22 March 1999 | bella-6
The high point of this five-film series unwisely tries to adopt the style of the James Bond films.
Hit and run independent film financier Harry Alan Towers made his bid for the big time in 1965. Spending more money than he ever had (or would) again, scouting attractive international locations, hiring respected craftsmen and actors and launching a multi-million dollar publicity campaign to promote his pet project. "The Face of Fu Manchu", the unlikely recipient of all this attention, represents a plateau to which Towers would never aspire again.
After publicly purchasing the pulp adventure novels of Sax Rohmer, Towers signed horror film icon Christopher Lee to a six-picture deal as the title menace. As director, Towers hired Don Sharp, maker of numerous elegant, effective horror films and probably the most talented director to put his name on a Towers contract. Writing the script himself under his nom de cinema Peter Welbeck, Towers ignored the plots of all the Rohmer novels and concocted his own. The film wisely retains the period setting of early-twentieth century London (which required shooting in Dublin, for the sake of authenticity), but alters the deductive tone of the books in favor of action sequences in the style of the James Bond films, which were then in their first flush of international success.
The finished film is beautiful to see, filmed in technicolor and cinemascope, it truly looks more expensive than it is. Encouraged, Towers launched an expensive international publicity campaign whose most notable stunt was wallpapering election-year New York City with oversized "Fu Manchu For Mayor" posters
In the end, "Face" failed to return enough money to justify the huge outlay spent in making and promoting it. The film seemed to please no one: fans of the series were outraged by the James Bondian gunplay, fights and car chases, while Bond fans were alienated by the period trappings (1920s cars just don't go that fast!). More likely, this type of film just did not have the potential to reach the mainstream audience needed to make it a success.
Although Towers continued the series, the films would steadily decline in quality, from the high point of "Face" to the home-movie calibre of the final entry, "Castle of Fu Manchu".