|Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu: check out those nails!|
A number of bodies turn up dead in the Thames, and Sir Denis Nayland Smith (Nigel Green) of Scotland Yard figures his old adversary, Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee), is responsible. Fu has developed a poison from the Black Hill poppy, a holy flower in Tibet, and uses it to kill off the entire population of a town. (This has an effective scene when two likable soldiers in the town suddenly drop dead.) This is just a demonstration of what he is capable of. In his HQ near the Thames Fu has a "drowning chamber" where he places people he wishes to kill or extract information from. His daughter, now called Lin Tang (she was Fah Lo Suee in the novels) and played by Tsai Chin, is arguably nastier than he is, and seems anxious to whip any employee who disobeys her or her father's orders. Other characters include Professor Muller (Walter Rilla of the Dr. Mabuse films) who works on the poppy formula; his daughter, Maria (Karin Dor of You Only Live Twice); her boyfriend Carl Janssen (Joachim Fuchsberger of Dead Eyes of London); Dr. Petrie (Howard Marion-Crawford); and a museum director (James Robertson Justice, less irritating than usual), who insists that his establishment is impregnable, even to Fu Manchu; of course he's wrong. As usual, Sax Rohmer's famous character is less dimensional than in the novels, and Christopher Lee, oddly, makes absolutely no attempt to play him as an actual Oriental. At the very beginning of the film, Fu Manchu escapes justice by substituting someone else to be beheaded, a notion carried over from Fantomas. Whatever its flaws, The Face of Fu Manchu is fast-paced and entertaining, and has the correct period setting. Lee is suitably creepy, and the versatile Nigel Green makes an excellent Nayland Smith. The movie doesn't quite capture that certain fiendish atmosphere of the books. This was the first of five Fu Manchu/Lee films produced by Harry Alan Towers. Followed by The Brides of Fu Manchu.
Verdict: Reasonably suspenseful fun. ***.