Wednesday, 8 October 2008

The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968)

The Blood of Fu Manchu was the fourth of the Fu Manchu movies produced by Harry Alan Towers in the 1960s, with Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu. This one and the final film in the series were both directed by Jess Franco and a lot of people will tell you they’re terrible. In the case of The Blood of Fu Manchu at least (I haven’t seen the final film yet) don’t listen to them. This is a Fu Manchu movie. It’s not Citizen Kane. It’s supposed to provide pure entertainment, and it does so.

By the 1960s it was impossible to take the Fu Manchu stories even vaguely seriously. They could only be made to work as movies by treating them as campy comic-book romps, and this was an approach that suited Jess Franco just fine. He used the same approach in The Girl from Rio, made simultaneously with The Blood of Fu Manchu.

The plot, naturally, involves yet another far-fetched plan for world domination. This time a bevy of beautiful young women will be unleashed on Dr Fu Manchu’s enemies, young women infected with a deadly poison that enables them to kill with a kiss. Not surprisingly Fu Manchu’s nemesis Nayland Smith is at the top of the list. Smith is blinded by the poison but survives, and he and the faithful Dr Petrie set off for South America which has, oddly enough, been chosen by the evil doctor as his base of operations. Since we’re in South America, we have to have bandits. It’s not entirely clear whose side they’re on, but bandits are always fun. And the bandit chieftain Sancho Lopez, played with insane glee by Ricardo Palacios, is one of the highlights of the movie. There’s also a dashing and terribly brave young archaeologist who looks like an early version of Indiana Jones. I don’t know why he’s there, but he’s fun as well.

Franco keeps the pacing as frantic as possible, which helps when you have a plot that you really don’t want the viewer to have time to think too much about! Richard Greene is a rather subdued Nayland Smith, but Howard Marion-Crawford’s outrageous over-acting as Dr Petrie more than compensates for this. Christopher Lee plays Fu Manchu as a dignified aristocrat, and his restrained performance works well. Lee believes in trying to stay as close as possible to the literary source material and I’m sure that’s what he was trying to do here, with some success. Tsai Chin is, as always, deliciously cruel and villainous as Fu Manchu’s beautiful but evil daughter Lin Tang. The Brazilian locations don’t entirely fit the mood of the Fu Manchu stories but they look pretty.

Blue Underground’s DVD release looks simply gorgeous. The pint is crystal clear and the colours are outrageously bright, giving the movie a fun pop art look. The extras include interviews with Harry Alan Towers, Jess Franco (always a wonderful interview subject), Christopher Lee and Tsai Chin. It’s Tsai Chin who is the real treat. She’s a charming, intelligent and very funny lady. She talks frankly of her reservations about the inherent racism of the Fu Manchu stories, but it’s also clear that she threw herself into the part with enthusiasm and had a good deal of fun with it. She also talks of her disappointment at Towers’ refusal to allow her to play Lin Tang as a raging nymphomaniac, which she feels (quite correctly I’m sure) would have added considerably to the fun. The Blood of Fu Manchu is no masterpiece, and it’s definitely a minor Franco film, but if you accept it on its own terms as very much a B-movie then it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

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