Warner Bros. // 1965 // 96 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jason Panella // October 18th, 2012
Obey Fu Manchu...Or Every Living Thing Will Die!
The Face of Fu Manchu is an entertaining, no-frills pulp adventure that gets a similarly no-frills release from the Warner Archive Collection.
Scotland Yard inspector Nayland Smith (Nigel Green, Zulu) saw the execution of criminal mastermind Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee, Dracula A.D. 1972) with his own eyes. So why does it seem like the diabolical villain is behind the most recent crime wave to hit London, including the kidnapping of a famous scientist?
London in the 1920s must have been a dangerous place. Crimelords lurking in hidden labs under the Thames. Pajama-pantsed assassins strangling hapless policemen by the dozen. Arcane plots to poison the city's population in constant motion. Of course, Fu Manchu is behind all of this, since he's the most evil man the world has ever known!
Director Don Sharp (The Four Feathers) does a nice job of bringing Sax Rohmer's pulpy world to life in The Face of Fu Manchu, the first of five films to feature Christopher Lee as the titular archvillain. There isn't much of a plot, but for this sort of Saturday matinee stuff, who cares? Harry Alan Towers's script -- written under the Peter Welbeck pseudonym -- is brisk, and bits of witty narrative sinew are connected to big beefy action set-pieces. These chunks of scrappy hand-to-hand mayhem and car-chase tomfoolery are often goofy, but they work much better than they should. Green and the rest of the cast do a fine job too, though Lee's stoicism in the Fu Manchu role sometimes comes across as underplayed. And yes, many of the Asian characters are played by scowling white dudes, but the film at least makes a few attempts to address and correct the racial stigma often associated with the Fu Manchu stories from decades past.
Since this is a Warner Archive MOD (manufacture-on-demand) DVD, be warned -- the technical quality is barely a step up from buying a DVD-R from the trunk of some guy's Pinto. Though there wasn't any remastering done with this standard def 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, the fidelity is really not bad. There is some grain and murkiness, from time to time, but the picture is rich in color and features lots of warm tones. The Dolby 1.0 Mono track is relatively free of any noticeable static and everything comes across clearly. As with nearly every Warner Archive release, there are no extras. But for a non-high demand film, at least The Face of Fu Manchu is now in print. So if your VHS copy is on its last leg, you're in luck!
It's hard to recommend The Face of Fu Manchu without reservations, but if you're a fan of serialized adventures or corny pulpy fun, this one might karate-chop your sweet spot.
Not guilty, though certainly villainous.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1965
MPAA Rating: Not Rated