The Dr. Fu Man Chu Collection (1965 - 1969)

5 film, 5 disc collection of adventure films from producer Harry Alan Towers starring Christopher Lee. Kinowelt Germany R2 boxset.


The character of Fu Manchu was first created in 1912 by the British born writer Sax Rohmer and was the subject of 13 stories in various forms, often serialised. The stories were first filmed in the 1920s in Britain and later in the decade in a trio of films starring Warner Oland. Boris Karloff played the Chinese villain in Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), but after the 1940 serial Drums of Fu Manchu, the adaptations ceased for a while (partly in deference to China who allied with America during the Second World War).

When rookie film producer, and pulp literature fan Harry Alan Towers was looking to make his first break into mainstream cinema in 1965, he saw the novels as well known enough to provide name recognition, but sufficiently lesser known that he could mould his own stories around the character and not have to adhere to the original stories too much. In a blase of publicity he brought the rights to the books, and signed Christopher Lee to the main role in a six film deal. The British actor had achieved fame in Britain and Europe appearing in a wide variety of gothic horror films and seemed perfectly suited to the role.

A co-production with the big German film company Constantin Film, Face of Fu Manchu (1965) starred an interesting mix of British and German actors, and was primarily lensed in Dublin. Although an effective film, it failed to perform as well as the producers had hoped, despite a huge publicity campaign in America that saw Fu Manchu for Mayor posters plastered all over New York during election time. The next two sequels Brides of Fu Manchu (1966) and Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967) followed in similar suit, but with considerably lower budgets. For Vengeance, Towers and crew finally flew out to Hong Kong to give the film some realism. In 1968 Towers met a maverick Spanish director, Jess Franco, who had come to the film world's attention with Succubus (1968). Brought on board, his first job was filming the fourth entry Blood of Fu Manchu (1968) in Brazil, the film marked the beginning of the series' decline. By the next year, Franco and Towers were working on elaborate erotica and sleazy women-in-prision films, and the Fu Manchu series was a dead weight, the next year's Castle of Fu Manchu (1969) was a complete failure in every regard, bringing the series to a premature but timely halt.

Harry Alan Towers, under his Peter Welbeck pseudonym co-wrote the scripts to all five of the films, but despite being a fan of the books, he was never able to capture Fu Manchu as Sax Rohmer had intended. While the books are full of villainous deeds, they are also much darker, and delve into alchemical themes with such ideas as Fu Manchu being kept alive by an elixir of life and working on such diabolical creations as homunculi. Unfortunately Towers avoids such horror tinged ideas, making Fu Manchu into more of a Bond-movie villain, possibly in an attempt to keep the films family safe. Ultimately none of the scripts avoid major holes, and Fu Manchu's plans are generally absurd or simply pointless, and viewers will soon begin to wonder just what over-the-top plan he has next, that Nayland Smith will easily escape...

The Films - links to individual DVD reviews.

In Brief:

Anyone famous in it? The iconic British actor Christopher Lee plays Fu Manchu in all five films, going up against Nigel Green (Zulu (1964)), Richard Greene (Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)) and Douglas Wilmer (The Vampire Lovers (1970)) as Nayland Smith. Euro-cult regulars Horst Frank, Herbert Fux, Maria Rohm and Rosalba Neri all make appearances in the series.
Who is it for?
Fans of detective and classic adventure movies should enjoy these films, and Christopher Lee fans will certainly be interested.

The DVDs

Visuals All films are anamorphic and in Original Aspect Ratios.
The picture quality is good throughout, although in the later films it does decline a little.
Audio All films have original English mono tracks which sound fine.
Subtitles Optional German subtitles on all films.
ExtrasAll five discs include:
  • Original German theatrical cuts of the films, including some alternate footage and the German dub track with different soundtrack. The alternate footage is much lower quality than the rest of the films and often seems to be cropped.
  • German theatrical trailers.
  • Manual scrolling lobby card and still photo galleries.
The set also includes:
  • A 12 minute interview with Christopher Lee, in English with optional German subtitles, as included on the French DVD of Face of Fu Manchu.
  • An audio interview with actress Karin Dor (in German only).
  • A collection of on-screen texts, in German, including an interview with Maria Rohm and Christopher Lee, plus notes on Fu Manchu and the differences between the English and German film prints.
  • DVD-ROM feature: a .pdf file containing the original pressbook - for the first four films.
Packing/availability All five discs come in a digi-pack enclosed in a slipcase - the set uses a rather complex overlapping disc layout that can get rather annoying. There are no single disc releases.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? The first three films are available in the UK, although without features, and Face has a very poor transfer. The final two films are available from Blue Underground USA and include interviews with Jess Franco, Christopher Lee and Harry Alan Towers.
Cuts? All films are believed to be fully uncut. Prints are English language and German language.


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

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