28 March 2004 | jamesraeburn2003
"It marks the beginning of the series' decline."
Evil Oriental mastermind Fu Manchu (CHRISTOPHER LEE) and his daughter in crime Lin Tang (TSAI CHIN) return to their ancestral China from where they plot their latest diabolical scheme for world domination. First they create an explosion causing a rocky mountain to subside, thus creating the illusion that all communications have been cut off between the village that neighbors Fu Manchu's palace and Shanghai. Secondly they abduct a renowned plastic surgeon called Dr Lieberson (WOLFGANG KIELING) and force him to create a double of Nayland Smith (DOUGLAS WILMER). The real Smith is subsequently abducted and brought to Fu Manchu's palace. Meanwhile, the double who is a prisoner under a deep state of hypnosis kills Smith's housekeeper and is subsequently arrested, tried and hanged for the crime. Fu Manchu is delighted as the whole world thinks that Nayland Smith was a psychopathic killer and his reputation is posthumously ruined. While all this is going on, Fu Manchu will have the pleasure of murdering the real Smith on the quiet. A wanted American criminal mastermind called Rudolph Moss (NOEL TRETHARNAN) has recently arrived at Fu Manchu's palace with a pact signed by the world's criminal bosses agreeing to the Yellow Peril becoming their leader. Fu Manchu plans to use Dr Lieberson to create further doubles of all the criminals' enemies and give them the same treatment as he intends for Nayland Smith. Smith must escape, clear his name and stop an international murder spree erupting.
THE VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU was the third of producer Harry Alan Towers' series of international productions starring Christopher Lee as Sax Rohmer's fiendish Oriental mastermind. Don Sharp had directed the first two films in the series, but Jeremy Summers took over for this one entry. Summers was essentially a TV director who occasionally made feature films. These include the Gerry & The Pacemakers movie FERRY CROSS THE MERSEY (1965) and the Tony Hancock vehicle THE PUNCH AND JUDY MAN (1964). On TV he has directed episodes of such British cult classics as JASON KING and RANDALL & HOPKIRK (DECEASED) as well as contributing to notable UK soap operas such as CORONATION STREET and BROOKSIDE. Summers' father was Walter Summers who directed the notable Bela Lugosi horror film THE DARK EYES OF London (1939). Incidentally, this was the first film in the UK to receive the "H" for horrific certificate in Britain.
The film marks first step down the slippery slope of the series' degeneration into becoming shambling nonsense. The script is both poorly plotted and confused. Matters are not helped by an unwise emphasis on torture and sadism like when Fu Manchu brands Liebrson's daughter (MARIA ROHM) with a branding iron in order to force him to carry out his demands. These scenes are disheartening and make one wish for the return of the light direction of Don Sharp in THE FACE OF FU MANCHU (1965). The production also has the air of being a half-hearted effort all round as most of the performances are all at best average with the possible exception of Tsai Chin whose portrayal of Lin Tang is still undeniably evil without any sign of remorse in her actions. The direction is coherent and well-paced (which saves the picture from being a complete disaster) but shows little enthusiasm for the material. The film wasn't particularly successful, but Towers was able to squeeze out two more (and even worse) sagas featuring Fu Manchu. They were THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU and THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU (1968), which were shot back to back by Spanish director Jess Franco. This series could have lasted for a long time if they had referred back to the original source for plots rather than trying to invent their own.