- Movie Rating -

The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980)

| August 8, 1980

The first thing that everyone knows about The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu is that it was the farewell feature of Peter Seller’s brilliant career.  The second thing is what everyone should know – that this is one of the worst films of his brilliant career.  Seriously, this is 90 minutes of pure torture as gag after gag flops over and dies in embarrassing ways.

What’s worse is that the story is not only unfunny but kind of morbid given that Sellers death, and here we are watching movie about a 168-year-old Chinese criminal who has run out of life-serum and is crumbling before our very eyes.  That’s a very uneasy connection.

Sellers who, a year earlier, gave a triumphant performance in Hal Ashby’s Being There seems to give a desperate performance here that illustrates how his greatness as an actor faded and needed Being There to re-establish itself.  Aside from playing Fu Manchu, he also plays a Scotland Yard detective Nayland Smith, who is on Fu Manchu’s trail as he scours the world to plunder the ingredience for his elixir of life.

That’s it.  That’s the plot.  That is literally where the story stops.  The producers obviously thought that Sellers in heavy make-up, playing multiple roles was enough to gestate into comedy gold.  The problem is that the movie starts with the idea of a gag and then never really goes anywhere with it.

Why go for the obvious gags of funny names and funny make-up?  Why not really go for it?  Why not a satire on all those old racially-insensitive Boris Karloff movies with the cardboard sets and creaky dialogue?  Why not something that just lovingly satirized those films in the manner of something like Young Frankenstein.  Why stop short on every gag just because it seems funny?

I felt bad watching this movie, but I felt a sense of disappointment too.  This was the last film starring Peter Sellers but more than that, I could see him really trying to make it work.  He is not turning in a lazy performance here.  He really is giving it a go, but he’s working through jokes that needed work, needed time, needed more inspiration, then we could have said that he bid farewell with a wonderful comedy instead of one that was just unwatchable.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1980) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized