Sax Rohmer\’s The Castle of Fu Manchu Film Details
Overview: An evil Chinese mastermind plots to freeze the Earth’s oceans.
Review: This particular entry into the 1960s “Fu Manchu” franchise lives up every inch to its B-movie status and more. Other reviewers are right that it is not the sort of film that you would choose as your main viewing. However, in its way, “The Castle of Fu Manchu” is fun. Having read several of Sax Rohmer’s “boys’ own” novels on the machinations of the physical embodiment of The Yellow Peril, which are more episodic in their nature rather than focusing on one mere plot line, this film gives the impression of merely being one of those episodes. Christopher Lee truly leads the cast here with his imposing stature and unnatural calm as the unwavering, perhaps even aristocratic Fu Manchu. Unlike some of his better known roles, you could perhaps understand Lee being embarrassed by his involvement in the Fu Manchu films, not perhaps owing to his own performance but due to the fact that he is the leading cast member in a B-movie film about a topic that, even then, was likely considered racist and unpopular. However, Lee is a pleasure to watch as the stoic and nefarious doctor. Returning is Richard Greene as another of Rohmer’s creations, Denis Nayland-Smith of Scotland Yard. Greene is able to inject some of his A-list status of yesteryear into the role, particularly in the early stages of the film, but is surprisingly given less and less to do as the film progresses, to the extent that, even in the film’s finale, instead of coming face-to-face with his mortal enemy, he is relegated to helping a supporting character (who surely should not be capable of even moving after having had a heart transplant) from the titular castle. Howard Marion-Crawford as the Doctor Watson-style Doctor Petrie is relegated to near obscurity, sadly. The perspective on Petrie here, rather than being an able ally, albeit perhaps not with Nayland-Smith’s intellectual capabilities, but a dab hand with medical knowledge is reminiscent of Nigel Bruce’s portrayal of Watson as a loveable but bumbling buffoon in the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films of the 1940s. Much is made of Petrie’s buffoonery whilst holidaying with the ever-alert Nayland-Smith in the English countryside and he dodders around beside Greene for a time in London and briefly when the action shifts to Istanbul. However, he then also is given little to do, until he randomly appears in a fez rowing a boat at the film’s finale. Tsai Chin returns on form as Fu Manchu’s almost equally malevolent daughter, Lin Tang and is given a lot to do this time around, acting as her father’s chief emissary during a raid on the titular castle and assisting to the full in his plot. However, even she suffers slightly in the script, being tossed aside by Burt Kwouk in an early scene in which her father describes an impromptu recreation of “A Night to Remember”. Never fear – Fu Manchu soon avenges that misdemeanour, although more because poor Burt is interfering with his scheme rather than with his daughter! There are some standouts in the supporting cast, too, particularly Rosalba Neri who plays a rough and ready Istanbul local who is henchwoman to a drug peddler whose main distinction is in killing virtually everyone who comes to his opium den, whether they be friend or foe. Literally, a doped-up addict stumbles into his “office” early in the film saying that no one will give him any more opium, before Neri ruthlessly takes a knife to him; then, later, a hapless informant meets a similar fate around midway through the film. I couldn’t help laughing at that. Neri, however, shines brightly in her brief but memorable role. Fu Manchu makes a respectful comment about her fighting like a man – she also dresses like one. Whether this is to disguise her gender or because of a personal fetish is never made clear. Sadly, along with most others in the cast, she becomes utterly cardboard and stupid as the film continues, redeeming herself and then running off to her death in a vain effort to rescue a character that she must realise is likely dead. I guess the filmmakers did not want to place Greene in the awkward position of romancing someone half his age or they even felt that Neri’s bloodthirsty character should still perish at the conclusion of the film. Who knows? Maria Perschy also receives a very interesting (and curiously highly credited) role as a doctor assisting an eminent heart surgeon who becomes important to Fu Manchu’s scheme. Perschy is gorgeous and makes the most of her scenes, but is a point of some other curiosity. Numerous times, Fu Manchu uses her as leverage to force the heart surgeon to do his bidding, threatening to kill her and then, when the heart surgeon has fulfilled his task, saying that the services of Perschy’s character are no longer required, but he does not kill her. Is the Oriental megalomaniac going a bit soft in the head? The locations, which switch between Spain and Istanbul at will, are gorgeous and well chosen, particular the gardens and interiors of the castle itself, but also other locales such as a typical English countryside scene where Nayland-Smith and Petrie are holidaying at the film’s outset, and a gorgeous vista of The Bosphorus and Istanbul’s many minarets when an aforementioned moron attempts to convince some Turkish official that a kidnapping has taken place (before unwisely deciding to take that information to Neri’s boss…). There is some beautiful work here, but there is just as much (if not more) shaky work behind it. There are leaps in the script and photography that are hard to fathom; the dubbing (by the sounds of it, all by Robert Rietti) is atrocious every time it is used, and much of the camera work leaves a lot to be desired. That such, there is something about this film… Maybe it is Christopher Lee or the use of fine special effects from other films, maybe it is Charles Camilleri’s hauntingly romantic main theme for the film or the beautifully exotic locations that were first rate in their selection. Who knows? It is worth a watch and, whilst it is bad, I have seen (and sometimes fallen asleep) to worse!
Country: UK, West Germany, Italy, Spain, Liechtenstein, Turkey
Language: English, German
Duration: 92 min
Genre: Adventure, Crime, Horror
Also known as: To kastro tou Fu Manchu,De folterkamer van Dr. Fu Manchu,Fu Manchu’s Castle,The Castle of Fu Manchu,El castillo de Fu-Manchu,Zamek Fu Manchu,O Castelo de Fu Manchu,Assignment Istanbul,Fu-Manchu, o arhon tou mystiriou,Il castello di Fu Manchu,O pyrgos tou Fu-Manchu,Le château de Fu Manchu,Die Folterkammer des Dr. Fu-Manchu,The Torture Chamber of Fu Manchu,Замок Фу Манчу