Movie Diary 4/30/2018

The Face of Fu Manchu (Don Sharp, 1965) and The Brides of Fu Manchu (Don Sharp, 1966). The first was broadcast in a pretty good widescreen print on Talking Pictures TV; the latter a beat-up print on the Horror Channel. I’m not sure what kind of horror completism fuels my interest in this kind of thing, but I needed to see them (no recollection of whether these two, or any of the other Christopher Lee Fu Manchu pictures, ever showed on KIRO-TV’s “Nightmare Theatre” back in the day). The series was the result of producer Harry Alan Towers signing Lee to a six-picture deal, with the Sax Rohmer supervillain as the subject. Obviously Lee is doing a yellowface routine, but you’ve got to give him credit for devising an approach to the character and sustaining it – he’s all limited motion and fastidious gestures, with a deft way of flicking a wrist. Face is wise to keep him offscreen for long stretches, thus maximizing his impact. Nigel Green does nicely as Fu Manchu’s pursuer, Nayland Smith, and Karin Dor (soon to have her moment in You Only Live Twice and Topaz) is the female lead. Unless you consider the female lead Fu Manchu’s daughter, Lin Tang, given pleasingly lethal life by Tsai Lin (who is still working), which maybe you should. The film is handsome, and the plot has a secret substance that will kill London if Fu Manchu can poison the water supply. The opening sequence, an execution in China, would have gone over great in a “Nightmare Theatre” broadcast.

faceoffumanchu

Brides is a bogus title, although admittedly the evil madman has captured and enslaved a group of young women. The story steals as much as it can from the first movie, right down to certain plot beats, but the budget is much lower and the energy level not exactly spirited. Lee and Tsai Lin return to give good value, but Green is missed. Another good “Nightmare Theatre” opening grabber, involving a pit of snakes and the cutting of hair.

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