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Films: F is for...

Fiendish Plot of Dr Fu Manchu, The

Ropey, ‘troubled’, bizarre-in-the-worst-way last hurrah from Peter Sellers, who plays both Sax Rohmer’s titular mastermind (in latex make-up and corny accent) and his dashing, lawnmower-loving British nemesis (in grey wig and incoherent aristocratic mumbles). He does both very badly indeed, but then he was not a well man, either physically (the ailing Fu jump-starts himself with electric shocks, in a grisly echo of Sellers’s own cardiac traumas) or mentally (the ever-difficult star sacked director Piers Haggard half way through, and finished it off himself, hence the resulting mess that takes “being all over the shop” into a new dimension). A wasted supporting cast includes Helen Mirren, David ‘tuppence’ Tomlinson, a totally out of place Sid ‘Show of Shows’ Caesar, a Dad’s Army double of John Le Mesurier and Clive Dunn, and Burt Kwouk in an obvious Panther-referencing cameo at the start. From then on, it’s a mish-mash of fizzling sub-plots, misfiring gags (and huge stretches without any recognisable gags, or indeed anything happening at all), much gratuitous ‘delightfully un-PC’ racism, and some admittedly rather good set design, all culminating in Sellers doing a totally pointless Japanese Elvis routine that would have Simon Groom slapping his ample forehead in disbelief.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Matt Patton

    February 27, 2010 at 1:15 am

    Isn’t this the one where Mirren taps dances and plays the accordion? At the same time?

  2. Sidney Balmoral James

    April 5, 2021 at 10:54 pm

    You could write whole books on the implications of this film. It was quite a personal project for Sellers, and it’s almost like watching the varied obsessions of a man paraded before our eyes before he dies: the nostalgia for a music hall long past, and for the Goons, where he honed his comic abilities, the theme of regeneration and impersonation writ large, the terrible attempts at making himself seductive to young women, the love-hate relationship with both Britain, and America – it’s all there but precious few laughs.

    • THX 1139

      April 6, 2021 at 11:30 am

      Not to mention the lack of wisdom in doing a Fu Manchu movie in *1980* – Boris Karloff got complaints about the role in 1932! The whole thing is eerily unfunny, it’s almost disturbing.

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