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.