|Peter Sellers and Helen Mirren|
On Dr. Fu Manchu's (Peter Sellers) 168th birthday, his life-sustaining elixir vitae is spilled, and he orders his loyal men to run about stealing the necessary ingredients. Naturally this alerts his longtime adversary, Nayland Smith (also played by Peter Sellers), who has become a little strange after being tortured by the Si-Fan, the group of which Fu is leader. Suspecting that the queen may be a target, Smith has her impersonated by policewoman Alice Rage (Helen Mirren), who is kidnapped by Fu -- and falls in love with him! If you're looking for an inventive laugh riot, look elsewhere, for Fiendish Plot is a mediocre film despite the genius of Peter Sellers, the film's chief saving grace. Helen Mirren [Phil Spector] shows why she became so famous with her excellent portrayal of the kind of schizoid Alice, and David Tomlinson scores as Sir Roger Avery with Scotland Yard. Sid Ceasar does what he can as an FBI agent who, unfortunately, keeps referring to Chinese people as "chinks" throughout the movie, another black mark against the production. Clement Harari as dietitian Dr. Wretch and John Le Mesurier as Smith's valet Perkins are more suitably cast. Fiendish Plot does have a small share of chuckles, and one laugh-out-loud moment involving a mechanical spider. but it lacks pacing and suspense, which is required even for a parody. Fu also employs a big plant that emits a sleeping gas, while Smith's country cottage contains a balloon through which he and his associates fly off in the cottage to the Himalayas to confront Fu, who becomes a rock star with a "Rock a Fu" production number. This was executive produced by Hugh Hefner when Playboy wanted to get into the movie game, which everyone probably regretted. (Hefner was also exec. producer for Kim Novak's TV vehicle The Third Girl from the Left.) Piers Haggard also directed one of my favorite movies, A Summer Story, which is about a zillion times better than this; genre movies were not his forte. Sadly, this was Peter Sellers' last movie.
Verdict: Not Fu's -- or Sellers'-- finest hour. **