Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Brides of Fu Manchu, The (1966)

... aka: Die 13 Sklavinnen des Dr. Fu Man Chu (The 13 Brides of Fu Manchu)
... aka: Dr. Fu Manchu og Slavepigerne (Dr. Fu Manchu and the Slave Girls)
... aka: Fu Manchu 2
... aka: Il giorno dei fazzoletti rossi (Day of the Red Handkerchiefs)
... aka: Sax Rohmer's The Brides of Fu Manchu

Directed by:
Don Sharp

At the end of THE FACE OF FU MANCHU (1965), Fu (Christopher Lee), his faithful, torture-happy daughter Lin Tang (Tsai Chin) and the rest of his "Oriental" gang were inside a Tibetan palace when it was blown to smithereens. Though believed dead by the world at large, Fu and Lin Tang are both very much alive... and they've been quite busy. Various young beauties (who must all be played by the beauty contest winners gathered from around the world during the publicity tour for the first movie) have been kidnapped and brought to Fu's lair where they're hypnotized to only do the will of their masters. These young women are all wives or daughters of skilled industrialists and brilliant scientists that Fu needs on his team in his quest for world domination. And, hey, if that requires turning daddy's little girl into an entranced, grinning murderess, so be it. A megalomaniac's gotta do what a megalomaniac's gotta do, right? The latest abductee, Jules Merlin (Rupert Davies), isn't being very cooperative so he's punished by bearing witness to his daughter Michelle (Carole Gray) cutting a young lady, who's strung up by her hair, loose and causing her to fall into a pit of poisonous snakes.

With eleven women from ten different countries reported missing over an 18 month period, Scotland Yard's finest investigator Nayland Smith (Douglas Wilmer, replacing Nigel Green) and pathologist Doctor Petrie (Howard Marion-Crawford) are soon on the case. Their first big break occurs when geologist Franz Baumer (Heinz Drache) manages to thwart an attack by a group of karate-fighting henchmen and save girlfriend Marie Lentz (Marie Versini) in the process. During the struggle, Franz also managed to kill one of the attackers and is temporarily thrown into jail. Marie's a target because her father Otto (Joseph Fürst) is an important scientist. Nayland and Petrie manage to stop a second kidnapping attempt at the hospital where Marie works. But, as they say, the third time's a charm and poor Marie manages to finally get successfully nabbed at a theater while watching a ballet. Helping to ensnare her in a trap is her good“friend” Nikki Sheldon (Harald Leipnitz), who's actually in cohorts with the bad guys.

Since several have already been killed with Fu's trademark Tibetan prayer scarf and the henchmen are all decked out in the same uniforms as the henchmen Nayland and Petrie faced in the previous film, our heroes come to the conclusion that Fu Manchu is still alive. The question isn't “What does he want?” That much is obvious: Control of the world. The real question is “In what dastardly way(s) is he going to go about getting what he wants?” In this case, it turns out to be a rather complex scheme involving harnessing powerful sound waves and then turning them into destructive energy. Fu sets Jules free back into society to work on creating numerous small satellite devices which will work wirelessly in tandem with a larger satellite hidden in the mountains. The small satellites are to be placed in major European cities and will create enough electromagnetic force to level them with a flick of a switch. At least I think I got that right. Either way, the technicalities don't matter so much as it's just basically Fu up to his old tricks again.

Fu announces over the radio that “Any city that defies me shall be destroyed!” and that he already has hits out on a few “specially selected men.” Nayland (one of the chief targets, of course) and Petrie must try to locate Fu's hidden, Egyptian-themed headquarters in order to stop him and save all of the kidnap victims from being tossed into the snake pit. They're aided in their quest by several law enforcement agents, like British Sergeant Spicer (Kenneth Fortescue) and French inspector Pierre Grimaldi (Roger Hanin), as well as Franz, who manages to successfully pass himself off as one of the scientists in order to infiltrate Fu's “Temple of Karna” mountain lair. To throw the good guys off, Fu has his men construct decoy satellites, which enable him to demonstrate his power by blowing up the Windsor Castle cruise ship. He has much bigger plans in store for major areas if he cannot be stopped. There's use of truth serum to extract information in one scene and the BBC has a hand in foiling Fu's master plan.

Brides is almost on par with the first film. Almost. It's fast-paced, the production values and acting are adequate and there are a lot of characters factoring into the story, plus some unexpected good twists devised by writer / producer “Peter Welbeck” / Harry Alan Towers. The action scenes are all OK, though not quite as thrilling as the ones in the first. The biggest issue here is that the plot structure is so close to the original that this almost comes off like a lesser remake. Small details aside, if you just swap out the satellite for the flowers and the snake pit for the water chamber, you essentially have the same exact film. It's also hard to shake the feeling you could see something along the same lines that's better if you popped in any number of James Bond, Sherlock Holmes or Edgar Wallace films. Further downgrading this entry is a dingier, cheaper overall look. The budget has clearly been slashed. While the original was filmed in Technicolor with a 2.35 : 1 aspect ratio, this one was shot on the cheaper alternative Eastmancolor with a 1.85 : 1 aspect ratio. All that said, this is still passable for what it is and competently made.

Also in the cast are Burt Kwouk as Fu's right hand man Feng, Danielle Defrère (Miss Belgium 1964) as a slave girl and, returning from the previous film, Francesca Tu as Nayland's secretary Lotus and Ric Young as one of Fu's men. The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967), The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968) and The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969) followed. Warner paired this up with the quite good CHAMBER OF HORRORS (1966) for its DVD release.



Piotr W. said...

I think I've read that the actress playing Fu Manchu's daughter complained about the movie, saying it turned out to be too sadistic for her taste... or am I confused and this relates to another Fu Manchu movie?

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I'm not entirely sure. I do remember reading that she thought she wasn't given enough to do in these films and that her role was too one-dimensional (limited to sneering / looking evil, etc). She has a neat little Hollywood story though, making a big comeback in The Joy Luck Club in 1993 after having been absent from from films for over 20 years.

Piotr W. said...

Hm. Now I'm wondering whether it wasn't Myrna Loy who complained after filming the Karloff Fu Manchu movie? Aaargh, spotty memory..!!!

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I found this bit of trivia about Loy's recollections about her role in Mask: "According to the book "The Films of Myrna Loy" by Lawrence J. Quirk: 'She recalls that she and Karloff decided between themselves that the only intelligent way that this movie could possibly be played was subtly tongue-in-cheek.'"

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