Christopher LeeHoward Marion-CrawfordTsai ChinFu Manchu
The Castle of Fu Manchu
Medium: film
Year: 1969
Director: Jesus Franco
Writer: Sax Rohmer, Harry Alan Towers, Manfred Barthel
Actor: Christopher Lee, Richard Greene, Howard Marion-Crawford, Tsai Chin, Gunther Stoll, Rosalba Neri, Maria Perschy, Jose Manuel Martin, Werner Abrolat
Country: UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, Liechtenstein
Format: 88 minutes
Keywords: rubbish
Series: << Fu Manchu >>
Website category: British
Review date: 23 February 2011
Opinion is divided on Jess Franco's two Fu Manchu films, as to which of them is the guilty pleasure and which is simply unwatchable. The Blood of Fu Manchu I didn't mind, but for me this is a "claw your eyes out" sequel. There's no debate about whether or not it's terrible. The only question is on what grounds someone might prefer either film to the other. To play devil's advocate for a moment, this film's advantages are:
1. more for Christopher Lee to do, to which he responds with a much better performance.
2. two scenes in which Tsai Chin commits murder, the first one execution-style and the other being a scene from Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas. That was a good bit. Tsai Chin might just be my favourite thing about this film series.
3. better action scenes, with a respectable battle sequence of Fu Manchu's henchmen storming a castle and two big special effects sequences in which Fu Manchu destroys an ocean liner and a dam.
4. a more formulaic, ahem, traditional storyline, in which it's clearer who we're meant to be watching and what they want.
I could understand someone finding this film exciting. I might even have thought so myself if I hadn't got off on the wrong foot thanks to the pre-credits sequence, in which Fu Manchu sinks that ocean liner I was talking about. This might even have been good had the sequence contained original footage, instead of having been cut together from the finale of The Brides of Fu Manchu (i.e. the second film in this series) and a British movie about the Titanic, A Night to Remember (1958). The former I watched last week and the latter is in black-and-white. If anyone can think of a bigger raspberry to anyone who's been following these movies, please don't tell it to Jess Franco or Harry Alan Towers.
What's more, they do it again. Remember that destruction of a dam? Apparently it's from Campbell's Kingdom (1957) and you can even recognise Dirk Bogarde as the man in the green checked shirt and Stanley Baker as the man in the red one. What is this, Ed Wood? It doesn't even match the other footage they're intercutting it with. As for the finale, I have my doubts about those explosions.
In other words, the exciting stuff was all stolen. The film also isn't sleazy. There's not even a hint of nudity. This means that we're not just watching a Jess Franco film, but one that's missing the main thing in his work that's worth watching.
As for the script, it makes the last one look like a masterpiece. Let me summarise the plot. STAGE 1: Fu Manchu successfully uses a superweapon that he'll spend the rest of the film trying to get his hands on. This is never explained. Having demonstrated his water-freezing superpowers, he then uses it to threaten mankind with obliteration, presumably on the grounds that the world economy will collapse without ocean liners. However the ingredients for this weapon are opium crystals, which are arbitrarily capable of either knocking people unconscious or turning all the world's oceans to ice. Fu Manchu thus needs opium. STAGE 2: he goes to Istanbul and recruits a local gangster to capture half the world's opium supply by... taking over the regional governor's castle. This isn't explained either. STAGE 3: Fu Manchu needs Professor Heracles to make his opium crystals, but the professor has a heart condition and has only a week to live! The film thus yet again ditches all the plot up to now and becomes all about kidnapping a couple of doctors to perform a heart transplant operation, which Fu Manchu's so confident will succeed that he's based his timetable to conquer the world upon it. The world's first human heart transplant was performed in 1967 and the Fu Manchu films might seem to be set in the 1920s. Mind you, the heart to be used as a replacement is still beating inside its healthy donor. The kidnapped doctors have an ethical problem with this for about twenty seconds, then forget about it for the rest of the film.
Admittedly from the very beginning I'd thought it was nonsense, thanks to that pre-credits anti-flashback, but even so this isn't scriptwriting as you or I know it. It's as if Towers pulled chunks of unrelated rejected scripts out of his desk drawer, shoved them together in a random order and then threw them at his director. Time taken: five minutes, including the coffee afterwards.
It's not even pretending to make sense. There's more plot hole than plot. Fu Manchu's dungeons are alternately either a hop and a skip away from the outside world or else can only be escaped by traversing a flooded ice-tunnel of death. One of the doctors acquired some acid during the heart transplant operation, since lethal concentrated acid is an essential ingredient of open-heart surgery. (This acid doesn't just eat metal, but makes it explode.) A patient who's just had his chest cracked open and his heart replaced is capable of getting up on his feet and participating in an escape. Fu Manchu's weapon system is reversed and the castle blows up, despite the fact that this weapon system involved putting non-exploding crystals into water.
Forget what you're thinking. This is not "so good it's bad". It's just sloppy. It doesn't care and it's just taking whatever lazy plot decision it most recently thought of. I hated it.
That said, there is stuff I like in both films.
Firstly, I still like Jess Franco's visual sense. Half the time it's his way of avoiding time-consuming camera setups and relighting, but look at his scenes with the dying professor, for instance. It's lit like a 1960s acid trip. Christopher Lee's in lurid pink light, while Gustavo Re's being lit in green. Franco also finds some interesting images, such as the graveyard of penises and the sea of ghostly grasses, and I love the gnarled old guys he's dug up to shoot the two doctors. This film was shot in Spain and Istanbul and it's got some of that travelogue feel I loved so much last time. Mind you, it doesn't make for a convincing Scotland.
The acting's better too. Note the way in which one actor manages to keep acting even when having to do bad overdubbing of himself (which happens a lot). Christopher Lee also seems to be having fun, although we know he wasn't. It might even be his best performance of the series. Richard Greene is again only okay as Nayland Smith, but this hardly matters because he's being sidelined even more than last time, except with no plot excuse.
It's also, yet again, not racist. Only the first one was in this five-film series starring Fu Manchu, which considering the time it was made is quite an achievement.
This is a joke of a film. It's been written and edited by chimps on their lunch break. There are scenes that some might find amusing, such as the melodramatic bubbling chemistry set, but I didn't. This film was ripped by Mystery Science Theatre 3000, incidentally, and I have no sympathy. If you must watch this rubbish, for goodness sake don't do it after seeing The Brides of Fu Manchu, or indeed for preference anything which had a script. It's incoherent, it's stupid and it just doesn't care. It has energy, I'll give it that, but only in a superficial trashy Jess Franco way. Do not watch.
"Bury this man with honour." Is he definitely dead?