Written by Jess Franco, Peter Welbeck
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Christopher Lee, Richard Greene, Howard Marion-Crawford
US Release Sept. 24 1969
Home Video Blue Underground
Classic Horrors rating = 6 (out of 10)
Warning: review contains plot spoilers; ending of movie revealed…
You learn all you need to know about supervillian Fu Manchu in the first few minutes of The Blood of Fu Manchu, the fourth film in a series of five starring the great Christopher Lee. Deep in his lair in a South American cave, he tells the blindfolded women brought to him by his henchmen, “You have been chosen to take part in a great mission as the instruments of my destiny.” After explaining he’s discovered the lost city of an ancient race and now possesses their knowledge, he says, “I will master the world.”
Standing by his side is his daughter, Lin Tang (Tsai Chin), who says, “When my father gives you directions you will obey or… you will die.” With Fu Manchu’s overall purpose stated so succinctly, we gather details about the specifics of his plan as the movie continues. 500 years ago, the priests that lived in the lost city distilled a poison that still exists. It’s applied to the blindfolded women by savagely ripping off their clothes and placing a snake on their heaving bosoms. This gives them a literal “kiss of death” power which they can use to kill Fu Manchu’s enemies.
Fu Manchu and Lin Tang send 10 women into various parts of the world to make out with these enemies and thus eliminate them. One man in London is singled out as being “a most persistent man:” Nayland Smith (Richard Greene). His encounter with a lovely executioner results in him only being blinded… until the full moon rises. His colleague, Dr. Petrie (Howard Marion-Crawford), drags him to South America where they hope to locate Carl Jansen (Gotz George), an adventurer who believes he’s located Fu Manchu’s hideout.
I assume the implied history among characters comes from previous movies in the series, or from the original novels by Sax Rohmer written between 1913 and 1959. Nothing specifically happens to warn the good guys that the bad guy has a plan to master the world. It plays more like an ongoing struggle during which Fu Manchu is always plotting something and Smith and Petrie are always trying to stop him. Consequently, the movie feels like it’s following a pattern that’s probably similar to one in every other movie in the series.
Meanwhile, Jansen has been adventuring with Dr. Wagner when the two are ambushed by Fu Manchu’s henchmen. Dr. Wagner is killed. His niece, Ursula (Maria Rohm), appears in South American to find him. Ultimately, all the good guys find each other and forge an assault on Fu Manchu. That takes a long time to happen and is periodically interrupted by a subplot featuring Sancho Lopez (Ricardo Palacios), a drunk bandit whose posse rapes and pillages in the village where Ursula arrives, and causes general interference to the plans of Fu Manchu.
He becomes a pawn in the entire plot. First, Fu Manchu wants to kill him; he sends a pretty dancer to give him the kiss of death. When that fails, he wants him brought to him and put in an iron maiden to learn the location of Smith. Lopez doesn’t know that and Fu Manchu believes him for some reason, deciding that Lopez will now work for him, seeking out his enemies and destroying them. He seems game for that; however, near the end of the movie, he releases Fu Manchu’s prisoners, in essence switching character type to become one of the good guys.
With so many characters in so many different places, Smith and Petrie just happen to encounter Jansen going a different direction on the same jungle road. “Now you can lead me to Fu Manchu!” exclaims Smith. I guess he’s counting on the other two to take him down, though; remember that he can’t see. It all ends up with Fu Manchu ordering his prisoners to be released from their cells so he can make a speech about his plan for world domination. We learn that the kiss of death poison has been weaponized and will be released into the air in major cities across the globe.
Of course, that’s not going to end up happening. However, I’m not sure how a single gunshot by one of the heroes that causes a small explosion prevents the impending disaster. Need I mention that said gunshot occurs as the full moon appears and a henchman bangs a gong? The chaos leaves one dead man on the floor of the cave and Fu Manchu’s empty throne. “The end of Fu Manchu!” says Petrie. Smith replies, “I wish I could be certain of that.” You can’t be; in a coda to the movie, Fu Manchu, in an undisclosed location, says, “The world shall hear from me again!”
The world will hear from Fu Manchu again a year later in The Castle of Fu Manchu, which was filmed back-to-back with this movie. There’s an awful lot wrong with this one, and I don’t mean only with the story and direction. It feels so cheap and exploitative… naked women hanging from chains, etc. On the other hand, I enjoyed the sheer 70’s silliness of it all, with a lot of trombone camera zooms and out of place music. The mere appearance of Lee elevates the experience, although he has only about as many scenes in this as he does in a Hammer Dracula movie.
His dialogue is more interesting here, though, and some of my favorite line are his pearls of wisdom and the way he phrases them. For example, there’s something elegant about saying, “Take them the gift you bear upon your lips,” when you’re ordering your slaves on a mission to kill. And, in one of their negotiations for Sancho Lopez’s life, he says “Freedom is not measured in terms of money.” Such a wise man; if only he used his wisdom for good instead of evil.
The Blood of Fu Manchu is nothing more than it appears. While it appears at first to be nothing but bad, you might be looking at it through the eyes of the blind Nayland Smith. Be healed, open your eyes (and your mind) and just enjoy it. The world won’t end.