Monday, February 24, 2020

Christopher Lee in The Brides of Fu Manchu

This sequel to 1965's The Face of Fu Manchu is an unexpected improvement on Christopher Lee's debut as the Sax Rohmer's supervillain. Stylistically, it reminded me of an Avengers episode during the Mrs. Peel era--though it could have benefited from the presence of Steed and Mrs. Peel, of course.

The Brides of Fu Manchu opens with the closing scene of the original film, revealing that the criminal genius and his daughter Lin Tang survived the destruction of their lair. It's not long before Fu Manchu has hatched a new plot to dominate the world circa the 1920s.

His archnemesis Nayland Smith suspects a diabolical plot is afoot when the wives and daughters of the world's leading industrialists and scientists start disappearing. To be precise, eleven women from ten countries have been kidnapped in eighteen months. The women--the "brides" of the title--are being held captive by Fu Manchu so that their fathers or husbands will help him build a energy transmission device capable of destroying entire cities.

Douglas Wilmer as Smith.
As in Sax Rohmer's books, Scotland Yard detective Nayland Smith and his associate, Dr. Petrie, are sort of a poor man's Holmes and Watson. Still, it's entertaining to watch Smith match wits with Fu Manchu. The detective makes the first move by disguising one of his men as one of the girls' fathers. Fu Manchu gets the upper hand later when he sets up a reception antenna as a deception, causing Smith to be in the wrong place--resulting in the deaths of 123 people.

Dressed in elegant silk robes, Christopher Lee makes a menacing figure as the supervillain. Yes, it's easy to criticize the casting of a British actor as an Asian character. However, the reality is that the Fu Manchu movies would never have been made without Lee's star power. Douglas Wilmer co-stars as Nayland Smith, replacing Nigel Green who played the hero in The Face of Fu Manchu. Although Green is a fine actor, Wilmer is an upgrade as he's far more convincing as an intellectual man of action.

Producer Harry Alans Towers wrote the script under the pseudonym Peter Welbeck. His screenplay is also an improvement on the first film, interweaving plot elements such as a pit of poisonous vipers, hypnosis, the Foreign Legion, a chase between a roadster and a biplane, and, yes, the BBC.

Tsai Chin as the evil daughter.
A prolific filmmaker, Towers produced a total of five Fu Manchu movies with Christopher Lee as the diabolical title character and Tsai Chin as his daughter: The Face of Fu Manchu (1965); The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966); The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967); The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968); and The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969). If memory serves, the quality drops off significantly after Brides. Douglas Wilmer returns as Nayland Smith for Vengeance, but is replaced by Richard Greene in the last two entries in the series. (For good measure, Towers produced two movies featuring Shirley Eaton as Sax Rohmer's female villain Sumuru.)

You may recognize some familiar faces in the supporting cast. The aforementioned Tsai Chin is still active today, guest starring in TV series like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. She also appeared in the 1993 hit The Joy Luck Club, one of the few Hollywood films with an all Asian cast. Burt Kwouk, who plays Fu Manchu's No. 1 henchman, is best known for his comedic skills. He played Cato, Inspector Clouseau's valet, in several Pink Panther films.

Here's a clip from The Brides of Fu Manchu, courtesy of our YouTube Channel:



2 comments:

  1. Two Sherlock Holmeses! Why, this is practically literature.

    This sounds like fun and something I should have seen before now.

    ReplyDelete
  2. the movies posted here you can see for free here: www.classicmovies.ro, plus another 3000 classic movies online ...

    ReplyDelete