Monday, February 12, 2018

The Blood of Fu Manchu (Jess Franco, 1968)

The insidious Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee) has his dacoits kidnap ten beautiful women from around the world, and expose them to the bite of the black cobra, which gives them the "kiss of death," causing first blindness and then, as the name indicates, death. He plans to have the women use the kiss on ten influential men around the world, his enemies. Assisting Fu in his efforts is his equally evil daughter Lin Tang (You Only Live Twice's Tsai Chin). An archaeological expedition lead by Carl Jansen (Götz George of the long-running German cop show Tatort) and Professor Wagner (whose actor is sadly unidentified on IMDB). The dacoits open fire on the explorers; Wagner is killed, and Jansen barely escapes. In London, we learn that Jansen was searching for Fu Manchu at the behest of the latter's archenemy, Nayland Smith (The Adventures of Robin Hood's Richard Greene), who is visited by his sidekick Dr. Petrie (Howard Marion-Crawford, the grandson of author F. Marion Crawford). Unfortunately, also dropping in is one of Fu's assassins, Celeste (The Blue Max's Loni von Friedl), who gives Smith the kiss of death before fleeing, only to be hit by a car. Meanwhile, Jansen comes to the mansion of the Governor of Santa Cristabel, saying he needs to arrange passage to Mealia to inform Professor Wagner's niece Ursula of what has happened, but the Governor instead arrests him for his colleague's murder. Fu Manchu suspects bandit leader Sancho Lopez (Spaghetti Western standby Ricardo Palacios) of being a spy for Nayland Smith, and has him captured when his men raid Mealia shortly after an encounter with Ursula, (Franco regular Maria Rohm), a doctor for the local mission service.

Jess Franco is a director whose films run the gamut from really good to blisteringly bad, and this film falls firmly in the middle. The fourth film in a series produced by Harry Alan Towers (Maria Rohm's husband, not coincidentally), and the first of two directed by Franco, this is an entertaining but never above-average film. Based on Sax Rohmer's novel series, this film is likely to disappoint some ardent Fu Manchu fans such as myself. For one thing, Dr. Petrie, the narrator of the early novels, is changed from a basically competent and robust individual into a doddering jackass who seems more concerned about his damn tea than fighting the Devil Doctor. Also, he's apparently in a relationship with an unseen bleach-blonde, so no hint of the literary Petrie's beloved Kâramanèh. Also, Fu Manchu's daughter, known by the childhood nickname of Fah Lo Suee in the novels (as well as such aliases as Madame Ingomar, Koreani, and Queen Mamaloi) has had her name changed for this series, just as the 1931 film Daughter of the Dragon gave the name of Princess Ling Moy to Fu's daughter played by Anna May Wong. (For the record, Fu himself was played by erstwhile CharlieChan Warner Oland.) Fu's organization is never referred to as the Si-Fan, and he doesn't have his faithful marmoset Pekoe. As so many book covers and films have done, Fu is given a mustache despite Rohmer explicitly desribing him as clean-shaven. Even so, if you're not a purist, it can be pretty enjoyable. Or not, depending on how you feel about white actors such as the legendary Christopher Lee playing a Chinese man. Of course, Lee and Oland were not the only white men to play the Lord of Strange Deaths; as recently as 2007, Nicolas Cage played Fu Manchu in a memorable cameo in Rob Zombie's faux movie trailer Werewolf Women of the S.S. as part of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's film Grindhouse. And at least Fu's daughter is played by an actual Chinese woman. Lee is as awesomely sinister as always, and as with the other films of the series he appears in an isolated shot declaring "the world shall hear from me again." There's also some beautiful scenery in the form of the Brazilian jungle used to stand in for Santa Cristabel. There are also plenty of lovely ladies in the film, some of whom provide a bit of frontal and rear nudity. Shirley Eaton appears in a scene lifted from the Franco/Towers collaboration Rio 70, used without consulting Ms. Eaton herself. (Ol' Jess was not above reusing scenes or character names from his other films, as Francophile well know.) This film had no less then three alternate titles in the U.S.: Against All OddsKiss and Kill, and Kiss of Death. Personally, I prefer the original title, as Rohmer always included Fu's name in the title of the books. I do have to say, it's weird that Fu Manchu thinks Nayland Smith would employ a murderous rapist like Sancho Lopez as a spy, but needless to say he's proven wrong. Fu has a group of female scientists working for him, but they sadly only show up for one scene. Of the two Fu Manchu films Franco directed, I'll take this over the oft-incomprehensible The Castle of Fu Manchu anyday. Check it out on Amazon Prime.

As a Sherlock Holmes fanatic as well as a Fu Manchu one, I have to note that three of the main actors in this film have appeared in adaptations of the Great Detective. Considering Sir Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie were essentially Rohmer's versions of Holmes and Watson, this seems pretty appropriate to me. Christopher Lee played Sir Henry Baskerville in Hammer's 1959 version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes himself in the 1962 West German-French-Italian co-production, and the 1992 TV movie Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady, and Sherlock's brother Mycroft in Billy Wilder's 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Richard Greene played the aforementioned Sir Henry Baskerville in the 1939 version of Hound starring Basil Rathbone, and Lord Brompton in "The Case of The Purloined Letter," a 1979 episode of the television series Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. Interestingly, Greene took over the role of Nayland Smith in the last two films of the series from Douglas Wilmer, who played Holmes in a 1964-1965 TV series and The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother, as well as having a cameo in "The Reichenbach Fall" episode of Sherlock. Howard Marion-Crawford played the Dr. Watson to Ronald Howard's Holmes in the 1954-1955 TV series Sherlock Holmes.

1 comment:

Derrick Ferguson said...

1932's "The Mask of Fu Manchu" with Boris Karloff as Fu and Myrna Loy as Fah Lo Suee is my favorite of all the Fu Manchu movies. The Christopher Lee are fun to watch (when is anything with Mr. Lee not fun to watch?) and probably to be watched by those who haven't read the books as I think the 1960s movies were a half-baked attempted to cash in on the spy craze but with a villain as protagonist. Still, they're entertaining time-wasters. Turner Classic Movies are good enough to run a marathon of all the Christopher Lee movies, usually during the summertime on a Saturday afternoon.