The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu

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The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu
Fiendish plot of dr fu manchu.jpg
Original film poster
Directed by Piers Haggard
Peter Sellers
Richard Quine
Produced by Zev Braun
Leland Nolan
Hugh Hefner
Written by Rudy Dochtermann
Jim Moloney
Peter Sellers
Starring Peter Sellers
Helen Mirren
David Tomlinson
Sid Caesar
John Le Mesurier
Music by Marc Wilkinson
Cinematography Jean Tournier
Edited by Claudine Bouché
Russell Lloyd
Production
company
Distributed by Orion Pictures Corporation
Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • 8 August 1980 (1980-08-08)
Running time 101 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Box office $10,697,276

The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu is a 1980 comedy film, notable as the final film of Peter Sellers, David Tomlinson and John Le Mesurier. Pre-production began with Richard Quine as director. By the time the film entered production, Piers Haggard had replaced him. Peter Sellers handled the re-shoots himself.[1] Based on characters created by Sax Rohmer, the film stars Sellers in the dual role of Fu Manchu, a stereotypical Chinese evil genius,[2] and English country gentleman detective Nayland Smith (he also appears in an uncredited cameo as a Mexican bandito). Released less than a month after his death and despite it being the last film Sellers appeared in while he was alive, the film was a commercial and critical failure. It was also the final film appearance for Tomlinson, who retired shortly before its release and died in 2000.

Background[edit]

Sellers had previously recorded a 1955 Goon Show entitled The Terrible Revenge of Fred Fu-Manchu[3] set in 1895. In the film his Fu insists friends call him "Fred" and that he had once been the groundsman at Eton.

In addition to Sellers, the film features Sid Caesar as FBI agent Joe Capone, David Tomlinson as Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir Roger Avery, Simon Williams as his bumbling nephew and Helen Mirren as Police Constable Helen Rage (her performance is notable for her singing the Music Hall standard, "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow Wow").

Burt Kwouk, Sellers' longtime co-star in The Pink Panther films, makes a cameo appearance as a Fu Manchu minion who accidentally destroys the elixir vita, prompting the inside joke that Fu thinks he looks familiar (possibly a veiled reference to Kwouk's two uncredited appearances in the "Fu Manchu" films of Christopher Lee). John Le Mesurier has a small part in the film as Nayland-Smith's butler.

Unlike other Fu Manchu works, Fu's daughter and Nayland-Smith's friend Dr. Petrie do not appear in the film.

Plot[edit]

The opening titles announce it is set "possibly around 1933." The story concerns the 168-year-old Fu Manchu, who must duplicate the ingredients to the elixir vitae (which gives him extended life) after the original is accidentally destroyed by one of Fu's minions.

When the diamond "The Star of Leningrad" is stolen by a clockwork spider from a Soviet exhibition in Washington D.C., the F.B.I. sends a pair of special agents to seek the assistance of Scotland Yard as a card from Fu Manchu's organisation the Si-Fan has been left at the crime. Sir Roger Avery of the Yard feels this is a job for Fu's nemesis, Sir Denis Nayland-Smith, now retired.

Nayland-Smith correctly surmises that Fu Manchu will steal the identical twin to the missing diamond that is held in the Tower of London. Nayland-Smith also predicts that Fu will be thwarted by the tight security (several aged Beefeaters) at the Tower, then will kidnap Queen Mary to gain the jewel. He recruits a woman police constable to impersonate the Queen and fool Fu's gang. One of the officers, an obese Chinese cuisine loving glutton who has been ordered by the doctor to walk around for five miles a day on stilts, is promised access to Fu's outdoor restaurant of Chinese food and helps them steal the diamond. In the finale to the film, Nayland and his fellow officers visit Manchu's mountain base in his flying country house, "The Pride of Wiltshire", taking the real diamond with him which Manchu later uses to make himself young and vibrant again, giving them back the other stolen treasures in return.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

The production of the film was troublesome before filming started, with two directors—Richard Quine and John Avildsen—both fired before the script had been completed.[4] Sellers also expressed dissatisfaction with his own portrayal of Manchu[5] with his ill-health often causing delays.[6] Arguments between Sellers and director Piers Haggard led to Haggard's firing at Sellers's instigation and Sellers took over direction, using his long-time friend David Lodge to direct some sequences.[7]

Piers Haggard later recalled:

It was a very disagreeable experience on that film. I was brought in on an off-chance. He’d agreed to do a fairly stock Hollywood comedy thriller, similar to The Pink Panther really, playing a detective and a villain. And he’d fallen out of love with that project and didn’t want to do that script. They said, ‘Okay, what do you want to do?’ and he said, ‘Let me go off and do a bit of rewriting.’ So he went off with a Hollywood hack and turned it into a series of Goon Show sketches. The executives were absolutely appalled. They thought, ‘Oh my God, we thought he had a picture and now we’ve got a development situation.’ I knew one of them, so they said, ‘Maybe this guy Haggard could do something with this.’ So I got three weeks’ work to supervise a rewrite, which we did. We made Peter’s script much more coherent, turned it into something with a bit more of a beginning, middle and end. And they were very pleased with that so I got the gig. But then unfortunately within about two weeks my love affair with Peter Sellers was over but I had to soldier on. I did soldier on but it was no fun, absolutely no fun. Then just towards the end of the shooting he decided, which had been obvious, that either he would go or I would go so they got rid of me. I didn’t have much choice. So I was retired and he directed for the last week or so. It was pretty much a disaster from beginning to end.[8]

Reception[edit]

The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu was universally panned by critics. Phil Hardy described the film as a "British atrocity".[9] Sellers's ill health and tiredness are clearly visible throughout the film and affected his portrayal of Nayland-Smith, who in comparison to past detectives such as Clouseau, he portrays in a very subdued and quiet fashion. Orange Coast Magazine wrote "Peter Seller's last hurrah isn't nearly as impressive as his recent Being There. Even in the dual roles ... detective and the devious 168-year- old Fu Manchu, he musters only an occasional bright moment.[10] Tom Shales of The Washington Post described the film as "an indefensibly inept comedy",[11] adding that "it is hard to name another good actor who ever made so many bad movies as Sellers, a comedian of great gifts but ferociously faulty judgment. "Manchu" will take its rightful place alongside such colossally ill-advised washouts as Tell Me Where It Hurts, The Bobo and The Prisoner of Zenda".[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Review". The Spokesman-Review. 15 May 1980. Retrieved 7 November 2012. 
  2. ^ Loukides, Paul; Fuller, Linda K. (1990). Beyond the Stars: Stock Characters in American Popular Film. Popular Press. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-87972-479-5. Retrieved 11 April 2013. 
  3. ^ "The Goon Show Site – Script – The Terrible Revenge of Fred Fu-Manchu (Series 6, Episode 12)". Thegoonshow.net. 6 December 1955. Retrieved 7 November 2012. 
  4. ^ Evans 1980, p. 242.
  5. ^ Walker 1981, p. 212.
  6. ^ Walker 1981, p. 213.
  7. ^ Sikov 2002, pp. 370–371.
  8. ^ Piers Haggard interview, 2003, MJ Simpson accessed 11 April 2014
  9. ^ Hardy, Phil (1997). The BFI Companion to Crime. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-304-33215-1. Retrieved 11 April 2013. 
  10. ^ Orange Coast Magazine. Emmis Communications. October 1980. p. 105. ISSN 0279-0483. 
  11. ^ a b Shales, Tom (8 August 1980). "'Fu' for Naught; The Fiendish Plod". The Washington Post (Washington). p. C1. 

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]