The Face of Fu Manchu (1965)

Christopher Lee stars in this interesting but uncertain film from Harry Alan Towers and directed by Don Sharp. Kinowelt German R2 boxset.

The Film

Producer Harry Alan Towers had made his break from television to cinema in the early 1960s when he filmed Edgar Wallace's Coast of Skeletons (1962), and by the middle of the decade, was looking for a bigger budget project to work on, in association with the big German company Constantin Film. A fan of pulp literature, Towers chose the Fu Manchu stories of British writer Sax Rohmer to adapt to the screen. They had been the subject of several adapations including Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) starring Boris Karloff, and Drums of Fu Manchu (1940) a popular 15 part serial, but had lain dormant for 25 years.

Somewhere in the Far East, the British official Nayland Smith (Nigel Green) is witness to the execution of Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee), a man who has committed crimes almost without number. A few years later, Smith is stationed in London when he becomes aware of a new wave of crime, and becomes convinced that Fu Manchu is still alive and behind it all. Later, a bio-chemical expert Hans Muller is kidnapped and his driver is found dead with the trademark symbol of Fu Manchu by his side. Smith contacts Muller's daughter Maria (Karin Dor) and his personal assistant Karl Janssen, and they begin to track down Fu Manchu and discover the depths of his horrific plan....

In keeping with Sax Rohmer's original tone, the film exists somewhere inbetween Sherlock Holmes and James Bond in terms of action and pacing. Thus while we get plenty of Holmsian deduction and investigation, we also get some action scenes that help to keep the film moving. Not based on any of the novels in particular, the storyline, written by Towers himself, is rather typical of the Rohmer novels, with the Devil Doctor devising a fiendish plan to get his way and being chased throughout by the dogged Nayland Smith and his assistant Dr. Petrie. Fortunately the script, avoids many of the potential clichés - there could have been a lengthy time when Smith himself did not believe that Fu Manchu was behind the crime wave, and the film could have tried to keep the audience in the dark - but any viewer would be instantly aware of what was going on, so the script quickly skips past these scenes. Nayland Smith is well written - certainly not infallable, he often gets caught out by his opponent and this helps to build some effective tension.

Unfortunately, the film doesn't delve very deeply into the detail of this title character and notably, while James Bond writer Ian Fleming had been inspired by Sax Rohmer, Face of Fu Manchu was in turn clearly inspired by the early James Bond films leading to Fu Manchu becoming rather like a Bond Villain - Rohmer's stories introduced such ideas as an elixir of life that the villian needed to stay alive, and his rejection of conventional murder methods (prefering elaborate deaths over simple gunplay), creating a horror atmosphere that the film largely fails to capture, with Fu Manchu not above using guns and explosives to get his way (although this does make for some strong action scenes). Equally his seemingly world dominating ambitions he has here seem rather too much for this supposedly secret society, and we never actually find out what he hoped to achieve with it.
Australian born director Don Sharp had estabilshed himself with the well made Kiss of the Vampire (1963) and Devil-Ship Pirates (1964) for Hammer films, and proved himself effectively here in his first film for Towers. Largely filmed in Ireland, the production manages to create a good 1920s atmosphere with some good looking sets and costumes, despite the low budget, and there are some very effectively eerie sequences. The soundtrack is rather minimal, and although it sounds good, with a slight Oriental theme, it should have appeared to back some of the action scenes as well.

Christopher Lee was the obvious choice to play Fu Manchu - he had built a big reputation as a villian thanks to a series of Hammer and European horror films, and had even played a Chinaman in Hammer's adventure film Terror of the Tongs (1961). Unfortunately he doesn't get much to do here, except sit and looking menacing in various elaborate Oriental sets, while his slaves do the dirty work, but his screen presence certainly shines through and helps to infuse the character with a sinister atmosphere that the script itself does not manage to build. In contrast, Nigel Green gets much more to do as Nayland Smith and looks good in the role - managing to convince as a Holmsian character, but not so well in the action scenes - he does look a little old to be fist-fighting with young Chinese assassins. The attractive Karin Dor was cast by the German co-producers as Maria and looks good, although again not getting much to do. Howard Marion-Crawford makes the first of his five appearances in the series as Nayland Smith's "Dr. Watson", known as Dr. Petrie.

Ultimately The Face of Fu Manchu is a rather uncertain film: While some viewers will enjoy the mix of action and detective work, others may find that it simply fails to capture either one, and falls in the dead zone inbetween. Not as effective as Brides of Fu Manchu, it is still an enjoyable film that fans of the Hammer adventure movies will probably enjoy. Partly recommended.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Christopher Lee - The iconic Hammer villian who went on to star in a variety of European exploitation films.
Nigel Green - A South African born actor who starred in 1960s classics Zulu and Jason and the Argonauts.
Directed by anyone interesting? Don Sharp - the Australian born director behind Hammer's impressive Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966).
Who else was involved?Harry Alan Towers - the first big film from the infamous British exploitation producer.
Any gore? Various death scenes, relatively tame.
Any sex? None.
Who is it for?
Recommended to fans of the Hammer adventure films, and of interest to Christopher Lee fans.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print quality is strong, with no print damage, and only light grain.
As per the original print, the nighttime scenes are very dark.
Audio English language original mono sound. Sounds good.
Subtitles German (optional)
Extras The disc includes:
  • Original German theatrical edit. Contains some different editing, soundtrack and some alternate footage (see 1:15:30 for example) with the original German dubbing. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, most of the print uses the restored footage of the Original version, but the German only scenes are of a much lower quality. No subtitles.
  • English and German theatrical trailers.
  • Audio interview with Karin Dor. German only. 30 minutes.
  • On screen text - biography of Karin Dor, production notes, Fu Manchu notes, German vs. Original cut comparison notes. All in German only.
  • Manual scrolling photo gallery - lobby cards and posters. Includes a couple of images from scenes not in the film.
  • DVD-ROM - A .pdf file of the original German press booklet, in full colour.
AvailabilityGerman release. DVD Title: Ich, Dr. Fu Man Chu
Only available as part of the Kinowelt Dr. Fu Manchu Collection.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Available on DVD in the UK, although with lesser picture quality and no features. A French DVD has a good looking print and Christopher Lee interview (that is included on the Brides DVD in this boxset).
Cuts? Both versions of the film are believed to be uncut. The print of the Original Version as reviewed is English language.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 20th February 2007.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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