In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb darkest hour ver3

Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour stands apart from more routine historical dramas.

Thumb man who invented christmas

The Man Who Invented Christmas

Not particularly keen on nuance or subtlety, this is a film in which everything, especially Stevens’ decidedly manic take on Dickens, is pitched as broadly…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Blog Archives

Reviews

The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu

  |  

The project must have been just the kind Sellers loved to work on. He plays two of the major roles in the movie, the ancient Fu Manchu and the unflappable Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard. He also turns up in a variety of other disguises, as a Chinese chef, a foppish antique dealer and the young Fu. The roles required complex makeup jobs (as old Fu, he looks like one of Madame Tussaud's bad dreams); then Sellers plays around with accents, props, all the schtick he can dream up.

Unfortunately, the movie itself gives him little support. The screenplay doesn't seem to have been thought through on the level of small details, and details are what make movies like this funny. The hazard in these enterprises is that the story sounds so funny (Fu Manchu needs secret youth elixir, stages raid on British crown jewels) that the screenplay is never pushed to the next level of detail. By contrast, the Inspector Clouseau movies always felt meticulously thought-out.

Advertisement

The plot, in hindsight, is also just a little morbid, given Sellers' recent death. As Fu Manchu, he plays a 168-year-old man who starts fading fast after a clumsy assistant spills the vial containing his youth potion. Manchu has to reassemble the secret ingredients, including a precious jewel, and so he stages an international crime wave. But his life force is ebbing low, and there are scenes where his assistants feed him jolts of electricity to keep him turning over. It is just a shade hard to laugh at some of these scenes so soon after the funeral.

And, for that matter, they're not so funny anyway. The movie has some good moments (what Peter Sellers comedy could not have?), but the story never really involves us, the characters aren't all that interesting once you get beyond the makeup and the funny names and it's a bit disappointing that "The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu" doesn't grab the obvious opportunity to satirize all the old Boris Karloff lateshow specials.

What the movie does have is a certain endearing, dogged professionalism. Nobody sets out to make a bad movie, but bad movies are made, and the people making them often suspect the worst, even at the time. But they have to forge ahead. Peter Sellers was in too many good comedies, I suspect, to be able to convince himself that this was another one. But he was too much of a trouper to let down. Maybe that could be his epitaph: When he was good, he was very good indeed, and when he was bad, he was still trying.

Popular Blog Posts

Why I Stopped Watching Woody Allen Movies

Stop watching movies made by assholes. It'll be OK.

Netflix's Marvel Spin-off "The Punisher" is a Lightweight

A review of Netflix's new Marvel series, "The Punisher."

60 Minutes on: "Wonder Woman"

One of the best superhero films, in large part because the title character sincerely believes in values larger than a...

William Peter Blatty: 1928-2017

The work of the late author, writer and director William Peter Blatty will continue to haunt the dreams of readers an...

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus