The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)

Director: Blake Edwards
Starring: Peter Sellers, Hebert Lom, Burt Kwouk, Lesley Anne Down, Omar Sharif, Richard Vernon
Music: Henry Mancini

The Pink Panther Strikes Again is the fourth film in the series, which I know, I know, is not a spy film. But it includes so many spy film tropes, and actors who are associated with spy films, I thought it was well worth inclusion here. And is it just my imagination but does Mike Grell’s Bond comic Permission to Die bear are passing resemblance to this film? I know Permission to Die also borrows heavily from The Phantom of the Opera too – and how co-incidental is it, that Herbert Lom should play the Phantom in Hammer’s film version of The Phantom. Of course, Lom plays Chief Inspector Dreyfus in this film (or should I say ex-Chief Inspector).

As the film starts, ex-Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) is in an asylum for the clinically insane. But the good news is, he is almost ready to be released back into polite society. But first, unbeknownst to him, he has to pass one last test. That test arrives in the form of newly appointed Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) of the Sureté. For the one or two people in the world that are not familiar with Clouseau, let me explain that he is a walking disaster just waiting to happen. He’s the type of guy who, when entrusted with a simple task of vacuuming a room, ends up naked in another country, covered in raspberry jam with a poodle gaffer taped to his chest – or something like that (maybe that’s a past-life regression thing I shouldn’t be talking about). Needless to say, when Clouseau is around, the simple becomes complicated, and things are never quite the same again. However, most of the world seems obvious to the disaster that Clouseau seems to conjure up. Only Dreyfus appears to be able to see the disorder and destruction of Clouseau’s actions. And therein lies the rub, and how Dreyfus ended up in an asylum. Actually Dreyfus ended up in an asylum because he went mad and tried to kill Clouseau, but his heart was in the right place. He believed that if Clouseau was dead, a great many of the world’s ills would be alleviated. Anyway, that’s enough backstory – if you want to know more, track down a copy of A Shot in the Dark (in my opinion the best of the Pink Panther movies…although Pink Panther doesn’t appear in the title – nor the Pink Panther diamond in the story).

But back to Dreyfus’ test. Clouseau turns up at the asylum and joins Dreyfus in the idyllic grounds beside the lake. Dreyfus is distressed to see Clouseau but refuses to allow his arrival to interfere with his imminent release. But Dreyfus’s stoicism can only go so far, and after Clouseau has inadvertently dumped him in the lake three times and had him raked in the face (hey, it happens to all of us…ask Sideshow Bob), Dreyfus reverts back to an insane maniac and tries to kill Clouseau.

After a nifty animated title sequence Clouseau returns home, but little does he know that Dreyfus has now in fact, escaped from the insane asylum and has broken into the apartment below Clouseau’s. Plotting revenge, Dreyfus drills through the roof of the apartment he is in (or through the floor of the apartment Clouseau is in) and with a miniature periscope spies on Clouseau as he searches his house. What is he searching for? He is searching for Cato (Burt Kwouk), his manservant. Cato has been given instructions to attack his master when he least expects it – this is supposed to keep Clouseaus skills honed and his wits sharp. Well, that’s the theory – it usually ends in chaos.

After their usual fight routine, Clouseau receives a phone call from the Commissioner explaining that Dreyfus has escape and may try to kill him. Clouseau decides that positive action is required and chooses to adopt a cunning disguise…as a hunchback, with an inflatable hump! A diversionary phone call from Dreyfus (with disguised voice – peg over nose) distracts Clouseau as he is inflating his hump. As he talks, the hump continues to inflate, and then, like a balloon, lifts Clouseau off the floor and out the window. As he is so caught up in himself he doesn’t notice that he has drifted outside, but in a way it is a godsend. Dreyfus wanted Clouseau near the phone as he has a bomb prepared to kill Clouseau once and for all. But as Clouseau is actually outside, floating away, he isn’t at home when the bomb blows. Dreyfus is foiled once again. Out of frustration Dreyfus chooses to adopt a rather elaborate and grand scale approach to his Clouseau problem.

Now an evil mastermind, Dreyfus starts organising a series of audacious schemes. First Dreyfus arranges the escape by one of France’s leading criminals, Jean Sauniere. Dreyfus needs Sauniere for his next plan, which is to rob twenty-million France from the Paris Credit bank. Why does he need the money? To finance his biggest and boldest scheme which is to kidnap brilliant scientist Professor Fassbender (Richard Vernon). Now why does Dreyfus want Fassbender? Fassbender is required to invent a ‘Doomsday Weapon’ so Dreyfus can control the world. The weapon being a giant laser. But deep down, Dreyfuss doesn’t want to rule the world, he simply wants to kill Clouseau. So after the ‘Doomsday Weapon’ has been created, Dreyfus interrupts the television broadcasts around the globe and delivers his ultimatum. It’s simple – he wants Clouseau or he will destroy the world. To prove he is serious, he aims the weapon at the UN Building in New York and vaporises it. Once again, Dreyfus delivers his terms – the world has seven days to deliver Clouseau dead or alive or next time he will destroy an entire city.

Dreyfus’ ultimatum sends teams of assassins from every organization and corner of the globe to Munich (which is where Clouseau’s investigation has lead him) to ‘Kill Clouseau’. But of course, Clouseau is not an easy man to kill. Not because he is clever and resourceful, but because he is inept and unpredictable. In the end, many assassins die in grotesque and mildly amusing fashion.

The Pink Panther Strikes Again is one of the better entries in the series. It’s not right up there with the best, but those who have seen the dregs that Blake Edwards served up towards the end of this series (I don’t count the recent Steve Martin films), will know that this provides some classic Sellers madness and comedy routines. Which film was it that featured Roger Moore and for Sellers scenes simply used out-takes from this film – was it Trail of the Pink Panther? Man, that was one abhorrent piece of entertainment (the word being used very loosely, of course). I haven’t seen it in about twenty-five years, and I rightly don’t think I want to.

But this film has its moments (does your dog bite), and some classic scenes where Clouseau attempts to storm Dreyfus’ castle in Bavaria – the first hurdle being the drawbridge. What can I say – comic genius!

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)

The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966)

Country: United Kingdon / West Germany
Director: Don Sharp
Starring: Christopher Lee, Douglas Wilmer, Tsai Chin, Heinz Drache, Howard Marion-Crawford, Roger Hanin, Rupert Davies, Kenneth Fortescue, Joseph Furst, Burt Kwouk, Eric Young
Music: Bruce Montgomery
Based on characters created by Sax Rohmer

Following on from yesterday’s Circus of Fear, The Brides of Fu Manchu is another Harry Alan Towers written and produced film project. It also features Christopher Lee and Heinz Drache who had appeared in Circus of Fear.

The Brides of Fu Manchu is the second in Towers pulp period adventure series featuring Christopher Lee as Sax Rohmer’s indestructible Asian supervillain, Fu Manchu.

Here’s a description of Fu Manchu from the back of the Corgi Crime Paperback, The Mask of Fu Manchu (1967) – apologies for the racist tone:

Imagine a person, tall, lean, and feline; high-shouldered with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan: a close shaven skull and long magnetic eyes of the true cat green.

Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant interllect. With all the resources of science, past and present; with all the resources of a wealthy government – which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence.

Imagine that malevolent being, and you have a mental picture of the yellow peril incarnate in one man – FU MANCHU.

The film opens with a trio of Fu Manchu’s black clothed minions leading French Professor Merlin (Rupert Davies), who is blindfolded, through a series of caves and then into a large underground chamber. Once inside, his blindfold is removed. He appears to be some Egyptian temple decorated with deities and Hieroglyphs. Down each side of the temple run rows of massive stone pillars, and chained to each of these pillars is a beautiful girl. As Merlin is lead through the temple towards an alter at the front, he recognises one of the captive girls as his own daughter Michelle.

At that moment, Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee) and his Daughter, Lin Tang (Tsai Chin) enter the chamber. It is revealed that Professor Merlin is an expert in radio transmission, and Fu Manchu demands that the Professor works on a special project for him. Merlin’s response is simple and to the point: ‘Go to Hell!’

Then Lin Tang has Michelle freed from her shackles and brought before her. It appears that over the duration of her captivity, Michelle has been brainwashed. Lin Tan gives her a knife. First she is told to hold it at her Father’s throat, which she does. Realising that Fu Manchu needs his expertise, Merlin calls Fu Manchu’s bluff and suggests that he cannot be killed. Fu Manchu agrees and adopts another strategy to coerce the Professor. One of the other captive women is unchained from a pillar and brought to a giant stone tablet. To two metal rings embedded in the tablet the girl is tied by her hair. Then, a sliding stone trapdoor is released under the tablet and beneath is a pit of venomous snakes.

Fu Manchu then gives Michelle the order — not to kill the girl — but simply to cut her ‘free’. Michelle obeys and the other girl falls to her death in the pit of snakes.

Professor Merlin is told that unless he co-operates, Michelle will be brought out of her hypnotic trance and made to face the consequences of her murderous act.

Meanwhile in London, Dennis Nayland Smith (Douglas Wilmer) is trying to unravel the mystery of the disappearance of the wives and daughters of many of the world’s leading industrialists and scientists. So far eleven women have been abducted in the last eighteen months – and from ten different countries.

Strolling casually along the Thames is Research Chemist Hans Baumer (Heinz Drache) with his lovely companion Marie Lentz (Marie Versini). Suddenly, a team of Fu Manchu’s Dacoits attack, attempting to kidnap Baumer. However Baumer is pretty good with his fists and fights off the attack.

As the information on the attack is relayed to Nayland Smith, later, do they realise that the Dacoits weren’t after Baumer at all, but after Marie, who is the daughter of Hydro-electric specialist Otto Lenz. Marie works in a hospital, and a second team of Dacoits arrive to kidnap her while she is on duty. Thankfully, Nayland Smith arrives just in the nick of time to fight of the kidnappers.

Nayland Smith suspects Fu Manchu is behind the abduction and attempts to find a lead. Unfortunately, his only lead is Marie, and finally Fu Manchu’s minions manage to kidnap her on their third attempt. But Baumer has a plan. If Fu Manchu has been using these girls to coerce the scientists and industrialists to do Fu Manchu’s work, that it would follow
suit, that Marie’s kidnapping would work in the same way. So Baumer impersonates, Otto Lentz so he can infiltrate Fu Manchu’s organisation.

Also working on the case is a French inspector, Pierre Grimaldi played by Roger Hanin who helps Nayland Smith put together the pieces of Fu Manchu’s scheme which uses radio waves as a method of carrying large amounts of energy, which can be used for destructive purposes. And that is just what Fu Manchu has in mind. His plan starts with the destruction of the Windsor Castle and ends with total world domination.

Fu Manchu’s radio transmitter tower, in the way it looks and operates bears more than a passing resemblance to the solar dish in The Man With the Golden Gun, which also starred Christopher Lee although made eight years later.

This is not the only bit of amusing co-incidental casting in the film. Douglas Wilmer is something of a mystery to me. Apart from his two stints as Nayland Smith (in this, and the next film, The Vengeance of Fu Manchu), I cannot recall seeing him in any other production. However, I have seen numerous stills of him as Sherlock Holmes from the BBC television production from the 1960s – prior to Peter Cushing taking over the role. Juxtaposed next to that, in this film as Nayland Smith’s offsider, Dr. Petrie, we have actor Howard Marion-Crawford who at one time played Dr. Watson in Sheldon Reynold’s Sherlock Holmes television series. So in Brides of Fu Manchu, we have Holmes and Watson after the villainous Fu Manchu. Now I am not trying to link the Sherlock Holmes stories to the Fu Manchu stories — although I am sure that if copyrights permit, then some well-read and enterprising intertextual author has already married to two characters in a novel — but I find the parallels in the careers of many English actors and the characters they play to be very fascinating in the way they over lap. Don’t get me started on Christopher Lee’s connections with Sherlock Holmes or this review will go on forever!

The Fu Manchu films are perfect examples of the law of diminishing returns. I found the first film, The Face of Fu Manchu to be quite a good little adventure. This film is a small step down from the earlier outing but is still very entertaining, but each instalment is weaker than the previous outing, and after the third film, the piss-poor plots and shoe-string budgets were below acceptable standard and the films have little to recommend them beyond the presence of Christopher Lee.


Christopher Lee – played Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun
Tsai Chin
– appeared in the pretitle sequence in You Only Live Twice
Burt Kwouk
– appeared in Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, and Bullet to Beijing
Roger Hanin
– appeared in many Eurospy productions
Harry Alan Towers
– produced Bullet to Beijing and Midnight in St Petersberg
Joseph Furst
– played Dr. Metz in Diamonds Are Forever
Eric Young
– appeared in The Chairman

More evil tales featuring the Devil Doctor:
The Face Of Fu Manchu (1965)
The Vengeance Of Fu Manchu (1967)
The Castle Of Fu Manchu (1969)

Or the similarly themed (although without Fu Manchu), Hammer’s Terror Of The Tongs (1961)

The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966)

The Chairman (1969)

AKA: The Most Dangerous Man In The World
Country: United Kingdom / United States
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Starring: Gregory Peck, Anne Heywood, Arthur Hill, Alan Dobie, Francisca Tu, Ori Levy, Zienia Merton, Conrad Yama, Keye Luke, Burt Kwouk, Eric Young
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Based on the novel by Jay Richard Kennedy

Gregory Peck and director, J. Lee Thompson had worked together on a few very successful projects. Firstly was The Guns Of Navarone which was a critical and commercial success. Then there was the original Cape Fear (with Robert Mitchum). After that came MacKenna’s Gold which was quite successful in it’s day — however I think it’s a jumbled mess. But they had the runs on the board so I guess it’s no surprise that they’d team up again. The vehicle they chose was an overly plotted spy thriller called The Chairman.

The film begins with a jet whizzing through the sky on route to Hong Kong. On board is Dr. John Hathaway (Gregory Peck). A stewardess takes away his empty glass and out of sight, wraps it gently in a serviette and tucks it into her carry on luggage. Coincidentally, the actress playing the stewardess is Mai Ling, who you may remember as Mei-Lei, the stewardess in Goldfinger (just before Bond is introduced to Pussy Galore). Mai Ling also had an uncredited part in You Only Live Twice as one of the ‘bath girls’. The film then cuts away to a top secret US research facility and two men from opposing sides of the cold war. They are Russian General Alexander Shertov (Ori Levy) and American General Shelby (Arthur Hill). They are jointly overseeing and operation codenamed Minotaur. The operation has in fact already started and the agent involved is Hathaway. Implanted into his head (ouch), Hathaway has a tiny transmitter, and during a break in the aircraft’s bathroom he relays his report.

The film then flashes back to some time earlier – we are never really given a time frame. Hathaway is a science professor in London who receives a letter from an old colleague, Professor Soong Li, who has been stationed in China for the last ten years. The letter says that Hathaway will not be able to visit him anymore. Since Hathaway had never visited his colleague, and didn’t have plans to do so in the near future, the communiqué seemed rather suspicious. Hathaway relays his suspicions to the authorities.

But once upon a time, before he was a Nobel Prize winning science professor, Hathaway was an OSS agent, and his message to the authorities has him called in front of General Shelby. Shelby is an old school hard-ass, and to prove it, he is missing an eye – and he has a scar to go with it which indicates he lost it in combat. Now he wears glasses with one darkened lens covering the missing eye. I guess it’s a modern take on the eye patch. Anyway, Shelby’s hard and doesn’t like Hathaway, but he has his orders from higher up, so he shows Hathaway some top secret footage. The first scenes show a wheat field in a hot humid jungle location in China. Next is footage shot in Tibet of a pineapple plantation on a cold icy mountain. It is surmised that the Chinese have genetically modified the crops so that climate has little or no effect on what is grown and where. Now this may not seem like your average threat from the Red Chinese, but once the third world countries hear about this miracle ‘enzyme’, they will gladly kow-tow to the Chinese leaving America and the USSR discarded in their wake. Hathaway’s mission is to go to China a retrieve a sample of the enzyme.

Now this is year the film gets a little bit convoluted. Naturally, back in 1969, an American could not just go to China. China was very much closed off to the rest of the world. It was very hard for a westerner to get a visa. But Hathaway can go to Hong Kong, which is under British rule. Once there he receives a phone call in his hotel room. He is to meet the mysterious caller — Mr Yin (Eric Young) — at a nightclub, which is half brothel, half casino. At this point it is worth noting if you are watching the US 20th Century Fox DVD version (and at this time it’s not available in too many other formats) then you will have the opportunity to watch alternative – or international versions of some of the scenes in Hong Kong. The US version seems to be heavily censored, whereas the international version features more nudity. Now I feel this is important — not because I am a randy old pervert — but because it presents an interesting contrast against the strict and possibly oppressive regime in China at that time, with Hong Kong which, although is a Chinese community, is under western (British) control. So the West is depicted as being rather decadent.

But back to the story. Hathaway meets a Chinese official named Yin who grants Hathaway a visa to China. Now you’re probably thinking, why would the Chinese grant Hathaway a visa. He is no doubt a spy — Why? But as previously mentioned Hathaway is also a Nobel Prize winning scientist and the Chinese haven’t worked all the bugs out of their enzyme project. So they want Hathaway in China for his knowledge. So the Chinese want Hathaway in China — the Americans and the Russians want Hathaway in China. It appears that everybody wants Hathaway in China except Hathaway.

Needless to say Hathaway goes to China and is greeted as almost a celebrity. Hundreds of people (possibly thousands) greet him at the airport — all of them waving red flags, or placards with images of Mao, or even little red books. Soon after, Hathaway is spirited off to meet Mao himself where — over a game of Ping pong — they discuss their differing opinions on humanity and the global implications and distribution of the enzyme.

The Chairman can be looked at in three ways. The first is as a travelogue and snapshot of the times (although much of the Asian footage was shot in Taiwan). On this level the film is first rate. As a time capsule and a throwback to the late sixties this film is quite an eye opener. Added to that, most spy films at the time featured the Russians as the enemy. It is quite unusual to see the Red Chinese as a villain (villain may not be the right word in this instant – but you know what I mean!).

Next if you are a spy film nut (like yours truly), then The Chairman serves up a great smorgasbord of spy talent. Starting with Gregory Peck — let’s face it, Peck was pretty good whatever genre he tackled, but he put in a few good performances in spy films. I particularly like Arabesque. I have already mentioned Mai Ling, but then there is Keye Luke as Professor Soong Li. Luke had a very long career, coming to prominence as Number One son in early Charlie Chan adventures, but his espionage credentials are solid appearing in I Spy, The FBI, Hawaii Five-O, and The Amsterdam Kill. Someone with even more strings to his bow, as far as espionage shows go is Burt Kwouk — who to me will always be Cato from Peter Sellers Pink panther films, but her appeared in The Saint, the Avengers, Jason King, Callan and the list goes on. Another character actor appearing as Yin is Eric Young — now if you saw Young you may not recognise him, but you would recognise his voice. He too, was a jobbing actor also appearing in The Saint, Jason King, Strange Report and a few Fu Manchu films.

The third way you can look at The Chairman is solely as a spy thriller, and this is where the film really lets itself down. As a positive it has an interesting and possibly even modern approach to surveillance — some aspects of this film are almost like Patriot Games and Peacemaker, with the immediate access to intel and the department heads are able to make their decisions based on that information. But the truth be told this film is very discerningly paced (a polite way of saying slow, with very little action) for the first three quarters of its running time. The last twenty minutes though, is really quite good, and manages to build up some tension and excitement, but I fear most viewers will have either turned off or have lost interest in the story by this stage.

But as you may have gathered, I didn’t think this film was too bad, but then I’m the type who thrives on this sort of thing. If you aren’t a spy film junky, then you may find this film clunky.

The Chairman (1969)

Terror Of The Tongs (1961)

AKA: The Terror Of The Hatchet Men
Director: Anthony Bushell
Starring: Geoffrey Toone, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Monlaur, Brian Worth, Richard Leech, Marne Maitland, Barbara Brown, Marie Burke, Burt Kwouk, Roger Delgado, Milton Reid, Bandana Das Gupta
Music: James Bernard

Burt Kwouk must be one of the most successful jobbing actors of the last half century. Since the late 1950’s, whenever a British film production or television show needed an oriental character, Burt Kwouk was the go-to man. Very often he would re-appear in television shows, like The Saint, The Avengers, Danger Man, and Callan as different characters because he was never a household name and nobody knew who he was. The closest he came to fame and recognition is as Cato Fong, Inspector Clouseau’s manservant in the Pink Panther movies. If you look at a list of movies that he has appeared in, you’ll be staggered by the shear amount of productions he has been in. However, being oriental usually meant that Kwouk had to play evil scheming characters. Some people may say that Dr. Fu Manchu was the epitome of Asian menace, or the so called ‘yellow-peril’. I disagree. Fu Manchu was usually played by a Caucasian actor (like Christopher Lee) with eye-pieces applied. Burt Kwouk was the real thing. Having said all that, The Terror Of The Tongs is unusual in that Burt Kwouk plays a good guy.

In the film, Kwouk plays Mr. Ming, an operative for an un-named organisation that is attempting to stamp out the Red Dragon Tong in Hong Kong. The Red Dragon Tong is a secret society that preys on the the people of Hong Kong. They extort money from shopkeepers and run gambling and opium dens, as well as brothels. Mr. Ming is on a steamer captained by Jackson Sale (Geoffrey Toone) as it sails into Hong Kong Harbour. Ming is carrying a list of all the Red Dragon Tong members. With this information he intends to stop the Tong once and for all. But Ming suspects that the Tong will try and stop him, so he secrets the list into the cover of a book of Chinese verse and gives it to Captain Sale as a gift for his daughter. The Captain gratefully accepts the gift.

Once in port, Ming is right. The Tong are waiting for him, and an assassin armed with a hatchet attacks Ming on the dock. Ming shoots his attacker three times but thins doesn’t stop the assassin who delivers a mortal blow to Ming.

The Tong arrange to claim Ming’s body and possessions but are dismayed to find that the list Ming was supposed to be carrying is nowhere to be found. The leader of the Tong, Chung King (Christopher Lee – with eye-pieces applied) surmises that Ming must have passed the list onto one of the officers on the ship, and orders that anyone who comes into contact with the list must be killed.

Captain Sale returns home to his daughter, Helena (Barabara Brown) and his housekeeper Anna (Bandana Das Gupta). Sale gives his daughter the book with the list hidden inside. Anna, the housekeeper is actually Ming’s contact in Hong Kong, and secretly she retrieves the list. But the Tong follow the trail. They start at Sales Steamer, where they find nothing, and then come to Sale’s home. Sale isn’t in the house at that time, but Helena is. The Tong’s, following their orders to kill anyone who comes in contact with the list, do just that. They kill Helena.

After the death of his daughter, Sale goes on a rampage, determined to expose the secret Tong society and find his daughter’s killer.

The Terror Of The Tongs is a Hammer production written by Jimmy Sangster and provides all the action and intrigue you’d expect from a film of this vintage. It is somewhat studio bound, but this allows the film-makers to control the colour and lighting (and it’s cheaper than filming on location in Hong Kong). Put simply, the film looks fabulous (especially the new widescreen transfers available on DVD). But is it a spy film? Well there are hints of espionage, but they are never really fleshed out. We don’t know who the good guys really are. They could be Interpol, maybe even the police – we never know. If it is a spy film, it’s a cusp spy film and not essential viewing for espionage fans.

Terror Of The Tongs (1961)

The Castle Of Fu Manchu (1969)

Director: Jess Franco
Starring: Christopher lee, Tsai Chin, Maria Perschy, Howard Marion-Crawford, Gunther Stoll, Rosalba Neri, Jose Manuel Martin, Richard Green
Music: Charles Camilleri
Based on characters created by Sax Rohmer

A bit more mayhem from the ‘most evil man on earth’. The Castle Of Fu Manchu is the fifth, final and weakest of the Harry Alan Towers series of Fu Manchu films. Like the previous film, The Blood Of Fu Manchu, this film is directed by the inimatable Jess Franco. Even with Franco’s skewed imput, this film is thin, and the budgetary restraints are obvious. The film starts with borrowed footage from A Night To Remember, and then recycles footage from The Brides Of Fu Manchu. This results in the sinking of the Titanic again, and the destruction of Fu Manchu’s secret lair once again. But this cobbled together intro is in fact, Fu Manchu’s demonstration of his newest weapon. Here he shows the world he can control the oceans of the world. In fact, it is not meant to be the Titanic. It is another cruise liner sailing the tropical seas of the Carribean. Fu Manchu has created icebergs in the Carribean, and of course, the ship hits the iceberg and sinks. But you guessed that, didn’t you!

Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard (Richard Green) and his old pal Doctor Petrie (Howard Marion-Crawford) are holidaying in scotland while Fu Manchu’s evil scheme is played out. But their holiday is cut short when a message from the Home Office orders them back to London at once.

Back in London, Homeland Security have been receiving reoccuring radio messages from Fu Manchu. He says, ‘In the Carribean I gave a demonstration of the new and destructive weapon I possess!’ Fu Manchu threatens to strike again in fourteen days unless the heads of the major powers agree to his demands. In his transmission, Fu doesn’t actually say what his demands are; only that the leaders are to agree to them. But as Fu Manchu has proven himself to have a megalomaniacal streak in the past four films, it’s fair enough to assume his price tag would be steep.

The intro sequence to this film also showed the destruction of Fu Manchu’s secret lair, so he needs a new one. And for his weapon to work he needs two things – large amounts of water – and the other is large quantities of opium. Apparently the opium is somehow transformed into ice crystals and this creates the icebergs, or some other such mumbo-jumbo. To be honest, the ‘science’ in this film is pretty flakey. So ‘water’ and ‘opium’ are Fu’s requirements, and it just so happens that these items are in plentiful supply in Anatolia in Turkey. To make this a reality, Fu Manchu’s evil daughter, Lin Tang (Tsai Chin) meets with a local Turkish ganglord and opium dealer, Omar Pasher. Together thay form an alliance and plot to storm the Govenor of Anatolia’s castle.

The incursion works like clockwork. Pasher’s men kill the guards at the main gates to the castle, and then Fu Manchu’s army of evil minions do the rest. Fu Manchu has a new base of operations, but he needs one man to bring his reign of terror to fruition. He is Professor Herades. Fu Manchu has Herades already held prisoner, but Herades has a terminal heart condition which limits his usefulness.

Meanwhile, back in England, Nayland Smith and petrie begin to nut together the piece’s of Fu Manchu’s scheme and deduce that he must be hiding out in Turkey.

Richard Green is Nayland Smith once again, and thanfully he gets a litle more to do in this film than he did in The Blood Of Fu Manchu. But the Franco films concentrate far more on Fu Manchu than any one of the good guys. Christopher Lee phones through another acceptable performance, but he isn’t really stretching himself. Rosalba Neri has a flashy role as Omar Pasher’s number one minion. In the film, she gets to wear some unusal striped suits and hats.

At the start of the review, I mentioned that this film was directed by Jess Franco. Most fans of B-grade or cult cinema will be familiar with his work. But The Castle Of Fu Manchu, while having a few small Franco touches isn’t really indicative of his work.

This film is pretty bad. Franco tries hard to do what he can to cobble together a decent story but there is way too much padding. There is one sequence which is almost laughable in it’s attempt to create tension with no budget. Fu Manchu and an assortment of characters stare at a room full of bubbling test tubes and beakers ans shout out warnings. But the test tubes look the same from one scene to the next. It doesn’t look like things are heating up. But the scene is well edited – there simply wasn’t an adequate budget to provide some convincing scientific equipment or sets.

The film is really is the nadir of the series. It’s hard to go down further when you’re already beyond the bottom of the barrel. It’s not surprising that no further films were made in the series.

The Castle Of Fu Manchu (1969)

The High Commissioner (1968)

Directed by Ralph Thomas
Rod Taylor, Christopher Plummer, Lilli Palmer, Carmilla Sparv, Leo McKern, Daliah Lavi, Derren Nesbitt, Clive Revill, Bud Tingwell, Burt Kwouk
Music by Georges Delerue
Based on the Novel By Jon Cleary

The book, The High Commissioner, by Jon Cleary, and the film The High Commissioner are two very different beasts. Cleary’s book is more of a police story than a spy story. Central to both versions, however, is a peace conference. In the film, the conference is for a generic ‘world peace’. In the book, the conference is struggling to end the war in Vietnam, and the characters reflect this. Madame Cholon, played in the movie by Daliah Lavi, is supposed to be Vietnamese. Although Miss Lavi is an exotic beauty, she is hardly Asian. Another strange bit of casting is Derren Nesbitt in the role of Pallain. In the book Pallain is of French / Mexican extraction. Nesbitt whose career is peppered with many Teutonic characters is definitely not the right actor for this role, but you have to give the film-makers credit for trying. They dyed Nesbitt’s hair black, darkened his face with makeup, and gave him a silly moustache. Despite their best efforts the transformation does not work.

The other casting choices for the film are pretty good though. Rugged Rod Taylor is almost perfect as Scobie Malone. I would have loved to have seen him play the role again. Taylor’s career in the late 60’s and early 70’s is interesting in that he played a few characters from successful literary series. It is almost as if he was searching for a nice little film franchise that he could settle into and just churn out film after film, year after year. Unfortunately for Taylor none of the films were hits. Apart from Scobie Malone, Taylor had a crack a Boysie Oakes in The Liquidator, from the series by John Gardner; and in Darker Than Amber he played Travis McGee from the books by John D. MacDonald.

Also well cast is Christopher Plummer as Sir James Quentin. As he is the ambassador, I can forgive that he doesn’t have an Australian accent.

Onto the story…Scobie Malone is a hard working Sergeant in the New South Wales Police force. One morning he receives a summons from the NSW Premier, Flannery (Leo McKern). Flannery has never liked the Australian High Commissioner in London, Sir James Quentin (Christopher Plummer), and has had men checking Quentin’s background searching for dirt. In his quest, Flannery has discovered a disturbing piece of information – Quentin is wanted on an ages old murder charge. Flannery wants Malone to fly to London and arrest the High Commissioner on suspicion of murder.

Malone catches a flight to London and finds that Quentin is quite willing to go back and faces the charges – but not right away. You see, at this moment he is engaged in some important peace talks, and if he were to leave in the middle of proceedings, the fragile peace discussions may collapse.

Malone is not happy about the delay. He is a simple guy, not someone used to black-tie balls and diplomatic soirées. Adding to Malone’s problems, is that someone is trying to kill Quentin. So Malone is seconded into a role as a security advisor and bodyguard for the High Commissioner.

During Malone’s extended stay he gets drawn into the Quentin household. Apart from Sir James, this includes Lady Sheila Quentin (Lilli Palmer) , Joseph – the butler (Clive Revill), and Sir James’ secretary, Lisa Pretorius (Carmilla Sparv). Lisa is a constant thorn in Malone’s side as he tries to carry out his duties. Incidentally, in Jon Cleary’s book series, Malone would later marry Lisa. The script of this film doesn’t really hint at a budding romance, in fact it’s hard to see Malone and Lisa’s relationship growing at all. Let’s just say, that opposites attract.

The High Commissioner is a difficult film for me to review, because I had read a couple of Cleary’s books before I was able to track down the movie…and while I enjoy the movie enormously, it grates on me that it is so dumbed down compared to the book. It’s the old cliché – ‘the book is so much better’ – but here I am reviewing the film, not the book, so ignoring the book, I’d say the film is a fun slice of sixties spy cinema with an engaging cast. I guess that’s not a bad thing.

The High Commissioner (1968)

The Avengers: Lobster Quadrille (1964)

Directed by Kim Mills
Patrick Macnee, Honor Blackman, Burt Kwouk, Jennie Linden, Leslie Sands, Gary Watson, Corin Redgrave, Norman Scace
Music by Johnny Danworth

Lobster Quadrille is one of the most popular episodes of The Avengers for a couple of reasons. The first is that is the episode where we bid a fond farewell to the character Cathy Gale. The second reason is that Honor Blackman, who played Gale, left the show to film the James Bond film Goldfinger with Sean Connery. To reflect this, at the end of the episode, their are a few subtle in-jokes, which suggest she will go ‘pussy’-footing around on the sun soaked shores of the Bahamas. For those who don’t ‘get it’, the character that Blackman played in Goldfinger was Pussy Galore. So this episode is really one for the hard-core fans. Not that the story is inaccessible to ‘regular’ people. Far from it, it is simply the bigger fan that you are, the more you’d get from this episode.

The episode starts with a man waiting in a fishing shack. At his feet is a dead man. The body is John Williams. He was an agent for the Ministry, who operated out of France. Recently he had been working on breaking a narcotics smuggling ring, but his investigative days are over. A second man, named Bush (Gary Watson) enters the fishing hut. The first guy explains what happened, then smashes a kerosene lamp. The two men leave as the hut goes up in flames.
Two of the Ministries top agents are assigned to find out what happened. Enter John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman). Their first port of call is the morgue. Among Williams personal effects, Cathy finds a very rare and valuable chess piece. She decides to follow that lead and find out more about chess. But Steed heads to the scene of the crime.

At the hut, he meets the pathologist, Dr Stannage (Norman Scace). He has ascertained that Williams was shot and is now looking for the bullet. He doesn’t find it and moves on. This leaves Steed to his own devices. He starts poking around the hut, examining some charred pots of lobsters, when he is interrupted by Bush. Bush enquires as to Steed’s purpose at the hut. Steed says he is working for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and is looking into the case. Steed also arranges a time to interview Bush in more formal surroundings, along with his boss, Captain Slim. Slim runs a fishing fleet that specialises in catching lobster, which it then sends all over the world.

Meanwhile, Cathy arrives at the aptly named ‘The Chess Shop’, an establishment run by an oriental gentleman called Mason (Burt Kwouk). Cathy asks about acquiring a chess set in the same style as the piece she has acquired from Williams. Mason doesn’t have one in stock, but says to call back in a few days.

Steed interviews Captain Slim and Bush, and both men assure him that they had never met Williams before and had no idea how a fire could have started in one of the fishing huts. Soon after, as the interview winds up, the Captain’s daughter in law, Katie Miles (Jennie Linden) arrives at the house. She was married to the Captain’s son, who tragically died in a boating accident a year ago. Now she works as an entertainer at a nightclub in London. Naturally Steed takes a shine to her, and arranges to meet her after work.

I won’t outline any more of the plot, because the astute among you will have already pieced together this puzzle. It is exactly as you’d expect.

Lobster Quadrille features chess motifs throughout the show. Black and white chequered floors abound, whether it be in the morgue, Steeds apartment or in Katie’s nightclub. Equally, on the walls, there are images of knights, kings and queens. It’s the kind of surreal environment that would become a feature of The Avengers in future episodes, and would dominate the shows with Cathy Gales successor, Emma Peel.

Lobster Quadrille, like all the earlier episodes, doesn’t have the polish of the Emma Peel or Tara King era episodes, but it still is a good example of the show. These days, because Diana Rigg was so popular and successful as Emma Peel, she sort of overshadows Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale. But let’s not forget, in her time Cathy Gale was quite groundbreaking for a female lead in a television show. She wasn’t simply an appendage to Steed. She was an equal. In this particular episode, in fact Steed fails to rescue her. But that doesn’t matter, because Cathy is smart, tough and resourceful, and can get out of any trouble that she gets into.

Lobster Quadrille is one of the core episodes of The Avengers. If you are a fan of The Avengers and haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to track it down. If, on the other hand, you’re just a casual observer who likes the colourful costumes and offbeat stories, well then, I suggest that you skip forward to the episodes from 1967. That’s the year when The Avengers went ‘colour’ and by this time the formulation of outlandish plots had been honed to perfection.

The Avengers: Lobster Quadrille (1964)