The Brides of Fu Manchu Review
Having miraculously survived the finale of the first of Harry Alan Tower’s sixties series of Fu Manchu potboilers, The Face of Fu Manchu, the eponymous villain returns to once again attempt world domination (“Soon you shall die because I shall control the world”) and once again has Nayland Smith of the Scotland Yard in pursuit. This time he sets out to kidnap and hypnotise the wives and daughters of the world’s top scientists so that he may create a death ray.
Pure hokum of course, but then hugely enjoyable hokum at that. Many of the cast and crew return from Face of... (though Douglas Wilmer replaces Nigel Green as Smith and is more than acceptable in a role that ideally would go to Peter Cushing) and manage to improve on that work’s achievements. Just as importantly, much of the charm remains; despite being a product of the “yellow peril” genre, the Don Sharp directed Fu Manchu entries are curiously Brit-centric. The first target of the death ray, for example, is believed to be Windsor Castle, and Nayland Smith may come across as an amalgam of James Bond, Indiana Jones and Sherlock Holmes, yet he looks most comfortable when sat in a drawing room sporting a chunky cardigan.
The primary improvement over the previous film is the tightness of the whole affair, The Brides of Fu Manchu easily being the paciest entry in the series. Much of this is the result of Peter Welbeck’s screenplay. Little in the way of backstory or exposition is provided and this leanness remains throughout. Indeed, Christopher Lee’s role (as Fu Manchu) resembles more of an extended guest appearance than a leading turn; interestingly, Burt Kwouk as his head henchman shares an almost equal amount of screen-time and dialogue yet is relegated to the lower reaches of the cast list.
Of course, Don Sharp’s welcome return as director should not be under-estimated, even if his filmography hardly puts faith in the discerning filmgoer. Coincidentally or not, Sharp has always produced his best work when operating the horror/fantasy field, and as with Kiss of the Vampire or Psychomania (arguably his finest film) treats the material in a respectful manner by playing everything completely straight without being overly serious. As such some kitsch elements do sneak through (though this is hardly unexpected for a mid-sixties caper), but are for the most part kept in check. All of which may have prevented The Brides of Fu Manchu gaining a wide cult audience in the manner of the some of the trashier films of the era, yet doesn’t stop it from being a hugely enjoyable experience.
As with Momentum’s other Fu Manchu releases, this disc offers no extras but does present the film in admirable condition. The original 1.85:1 ratio is maintained and presented anamorphically, and the sound retains the original mono (though presented over the two front channels). As such, watching the film on disc is the nearest we are likely to get to the original cinema experience without visiting the big screen, especially as the both sound and picture remain clean and clear throughout. There is perhaps a slight trace of some of the colours having faded a little, but this is to be expected for a film of this age and, admittedly, limited appeal.