As the tale opens, drums sound and we see soldiers lining a courtyard. A man reads charges from a scroll and a prisoner is led out. A basket is laid beside a block and the executioner readies his blade. The prisoner lays down, face to the sky, as the blade swings down. Decapitated, the basket is removed and the witnesses file away. The prisoner was the notorious criminal Fu Manchu, executed in his homeland of China. So begins the 1965 film The Face of Fu Manchu.
The setting shifts to a few months later and moves from China to London. We are introduced to Nayland Smith (Nigel Green), an inspector with Scotland Yard and one of the witnesses at Fu Manchu's execution. As we meet him, we learn of a rash of mysterious strangulation murders that seem to indicate that Fu Manchu is alive and well. We also learn of the disappearance of noted biochemist Dr. Muller.
It is true; Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee) is alive, despite his execution having many witnesses. He has set up shop in London and is working on a new plan to take over the world. He is extorting Dr. Muller into helping him create a poison to help him in his quest.
The Face of Fu Manchu was the first big screen appearance of the Sax Rohmer created character in 25-years. He had last been seen in a 15-chapter serial in 1940 and in a series of features in the late 1920s and early 1930s. This film was the start of a new five film cycle featuring Christopher Lee in the villainous title role.
The movie plays like a cross between a Sherlock Holmes tale and a James Bond adventure. There is a Holmes-esque battle of wits waged between Fu Manchu and Nayland Smith, who has a sidekick named Dr. Petrie filling the Watson role. The movie is also filled with action and fist fights as the villain seeks to enact his world enveloping plan, not unlike a Bond film. Beyond that, there is also a bit a Hammer feel, but that may just be due to Lee's presence.
There is a distinct B-movie quality here, and director Don Sharp keeps things moving. It is not without it's slow moments, but never long enough to where you start thinking of the logic gaps that can be found throughout. I thought it best to just go along with the story and let the lead performances take you where you need to go. There is no need to think about the logistics of faking a witnessed execution, or how our bad guy made it to England, much less set up an extensive base of operations. There is also no need to think about why a Scotland Yard inspector would be discussing strategy in such an open location.