‘The Brides of Fu Manchu’ or — Puppet Master?
It seems Fu Manchu is up to his old tricks again — i.e. kidnapping scientists and their beautiful daughters and taking them to his island base. This time it’s to force them to build a device that can transmit blast rays (love that term) with which Fu Manchu can threaten the world. However, kidnapping all these women means Fu has a surplus of ladies kicking about his base so he might as well marry them. It’s either that or feed them to his snakes.
Meanwhile, at Scotland Yard, Fu Manchu’s arch nemesis, Nayland Smith, is suspicious about all these women disappearing all over the world. This must mean only one thing — Fu Manchu has returned from beyond the grave! Sure, this is Nayland Smith’s answer to everything including why his tea is cold but he’s invariably, and amazingly, always right.
And so the race is on between these two rivals. Can Fu Manchu build his blast ray machine in time or will Nayland Smith discover his island base and stomp on his nuptials?
I was expecting a drop in quality going into ‘The Brides of Fu Manchu’ (1966), the second film in the Towers/Lee series, but despite being smaller in scope and scale than the previous entry it also contains its predecessor’s energy and frantic pacing. So there’s the kidnappings, chases, fist fights, stranglings, murders, mind control, torture, world domination, explosions, mass panic and secret bases so even though it’s not quite as good as the previous entry it’s still a whole load of crazy fun.
In fact, there’s a lot of secret base action going on here, almost as though this film was made by, and for, secret base henchmen to enjoy on their weekends off. Burt Kwouk appears as Fu’s main lieutenant but rather than being a simple lackey following orders he actually interacts with his master, often questioning his orders, meaning these two have an actual relationship. It’s pretty cool to see. Combine that with the fact that Fu Manchu is placed where he should — i.e. behind an array of buttons, dials and levers — and all the super villain boxes are nicely ticked.
Although main reason ‘The Brides of Fu Manchu’ continues to work is the return of director Don Sharp who, once again, brings a robust directness to the action and keeps the plot constantly moving. I had been so impressed by Sharp’s work on these movies that I did a little research (Wikipedia) on the guy and discovered he had directed the boat chase sequence for the Alistair MacLean film ‘Puppet on a Chain’ (1971), easily the best part of that movie. Now it all made sense! Ever since I was a kid I had wondered why that film’s boat chase was so good whilst the rest of the movie surrounding it was lackluster in comparison. Finally that question had been answered as, apparently, Don Sharp was the sort of director who’d be brought onto a movie in order to punch it up and seeing his work on these Fu Manchu movies I can understand why. I felt happy with this little piece of detective work I’d done and I’m sure Nayland Smith would’ve been proud of me, even if the answer wasn’t ‘Fu Manchu’.
‘The Brides of Fu Manchu’ isn’t as breathlessly frantic as ‘The Face of Fu Manchu’ (1965) and doesn’t contain a sequence as memorable as its predecessor’s “remember Fleetwick” scene, but it’s still a bundle of fast moving, ridiculous fun. Nigel Green is missed as Nayland Smith but his replacement, Douglas Wilmer, provides a decent enough job as the Scotland Yard detective, even if the guy is a total idiot (his leaps of “logic” and deduction can be hilarious).
These first two Fu Manchu films work really well as a double-bill being the most consistent in tone and direction of the five Christopher Lee Manchu movies as well as being a great example of director Don Sharp’s work, and discovering more about that has been the real thrill of watching these movies so far and has been worth doing so for that aspect alone.
But if you want a real example of what difference a director can make to a movie then that will become apparent in the next film in this series… and WAY more so in the fourth and fifth.