Film Review – THE VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU (1967)

VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU, THE (1967, UK/Ireland/West Germany/Hong Kong) **½
Action, Crime, Horror

dist. Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributors (UK), Warner Bros./Seven Arts (USA); pr co. Constantin Film / Shaw Brothers / Terra-Filmkunst; d. Jeremy Summers; w. Harry Alan Towers (as Peter Welbeck) (based on the characters created by Sax Rohmer); pr. Harry Alan Towers; ph. John von Kotze (Eastmancolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.66:1); m. Malcolm Lockyer; s. “The Real Me,” “Where Are the Men,” m/l. Malcolm Lockyer and Don Black (voice performed by Samantha Jones); ed. Allan Morrison; ad. Peggy Gick, Scott MacGregor; sd. Brian Marshall (Mono); rel. May 1967 (UK), Jamuary 1968 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 91m.

cast: Christopher Lee (Fu Manchu), Tony Ferrer (Inspector Ramos), Tsai Chin (Lin Tang), Douglas Wilmer (Nayland Smith), Wolfgang Kieling (Dr. Lieberson), Suzanne Roquette (Maria), Howard Marion-Crawford (Petrie), Noel Trevarthen (Mark Weston), Horst Frank (Rudy), Peter Carsten (Kurt), Maria Rohm (Ingrid), Mona Chong (Jasmin).

Lee’s third outing as the evil Fu Manchu sees him plot the death of his nemesis Nayland Smith (Wilmer) through the highly implausible use of a surgically created double, whilst looking to hook up with crime syndicates around the world via their go-between (Frank). This entry is not as tightly directed as the first two instalments with often static and unimaginative camerawork robbing the action scenes of much of the energy Don Sharp brought to those first two films. Lee has little to do other than give orders from his throne. However, Chin is again effective as Fu’s sadistic daughter and Wilmer and Crawford continue their “Holmes/Watson” styled relationship. The supporting cast, much of which is dubbed, is less strong and some of the acting is woeful. Despite the period setting, the female characters seem to be dressed and coiffured in 1960s salons adding an anachronistic tone and losing the period colour given to Sharp’s films. That said, there are still moments to enjoy on a basic comic strip level and it remains a notch above what the series would descend into in its the final two instalments. Filmed in Hong Kong and Ireland. Followed by THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU (1968).

Film Review – THE BRIDES OF FU MANCHU (1966)

BRIDES OF FU MANCHU, THE (1966, UK) ***
Action, Crime, Sci-Fi

dist. Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributors (UK), Seven Arts Pictures (USA); pr co. Constantin Film Produktion / Fu Manchu Films / Hallam Productions; d. Don Sharp; w. Harry Alan Towers (as Peter Welbeck) (based on characters created by Sax Rohmer); pr. Harry Alan Towers, David Henley; ph. Ernest Steward (Eastmancolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.85:1); m. Bruce Montgomery; ed. Allan Morrison; ad. Frank White; cos. Harry Haynes, Tina Haynes; m/up. George Partleton, Anne Box; sd. Len Abbott, John Brommage, Roy Piper (Mono (RCA Sound Recording)); rel. 2 September 1966 (West Germany), 16 December 1966 (UK/USA); cert: U; r/t. 94m.

cast: Christopher Lee (Fu Manchu), Douglas Wilmer (Nayland Smith), Heinz Drache (Franz Baumer), Marie Versini (Marie Lentz), Howard Marion-Crawford (Doctor Petrie), Tsai Chin (Lin Tang), Rupert Davies (Jules Merlin), Kenneth Fortescue (Sergeant Spicer), Joseph Fürst (Otto Lentz (as Joseph Furst)), Roger Hanin (Inspector Pierre Grimaldi), Harald Leipnitz (Nikki Sheldon), Carole Gray (Michel Merlin), Burt Kwouk (Feng), Salmaan Peerzada (Abdul (as Salmaan Peer)), Ric Young (Control Assistant (as Eric Young)), Wendy Gifford (Louise), Francesca Tu (Lotus (as Poulet Tu)), Sally Sheridan (Shiva (as Danni Sheridan)), Denis Holmes (Constable), Maureen Beck (Nurse Brown).

In 1924, Dr. Fu Manchu (Lee), his army of dacoits and his vicious daughter Lin Tang (Chin) are kidnapping the daughters of prominent scientists and taking them to his remote island, where he demands that the fathers help him to build a device that transmits blast waves through a radio transmitter, which he intends to use to take over the world. He plans to keep (even wed) the girls in question. But Dr. Fu Manchu’s archenemy, Nayland Smith (Wilmer) of Scotland Yard, is determined not to let that happen. Lee returns as the evil Fu in the decent follow-up to THE FACE OF FU MANCHU (1965). The film repeats the same formula and adds little that is new, but the direction is lively and the pace quick. The dialogue and script are strictly comic book, of course, and the performances vary in quality. Wilmer replaced Nigel Green in the role of Scotland Yard’s Nayland Smith, whilst Crawford returns as his sidekick Petrie – the pair striking up something akin to a Holmes/Watson dynamic. Chin exudes a sadistic menace as Fu’s daughter. Good location work and period detail for the limited budget. US release includes a 1m prologue reprise of the end of THE FACE OF FU MANCHU (1965). Followed by THE VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU (1967).

Fish’s retirement album “Weltschmerz” – a career best

I recently bought one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long while. Fish’s double album “Weltschmerz“, released at the back end of last year, is an extremely personal set of songs and is a stunning collection both musically and lyrically. It’s his retirement album and every song makes an emotional connection. I was alerted to the album when I came across the promo video for the song “Garden of Remembrance”, which deals with the subject of dementia, told from Fish’s own experience with his father. It is one of the most heartfelt songs I have ever heard with its stark piano arrangement and deep-felt lyrics.

The album itself mixes the quirky (“Man with a Stick”, “This Party’s Over”) and the epic (“Rose of Damascus”, “Waverley Steps”) with melodies and lyrics that stay with you long after. The songs deal with health issues, something Fish has suffered more than his share of in recent years, the ageing process, changes in the way we live and the world itself. From the opener “Grace of God” through to the closing title track every song is a gem.  It is a stunning achievement for a 62-year-old.

Weltschmerz
/ˈvɛltˌʃmɛːts,German ˈvɛltˌʃmɛrts/
noun
a feeling of melancholy and world-weariness.

Track Listing:
CD1
The Grace of God 8.15
Man with a Stick 6.30
Walking on Eggshells 7.15
This Party’s Over 4.23
Rose of Damascus 15.43

CD2
Garden of Remembrance 6.04
C Song (The Trondheim Waltz) 4.41
Little Man What Now 10.53
Waverley Steps (End of the Line) 13.48
Weltschmerz 6.45

Released: 25th September 2020
Label: Chocolate Frog

Book Review – GOLDFINGER (1959) by Ian Fleming

GOLDFINGER (1959) ***½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 372pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1959
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1959
Introduction by Kate Mosse (9pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57692-1

Blurb: ‘You’re stale, tired of having to be tough. You want a change. You’ve seen too much death’. In Fleming’s seventh 007 novel, a private assignment sets Bond on the trail of an enigmatic criminal mastermind – Auric Goldfinger. But greed and power have created a deadly opponent who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Comment: Fleming’s seventh James Bond novel is his most ambitious plot to date, based around chief villain Auric Goldfinger’s plan to rob the Fort Knox gold depository, which occupies the final section of the book. The novel opens with Bond being asked by a friend to spot how Goldfinger is cheating him at cards. Bond succeeds and embarrasses Goldfinger into handing back his winnings. The pair meet again on the golf course, this time by design as Bond has been asked to investigate how Goldfinger is obtaining his massive wealth. The golf match is well described with Bond again getting the upper hand as Goldfinger fails in his attempt to win back some of his prior losses. Bond then follows Goldfinger across Europe to his factory, where he discovers how Goldfinger is smuggling his gold around the world. Having been discovered, Goldfinger, seemingly out of ego, keeps Bond onside as part of his Operation Grand Slam, the most daring robbery ever plotted. Along the way Bond meets Tilly Masterton, looking to avenge the death of her sister Jill at Goldfinger’s hands and the daringly named Pussy Galore, a lesbian gangster who is invested in Goldfinger’s operation. We also meet Oddjob, the giant Korean henchman with a deadly hat. Fleming’s writing is fluid and there is more of a cynical humour on show. The plot is frankly highly implausible and the final section of the book, whilst picking up the pace considerably, defies belief, whilst remaining wildly entertaining. However, it is hard to accept the logistics of Goldfinger’s plan and more so the way in which it is thwatrted. Goldfinger continues the trend set in Dr. No of Fleming using increasingly fantastical plots and the book feels a light year away from the honed down tension and emotion of Casino Royale.

Film Review – THE FACE OF FU MANCHU (1965)

FACE OF FU MANCHU, THE (1965, UK/West Germany) ***½
Action, Crime, Drama

dist. Warner-Pathé Distributors (UK), Seven Arts Pictures (USA); pr co. Hallam Productions; d. Don Sharp; w. Harry Alan Towers (as Peter Welbeck); exec pr. Oliver A. Unger (US only); pr. Harry Alan Towers (as Peter Welbeck) (based on characters created by Sax Rohmer); ph. Ernest Steward (Technicolor. 35mm. Techniscope (uncredited). 2.35:1); m. Christopher Whelen; ed. John Trumper; ad. Frank White; cos. Dorothy Edwards; m/up. Gerry Fletcher, Anne Box; sd. Ken Cameron, Fred Hughesdon (Mono (RCA Sound Recording)); rel. 6 August 1965 (West Germany, UK), 24 October 1965 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 96m.

cast: Christopher Lee (Fu Manchu), Nigel Green (Nayland Smith), Joachim Fuchsberger (Carl Jannsen), Karin Dor (Maria Muller), James Robertson Justice (Sir Charles), Howard Marion-Crawford (Dr. Petrie), Tsai Chin (Lin Tang), Walter Rilla (Muller), Harry Brogan (Gaskell), Francesca Tu (Lotus (as Poulet Tu)), Archie O’Sullivan (Chamberlain), Edwin Richfield (Chief Magistrate), Joe Lynch (Custodian), Peter Mosbacher (Hanumon), Ric Young (Grand Lama (as Eric Young)), Deborah DeLacey (Slave Girl), Jim Norton (Mathius), Jack O’Reilly (Constable), Peter Mayock (Soldier), Aiden Grennell (Security Guard).

Faced with a crime wave involving Orientals and drugs, Nayland Smith (Green) of Scotland Yard begins to suspect that it is masterminded by Fu Manchu (Lee), although he himself witnessed the latter’s execution in China some years previously. This highly entertaining and fast-moving adventure has a spirit of the old movie serials. Sharp keeps the plot moving and directs with an enthusiastic zeal. The cast are game too and their performances carry a conviction that elevates the material. Lee is commanding as Fu Manchu and Green authoritative as Nayland Smith. The stunt work on the many fight sequences is excellent (despite the stunt doubles being a little obvious), although you must wonder about old Fu’s recruitment programme given the ineptitude of his followers. Cold and bleak Irish locations double for Tibet and the film was successful enough to spawn several sequels. Followed by THE BRIDES OF FU MANCHU (1966), THE VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU (1967), THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU (1968) and THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU (1969).

Film Review – TWO-MINUTE WARNING (1976)

TWO-MINUTE WARNING (1976, USA) ***
Crime, Mystery, Thriller

dist. Universal Pictures (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK); pr co. Filmways Pictures / Universal Pictures; d. Larry Peerce; w. Edward Hume (based on the novel by George LaFountaine); pr. Edward S. Feldman; ph. Gerald Hirschfeld (Technicolor. Super 8 (Cineavision: 2.35, anamorphic), 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.35:1); m. Charles Fox; ed. Walter Hannemann, Eve Newman; ad. Herman A. Blumenthal; set d. John M. Dwyer; cos. Irwin Rose, Vicki Sánchez; m/up. Lon Bentley, Tony Lloyd, Connie Nichols; sd. James R. Alexander, Gordon Ecker, Robert L. Hoyt (Mono (Westrex Recording System)); sfx. Arthur Brewer; vfx. Albert Whitlock; st. Glenn R. Wilder; rel. 12 November 1976 (USA), November 1976 (UK); cert: R/15; r/t. 115m.

cast: Charlton Heston (Capt. Peter Holly), John Cassavetes (Sgt. Button), Martin Balsam (Sam McKeever), Beau Bridges (Mike Ramsay), Marilyn Hassett (Lucy), David Janssen (Steve), Jack Klugman (Sandman), Gena Rowlands (Janet), Walter Pidgeon (The Pickpocket), Brock Peters (Paul), David Groh (Al), Mitchell Ryan (The Priest), Joe Kapp (Charlie Tyler), Pamela Bellwood (Peggy Ramsay), Jon Korkes (Jeffrey), William Bryant (Lt. Calloway), Allan Miller (Mr. Green), Andy Sidaris (TV Director), Ron Sheldon (Assistant TV Director), Stanford Blum (Assistant TV Director).

Peerce directed this story of a mad sniper loose in a football stadium. The Los Angeles Police Department, led by Capt. Peter Holly (Heston), learns that a madman is planning to open fire on football fans in a packed Los Angeles Coliseum. Holly finds himself at tactical odds with SWAT commander Sgt. Button (Cassavetes) as the fans — including gambler Sandman (Klugman), a pickpocket (Pidgeon), car salesman Steve (Janssen) and his girlfriend, Janet (Rowlands) — unknowingly risk their lives while the gunman takes aim. Peerce handles the material skilfully – notably during the chaotic climax as the crowd stampede for the exits.  Heston gives a square-jawed performance as the police captain and Cassavetes is perhaps overly-cynical as the SWAT team leader. The supporting cast of potential sniper victims is strong, although the dialogue they are given to work with is formulaic. The football stadium scenes are well staged – the game footage for the full stadium shots of the L.A. Coliseum were from a Pac-8 college match. Script-wise, there are lapses in logic in the police approach to the situation and it is hard to believe that only one member of the crowd seems to have noticed what is going on. The gunman is given no back story, which to an extent makes the scenario more unsettling and is resonant today in representing a society where the gun laws result in frequent single-handed multi-victim shooting incidents. The back story element was later rectified in the 1979 TV broadcast version of the film, which included  around 40m of new scenes substituting 30m of the original material. Additional cast members for the TV version included: Rossano Brazzi, James Olson, Paul Shenar, William Prince, Joanna Pettet, and Warren Miller. Peerce wisely asked for his name to be removed from the credits of the new version.

AAN: Best Film Editing (Eve Newman, Walter Hannemann)

Film Review – THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947)

LADY FROM SHANGHAI, THE (1947, USA) ***½
Crime, Drama, Mystery

dist. Columbia Pictures; pr co. Mercury Productions; d. Orson Welles; w. Orson Welles (based on the novel “If I Die Before I Wake” by Sherwood King); exec pr. Harry Cohn (uncredited); pr. Orson Welles; assoc pr. William Castle, Richard Wilson; ph. Charles Lawton Jr. (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Heinz Roemheld; md. Morris Stoloff; ed. Viola Lawrence; ad. Sturges Carne, Stephen Goosson; set d. Wilbur Menefee, Herman N. Schoenbrun; cos. Jean Louis; m/up. Clay Campbell, Robert J. Schiffer, Helen Hunt (all uncredited); sd. Lodge Cunningham (Mono (Western Electric Recording)); sfx. Lawrence W. Butler (uncredited); rel. 24 December 1947 (France), 7 March 1948 (UK), 14 April 1948 (USA); cert: -/PG; r/t. 87m.

cast: Rita Hayworth (Elsa Bannister), Orson Welles (Michael O’Hara), Everett Sloane (Arthur Bannister), Glenn Anders (George Grisby), Ted de Corsia (Sidney Broome), Erskine Sanford (Judge), Gus Schilling (Goldie), Carl Frank (District Attorney Galloway), Louis Merrill (Jake Bjornsen), Evelyn Ellis (Bessie), Harry Shannon (Cab Driver).

Michael O’Hara (Welles), an Irish adventurer, is lured by Elsa Bannister (Hayworth), beautiful wife of a crippled but successful lawyer (Sloane), into joining the crew of her husband’s yacht bound for a cruise in the Pacific. Bannister’s partner, Grisby (Anders), joins the party and offers O’Hara five thousand dollars to help him frame a disappearance act intended to look like murder. O’Hara accepts, hoping the money will enable him to get Elsa away from her husband. As you would come to expect from Welles the director, the film is full of technical brilliance and is visually stunning. Of the memorable scenes the funhouse finale is the most iconic and has been copied numerous times since. The performances are excellent with Welles convincingly affecting an Irish accent and Hayworth at her alluring best. Sloane and Arden are both sinister and on the verge of being unhinged. The bizarre story, however, must rely on the film’s technical virtues to paper over its implausibility. The script therefore, despite its adventurous and sometimes witty approach, is the weak link that prevents the film from being an out and out classic. That does not mean there is not much to enjoy in this experimental noir, just do not expect it to hang together as a whole. Welles’ original rough cut of this picture ran 155m.

TV Review – FIREFLY: SERENITY (2002)

FIREFLY: SERENITY (TV) (2002, USA) ****
Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi

dist. Fox Network (USA); pr co. Mutant Enemy / 20th Century Fox Television; d. Joss Whedon; w. Joss Whedon; exec pr. Joss Whedon, Tim Minear; pr. Gareth Davies, Ben Edlund; assoc pr. Lisa Lassek, Brian Wankum; ph. David Boyd (Colour. 35mm, HDTV (remastered re-runs), Video (NTSC). Spherical. 1.78:1); m. Greg Edmonson; theme m/l. Joss Whedon (performed by Sonny Rhodes); ed. Lisa Lassek; pd. Carey Meyer; set d. David A. Koneff; cos. Jill M. Ohanneson; m/up. Camille Calvet, Tina Hoffman, Ron Pipes, Colette Slattery; sd. Cindy Rabideau (Dolby Digital); sfx. Bruce Minkus; vfx. Kristen Branan, Loni Peristere; st. Eddie Braun; rel. 20 December 2002 (USA), 12 May 2003 (UK); cert: 12; r/t. 86m.

cast: Nathan Fillion (Captain Malcolm ‘Mal’ Reynolds), Gina Torres (Zoë Washburne), Alan Tudyk (Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburne), Morena Baccarin (Inara Serra), Adam Baldwin (Jayne Cobb), Jewel Staite (Kaylee Frye), Sean Maher (Dr. Simon Tam), Summer Glau (River Tam), Ron Glass (Shepherd Derrial Book), Carlos Jacott (Lawrence Dobson), Mark Sheppard (Badger), Andy Umberger (Dortmunder Captain), Philip Sternberg (Inara’s Client), Eddie Adams (Bendis), Colin Patrick Lynch (Radio Operator), Bonnie Bartlett (Patience), Domingo Vara (Ensign), Stephen O’Mahoney (Man (Dortmunder)), Jamie McShane (Man), John F. Kearney (Old Man).

Malcolm Reynolds (Fillion) is a veteran and the captain of Serenity. He and his crew are smuggling goods, but they need to pick up some passengers for extra money. However, not all the passengers are what they seem. This highly entertaining and witty mix of Sci-Fi and Western themes was the pilot episode for the TV series Firefly. The premise transplants the aftermath of the American Civil War to outer space – the browncoats replace the greycoats and the Alliance replace the Union, whilst the “’verse” replaces the states and the Reavers replace the Native Americans. Fillion channels Harrison Ford’s Han Solo but adds the complexity of a defeated soldier still proud of the cause he fought for and refusing to surrender his values. His crew all have distinctive characteristics that makes them standout as individual characters. The ambiguity between the crew making a living from salvage via criminal distribution and the moral stance they are often asked to take give the story and the subsequent series its focus. Whedon had developed a wonderful premise and had executed it with finesse. Unfortunately, the TV public were slow to catch on and Fox cancelled the series before it had managed to pick up an audience. The resultant TV series (2002-3) ran for just 14 episodes but built enough of a cult following to warrant a theatrical sequel SERENITY (2005).