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)

Marie Chantal contre Dr. Kha

AKA: Blue Panther
Country: France, Spain, Italy, Morocco
Director: Claude Chabrol
Starring: Marie Laforêt, Francisco Rabal, Roger Hanin, Serge Reggiani, Charles Denner, Akim Tamiroff
Music: Michel Colombier, Gregorio García Segura, Pierre Jansen

French film director, Claude Chabrol is credited with starting the “nouvelle vague” French film movement (or the French New Wave as it commonly called). Prior to his first film, in 1957, Chabrol co-wrote ‘Hitchcock’ with Éric Rohmer. The next year, Chabrol made his feature directorial debut with Le Beau Serge (1958), a Hitchcock-influenced thriller. Chabrol’s Le Beau Serge (1958) is often cited as the first New Wave feature. This was followed by Truffaut’s The 400 Blows in 1959 and Godard’s À bout de souffle (Breathless) in 1960.

The thing that is important here though, is how Chabrol (and other New Wave directors) worshiped Hitchcock, because, despite Bondmania sweeping the world, Marie Chantal contre Dr. Kha is an affectionate reworking of The Man Who Knew Too Much — predominantly the 1956 version with James Stewart and Doris Day — although if you suggested that the scenes in the Swiss Alps owe more than a little to the original 1934 version with Peter Lorre, I would not argue with you. Or in this case the film may be called The Woman Who Knew Too Much, (but Mario Bava already used that title) and that woman is Marie Chantal.

The film opens on a train and many people are having a meal in the dining carriage. One such man is Dumont, who is an uncouth slob with glasses and a comb over. After his meal he down a good glass of brandy and lurches back to his compartment. His compartment is a four-berth room, and inside are three other travellers. Two of these men are young and they are practicing card tricks as a way to relieve the boredom of the long train trip. The other passenger on the bunk below Dumont’s is Bruno Kerrien (Roger Hanin – you may remember Hanin as the star of Chabrol’s two Le Tigre films). The two card players get bored with their card game and leave to get coffee. This leaves Dumont and Kerrien alone, but Dumont has already passed out. Kerrien silently gets out of his bunk, produces an icepick and stabs Dumont in the heart. Then he retrieves a blue panther pendant from around the dead man’s neck.

Kerrien then leaves the compartment and heads to the dining car. There he is seated at the same table as Marie Chantal (Marie Laforêt) and her cousin, Hubert de Ronsac (Pierre-Francois Moro). It seems that all three of them are travelling to the same destination which is Verbois in Switzerland and staying at the ‘Hotel des Neiges’. After the meal Hubert excuses himself because he is tired, leaving Marie in the company of Kerrien. At this point he asks a favour of her, but says he cannot explain why. He has a piece of jewellery — a blue panther with ruby eyes — which he wants her to take and hide upon her person. He will ask for it back in a day or so, once they are in Verbois. He then says that it is a matter of life and death. Marie reluctantly agrees to take the piece.

Once is Verbois the cast of characters is added to and fleshed out. First Marie meets Paco Castillo (Francisco Rabal), the square-jawed hero of the piece. He claims to be a reporter investigating an international spy ring. Then there is Mister Johnson (Charles Denner), who is the attache to the US Embassy in Morocco. In fact though, Johnson actually works for Dr. Kha (Akim Tamiroff). Dr. Kha is a super-villain of the highest order and has operative’s everywhere. Then there is a father and son team of Russian agents. This is given a twist in that the son, Gregor, who appears to be only twelve years old, is the brains of the duo, and the father, Ivanov, is the brawn.

Later Kerrien arranges to meet Marie at a nightclub so he can reclaim the panther. But prior to this, as Kerrien is on a chairlift, he is killed by a blow dart fired out of a ski-pole. Kerrien falls to the snow below. Marie just happens to be the first on the scene, and with his dying words, he says to only give the panther to Ali Kadour – and beware of Dr. Kha.

Ali Kadour happens to live in Agadir in Morocco, so that where Maire and Hubert head next, but followed by the entire cadre of spy characters who are all secretly after the blue panther.At the top I suggested this film is similar to Hitchcock’s The Man Who Kn
ew Too Much
, and the initial setup is very similar. In Hitchcock’s film, the characters meet on a bus rather than a train. And in both film’s the heroes (or in this case heroine) are given some secret information by a dying spy.

Marie Chantal Vs Dr. Kha is a very enjoyable film, but perhaps a tad to long with the final plot twist and thread coming so late in the story its importance is negated. This happens to be the titular showdown between Marie Chantal and Dr. Kha. But the other characters have been quite entertaining in their offbeat way up to this point, so even if the final confrontation doesn’t live up the billing and knock your socks off, you wont come away disappointed.

Marie Chantal contre Dr. Kha

Code Name: Tiger

Original Title: Le Tigre aime la chair fraiche
AKA: The Tiger Likes Fresh Blood, The Tiger Likes Fresh Meat
Country: France / Italy
Director: Claude Chabrol
Starring: Roger Hanin, Daniela Bianchi, Maria Mauban, Roger Dumas, Antonio Passalia, Roger Rudel, Carlo Nell
Music: Pierre Jansen

Most reports on the various English language versions of this film that are currently available on the grey market are that they are severely truncated (The Tiger Likes Fresh Meat seems to be missing twenty minutes, and Code Name: Tiger is missing about twelve minutes). This heavy handed editing has apparently rendered the story almost incomprehensible. With that in mind, I have gone to the original French version, Le Tigre aime la chair fraiche, for this review. Considering my inability to speak French, this probably served to render the film just as incomprehensible as the poor English versions, but I was confident that the international language of spy films would shine through.

The film opens in a Middle Eastern country in a darkened cinema, and some diplomats are watching footage of a Mirage jet re-fuelling in midair. As they watch the film, a man with a knife enters the screening room and sneaks up behind one of the men watching the presentation. As the assailant plunges the knife into the back of his target, the film ends and the lights go on. The killer is out in the open and exposed. He makes a run for it with a squad of policemen on his trail.

Surprisingly, the killer runs rings around the local constabulary and makes it to a safe house. Here he is met by an albino in a natty white suit and Panama hat. From the safe house they drive through the country to an amazing location – it’s this fortified white stucco mansion that’s surrounded by palm trees – but what makes it surreal, is that the area has flooded, so half a metre of water covers everything. They walk into the mansion, which is fully furnish (with opulent furniture at that), with water up to their knees. They wade through unperturbed into the office of the unseen boos man. Both men are given a stack of bills as payment, and then the albino stabs his partner. We next see the dead man floating face down through the palm trees. It’s a bizarre but stylish opening sequence.

The minion was killed because he had in fact botched the assassination attempt in the cinema. Sure he killed someone, but not the man he was supposed to. His intended target was a Turkish diplomat called Baskine. The man the assailant actually killed was a French secret agent, and a friend of Louis Rapiere – known in espionage circles as ‘The Tiger’. And that brings us to our hero for the show. We meet The Tiger (Roger Hanin) at a training camp in France. He is in the middle of conducting a judo class when he is interrupted by a General. He informs The Tiger of his colleagues death. He also re-assigns The Tiger to take over the assignment. It is feared that there will be more attempts on Baskine’s life.

Next we join The Tiger at Orly Airport with a team of operatives, including the accident prone Duvet (Roger Dumas). For ‘accident prone’ – read ‘comic relief’. The Tiger and his men are on hand to protect Baskine as he arrives in France. Also loitering around the airport is the albino and a team of killers, including a malicious midget and a bad boy scout, all intent on turning Baskine into raspberry jam. With this many thugs at the airport, it will come as no surprise that an attempt is made on Baskine’s life, but it is foiled by The Tiger.

The Tiger’s heroic actions have brought him to the attention of Mrs. Baskine (Maria Mauban), the diplomat’s wife, and more importantly, Melhica Baskine (Daniella Bianchi), the diplomat’s daughter. Both women are grateful for his intervention at the airport, and as a reward for his heroics, he finds himself chauffeuring around the ladies as they go on a shopping spree in Paris.

Code Name: Tiger starts out as a promising enough spy thriller but soon bogs down. Maybe my lack of French is to blame, but I think even to a Parisian native, the dreary pacing would take it’s toll. But any spy film that features Daniella Bianchi cannot be all bad, even if she is wasted as window dressing. In this film she has little more to do than make goo-goo eyes at The Tiger, and then get kidnapped by the villains.

One of the films saving graces is the music by Pierre Jansen. Although used sparingly, it makes the few action scenes seem more exciting than they actually are. It is certainly better than his score for the Chabrol helmed Who’s Got The Black Box.

I think that Code Name: Tiger may well be a fair to decent Eurospy picture, but as it stands at the moment, for English speakers – with poor, edited and dubbed versions it’s hard to know for sure. This wasn’t the end for The Tiger, though. He would return in an official sequel, Our Agent Tiger (Le Tigre se parfume à la dynamite), and star Roger Hanin would appear in other spy films that were marketed as ‘Tiger’ films in other countries.

Code Name: Tiger

Codename Jaguar (1965)

Director: Maurice Labro
Starring: Ray Danton, Pascale Petit, Horst Frank, Wolfgang Preiss, Roger Hanin
Music: Michel Legrand

Codename Jaguar
is a wild Eurospy extravaganza. It is loud, lurid (I think – the colours on the print I viewed were ‘bleeding’ into each other) and ultimately extremely entertaining. This time Danton is Jeff Larson, a swinging secret agent. No, he’s not just a ‘secret’ agent, he a ‘super’ agent. He is sent on a mission to Spain after a U.S. submarine, on a routine mission, rises from the sea off the Spanish coast. Beside the sub, in restricted water, is a scantily clad young lady in a small boat with a broken engine. Minutes after this seemingly innocent accident, footage of the incident is being beamed into Russia. From this, the Americans realise that there is a security breach on their Spanish military base, and somewhere nearby, there must be some cameras and a really BIG transmitter.

I’ll go over the opening scenes in depth because it is a bit confusing (call me stupid if you will) and it took me a couple of viewing to really work out what was going on. As I mentioned a submarine rises from the sea off the Spanish coast. But the camera pulls back to reveal that we are actually watching all this unfold on a monitor in some kind of intelligence headquarters. A unformed officer with a miniature camera hidden in the button of his blazer stands behind the men at the console and secretly takes pictures of the sub rising.

On my initial viewing I thought that the headquarters was American. They were overseeing the mission, and the officer with the miniature camera was a Russian and he sneaked the images out. But on second viewing I think that the headquarters are Russian. They have hidden cameras around the coastline and are watching (or more correctly ‘spying on’) the Americans. The footage they are watching has been beamed directly to them. The officer with the miniature camera must be an American agent and he must be taking film footage…not just they odd Kodak moment.

The footage that this American smuggles out is then later played for the chiefs in the war room, and they realise they have problems. Enter Jeff Larson.

I may have that wrong. But it makes more sense to me. After all, Larson wouldn’t begin to look for cameras, because he’d know where the footage came from – The Americans. He only be searching for a transmitter! (Feel free to correct me if you have another opinion!)

So the Americans have a problem and they send Larson to investigate. No sooner than he has arrived in Spain, he is mugged as he leaves the airport and bundled into a waiting car. But it is a ruse to throw the ‘reds’ off the scent. The men who have abducted him are good guys. In particular ‘Our Man In Spain’ Bob Stuart (Roger Hanin).

But Stuart is only one part of the team Larson will be working with. After all Larson is a ‘swingin’ super agent. He can’t spend the whole mission surrounded by hoary old military types. That’s where ‘Our Girl From Spain’ comes in. Her name is Perez (Pascale Petit) or ‘Kitten’ as Larson likes to call her. I am quite fond of the scene where Larson and Perez meet. Larson is in his hotel room taking a shower, when Perez sneaks in, believing him to be an impostor. As he exits the shower, she points a gun at him. The way he disables her is quite amusing, culminating in Larson grabbing the hem of her skirt, and raising it above her head, trapping the top portion of her body like…er, like a sack of potatoes really. Her arms and head are trapped inside. Her only weapons are her legs which dangle free, so she kicks out blindly. Great fun.

Back to the story. Larson starts his investigation with the girl who was in the boat next to the Sub. She lives in the township of Alicante and is the manager of a nightclub called (you guessed it) The Flamenco (well it was either the Flamingo or The Flamenco – script writers lack imagination when naming their nightclubs!) Her name is Ms Calderon. Larson quickly makes friends (doing quite a nice Clark Kent impersonation) with Calderon and they head out on a speedboat to where the submarine incident happened. Backtracking to where it all began, Larson and his team are able to find some of the cameras that the Russian’s have planted.

So now Larson has a bad girl on one arm and a good girl on the other. Naturally enough the two girls don’t get along and he dialogue between the two ‘catty’ female leads is quite good.

I’ll leave the synopsis there, but will mention a couple of set pieces though. A chase scene with several front end loaders in a quarry is well staged, but never quite looks truly threatening. The other set piece takes place on a Russian trawler at sea. The choreography during the fight sequences is quite sloppy, but Danton still ‘sells’ it.

Michel Legrand’s score is adequate, but doesn’t have any catchy hooks. Some of the musical cues appear to have been used, almost note for note, eighteen years later in Legrand’s score for Never Say Never Again. But at least you don’t have to put up with Lani Hall singing a dreary title song. A little bit about Legrand (very little). He’s a French composer, and a prolific musical artist, having over 200 scores to his credit. He has been rather successful, collecting three Academy Awards, and five Grammys. To western audiences, his most successful musical score was for the Steve McQueen version of The Thomas Crown Affair, including the song Windmills of Your Mind. Apart from the above mentioned spy films he also did the score for Ice Station Zebra.

This review is based on the Atlas Visuals USA DVD

Codename Jaguar (1965)