrialists to do Fu Manchu’s work, that it would follow suit, that Marie’s kidnapping would work in the same way. So Baumer impersonates, Otto Lentz so he can infiltrate Fu Manchu’s organisation.

Also working on the case is a French inspector, Pierre Grimaldi played by Roger Hanin who helps Nayland Smith put together the pieces of Fu Manchu’s scheme which uses radio waves as a method of carrying large amounts of energy, which can be used for destructive purposes. And that is just what Fu Manchu has in mind. His plan starts with the destruction of the Windsor Castle and ends with total world domination.

Fu Manchu’s radio transmitter tower, in the way it looks and operates bears more than a passing resemblance to the solar dish in The Man With the Golden Gun, which also starred Christopher Lee although made eight years later.

This is not the only bit of amusing co-incidental casting in the film. Douglas Wilmer is something of a mystery to me. Apart from his two stints as Nayland Smith (in this, and the next film, The Vengeance of Fu Manchu), I cannot recall seeing him in any other production. However, I have seen numerous stills of him as Sherlock Holmes from the BBC television production from the 1960s – prior to Peter Cushing taking over the role. Juxtaposed next to that, in this film as Nayland Smith’s offsider, Dr. Petrie, we have actor Howard Marion-Crawford who at one time played Dr. Watson in Sheldon Reynold’s Sherlock Holmes television series. So in Brides of Fu Manchu, we have Holmes and Watson after the villainous Fu Manchu. Now I am not trying to link the Sherlock Holmes stories to the Fu Manchu stories — although I am sure that if copyrights permit, then some well-read and enterprising intertextual author has already married to two characters in a novel — but I find the parallels in the careers of many English actors and the characters they play to be very fascinating in the way they over lap. Don’t get me started on Christopher Lee’s connections with Sherlock Holmes or this review will go on forever!

The Fu Manchu films are perfect examples of the law of diminishing returns. I found the first film, The Face of Fu Manchu to be quite a good little adventure. This film is a small step down from the earlier outing but is still very entertaining, but each instalment is weaker than the previous outing, and after the third film, the piss-poor plots and shoe-string budgets were below acceptable standard and the films have little to recommend them beyond the presence of Christopher Lee.

SPY CONNECTIONS:

Christopher Lee – played Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun
Tsai Chin
– appeared in the pretitle sequence in You Only Live Twice
Burt Kwouk
– appeared in Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, and Bullet to Beijing
Roger Hanin
– appeared in many Eurospy productions
Harry Alan Towers
– produced Bullet to Beijing and Midnight in St Petersberg
Joseph Furst
– played Dr. Metz in Diamonds Are Forever
Eric Young
– appeared in The Chairman

More evil tales featuring the Devil Doctor:
The Face Of Fu Manchu (1965)
The Vengeance Of Fu Manchu (1967)
The Castle Of Fu Manchu (1969)

Or the similarly themed (although without Fu Manchu), Hammer’s Terror Of The Tongs (1961)

2 Comments Posted in Film and Cinema
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2 Comments

  1. Great review, David–and intriguing speculations about Holmes and Fu Manchu. As I'm sure you know, Alan Moore crossed these universes together (if not necessarily their main characters)in the first volume of his comic book The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. (Though the devil doctor himself could not be named due to copyright issues.) But beyond that, Alan Barnes makes a wholy credible case in his indispensible book SHERLOCK HOLMES ON SCREEN for the Steven Spielberg produced, Chris Columbus-written, Barry Levinson-directed Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) being a Fu Manchu story in disguise:

    "Many commentators have remarked on the similarities between Young Sherlock Holmes and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom … in which Harrison Ford's adventurer-archaelologist uncovers a homicidal band of Thuggees at work in 1930s India. Althought it's entirely true to say that the 'pyramid' sequences in Young Sherlock Holmes … are near shot-for-shot identical to Temple of Doom scenes … it's a little disingenuous to suggest, as some have, that one is simply a more child-friendly remake of the other – certainly when one considers alternative sources for Young Sherlock Holmes

    "The blowpipe-wielding assassin might be said to derive from Tonga in THE SIGN OF THE FOUR, were it not for the fact taht such a character would be equally at home in the Fu Manchu stories of Sax Rohmer, in which a foreign malefactor establishes himself as a kingpin among the immigrant workforce of a fogbound olde London; in which exotic poisons, such as 'the Zayat Kiss,' cause mysterious deaths in locked rooms; in which the villain builds himself a base of operations among the creaking wharves of the eastern Thames; in which hordes of obsessive devotees of the villain menace the dogged detective on the trail of their overlord, his eternal, seemingly indestructible, adversary [all of which happens in Young Sherlock]… Put bluntly, Columbus' screenplay is an elegant and reasonably expert pastiche of another series of early 20th century British thrillers entirely – a series so removed in concept, style, intended effect and intellectual weight as to be anathema to Doyle's Holmes."

    I recently rewatched Young Sherlock Holmes… and he's got a good point! It does, in many ways, have more to do with Fu than with Holmes.

  2. Thanks Tanner. I had never considered a connection between Young Sherlock Holmes and Fu Manchu – I think you've just selected the film I am going to watch tonight.

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