Forgotten Book: The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu (The Insidious Fu Manchu) by Sax Rohmer

Rohmer's Fu Manchu was an iconic super villain but from a less politically correct time. Approach at your own risk.

Rohmer’s Fu Manchu was an iconic super villain but from a less politically correct time. Approach at your own risk.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 190th in my series of Forgotten Books.

As I have mentioned several times in the Friday Forgotten Film columns I am a fan of Dr. Fu Manchu. I’m not quite sure where that obsession comes from. I had encountered the not-so-good Doctor in a Man From U.N.C.L.E. as a freshman in high school and I must have encountered the name in other, earlier places. Nonetheless, in the Fall of 1967 my folks asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I was apparently reading a Pyramid paperback at the time because there was an ad for the Fu Manchu books in the back.

I told my mother I wanted as many of these as she could get me. She ordered them all. I think there were 12 listed at the time but only 7 or 8 were in stock so that was what I got along with the Modern Library hardcover of Adventures in Time and Space by Healey and McComas. It was a great Christmas.

I immediately sat down and began to read them. I was enthralled and plowed through them rapidly, even though they were a tiny bit dull to me at the time and hard to read. Pyramid used narrow gutters and small type so you had to strain sometimes to read the page.

Over the years I acquired the other titles and many more Sax Rohmer books. I read many of them and meant to read even more. Most were gone in the great book sale of 2007 (some even before then).

The upshot is that the other day I was in Half Price Books in San Antonio (which I will dearly miss now that I am moving) and they had seven of the Pyramid Fu Manchu titles on a spinner rack for $3 each. I snapped them up and was very happy. I knew I would be doing the opening title as one of my forgotten books.

So the other day I was using the Kindle app on my iPad 2 which is great for reading. I was looking for something to review and I almost started on The Devil Tree of El Dorado (which will be coming soon). I checked the listing on my Kindle and saw the Sax Rohmer Mega-Pack that Wildside Press had done. I contained the first three Fu Manchu novels as well as a lot of other novels.

I started in and was soon enmeshed in the London of pre-WWI. Dr. Petrie is surprised one night when his old friend Sir Dennis Nayland Smith arrives late from Burma and begins to tell him a fantastic story. Smith is now working as an agent for His Majesty’s government and has run across an Asian genius who has plans that include world domination. This evil genius is described as “Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, … one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present … Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.”

The novel details Smith and Petrie’s efforts to stop Fu Manchu from killing several people seen as impediments in his plan. It is pretty episodic, indicating that it was first a series of novellas later knit together to make the novel.

Unlike Sherlock Holmes, where Holmes is vastly superior to his villains with the possible exception of Moriarity, there is no doubt that Fu Manchu is, by far, the superior intellect. Smith and Petrie escape by luck and with help on multiple occasions.

The book features some wonderful touches – a giant centipede, poisonous spiders, dacoits, Kali thugees, giant poisonous mushrooms, sinister poisons, a golden elixir, death traps, locked room murders and more.

Born out of the “yellow peril” era, it is certainly not PC and could probably not be published today, but I found it as enthralling now as I did 49 years ago. And with my Kindle, I could make the type size easy to read and not get the headaches that those old Pyramid paperbacks used to cause.

As usual, all my taste is in my mouth. Fu Manchu has been parodied so many times, it is sometimes hard to remember he is one of the first super-villains to appear in literature. He will always have a soft spot in my heart.

Series organizer Patti Abbott usually hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs. This week the lovely talented and vivacious Todd Mason is doing those honors.

Forgotten Films: The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)

You know a movie's bad when it makes Christopher Lee boring.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 140th my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

We once again return to Fu Manchu for a Forgotten Film. Previously, I have reviewed The Blood of Fu Manchu (Forgotten Film 10) and the serial adventure Drums of Fu Manchu (Forgotten Film 33), so it has been a while since I returned to the famed mastermind of all evil.

Fu Manchu is, as you all should know, the creation of Arthur Sarsfield Ward writing as Sax Rohmer in 1911. He appeared in 14 books (13 novels and one collection) from Rohmer, then two from Rohmer’s former assistant Cay Van Ash, and three from William Patrick Maynard. I’ve read most of the Rohmer and the two Van Ash novels which I enjoyed. I have not tried the Maynard, though I intend to one day.

There have been 12 movie adaptations and one spoof with Peter Sellers. Two of these films are silent British productions I have never seen. The most famous Fu Manchu film is probably The Mask of Fu Manchu starring Boris Karloff as the sinister doctor and Myra Loy (!!) as his daughter. The film was suppressed for many years as it had many objectionable issues such as Fu inciting a crowd of rabble to ”Kill the white man and take his women!” Also casting a British actor as an Asian character was not well received here nor in the two films where the famous Swedish actor Warner Oland also portrayed Dr. Fu Manchu. Oland also portrayed Charlie Chan in films.

So, let’s get to this one. This is the fifth (and final) time Christopher Lee sat in the role. And this time he had director Jess Franco at the helm. There was a time when Jess Franco did good work. This wasn’t one of them. Fu Manchu has a formula where he can turn large quantities of water into ice. He does this, turning a Caribbean cruise into a rerun of Titanic.

Fu issues an ultimatum to the world. Having shown his mastery of water, he asks the world to give in to his demands (which are not detailed for us in the general public). If not, in two weeks he will wreak havoc again. To do this, he decides to settle into Istanbul and use the Black Sea as his personal ice cube tray. But there is a flaw in the program and he needs some assistance from Dr. Heracles (Gustavo Re). But Heracles has a weak heart so Fu needs the assistance of Dr. Curt Kessler (Gunther Stoll) and his assistant Ingrid (Maria Perschy).

But Scotland Yard is not sitting back waiting for the iceman to come. They have sent out Fu Manchu’s perennial nemesis Sir Dennis Nayland Smith (Richard Greene) and his friend Dr. Petrie (Howard Marion Crawford). While Smith and Petrie are talking to Kessler, Lin Tang, Fu Manchu’s totally evil and attractive daughter (Tsai Chin) kidnaps Kessler and Ingrid and takes them to Istanbul.

Kessler has been taken to replace Heracles’ heart with that of an able-bodied henchman who is willing to die to the cause. At this point, what little plot the film had seems to have been forgotten. There are useless interludes with various Turkish emissaries, including director Jess Franco in the role of Ahmet.

How bad is this film? I got bored while watching it. I GOT BORED WATCHING CHRISTOPHER LEE!!!!! How does that happen?

IMDB gives it a 2.6 out of 10 rating. As a comparison, I can only say Plan 9 From Outer Space has a 4.0 and Robot Monster has a 2.9. Manos: The Hands of Fate does have a 1.9. Make your own decision there.

The Castle of Fu Manchu did get the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment in 1992. I have not seen that version. I’m sure it will be better than this. You have been warned.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.