While he forestalled his inevitable return to the opera cape and eye teeth extensions of Dracula
(US: Horror of Dracula
, 1958) for Hammer Film Productions after a seven year absence, Christopher Lee signed on to play novelist Sax Rohmer's Chinese mastermind, "the Napoleon of crime," in the British-Irish-German co-production The Face of Fu Manchu
(1965). "The first one should have been the last one," Lee wrote in 1983 "Because it was the only really good one." Though expressing himself with an economy of emotion befitting an international supervillain, Lee in fact has great fun in the title role, betraying a sly sense of humor not often evident in his more iconic performances. As the actor would ultimately return, albeit begrudgingly, as the star of Hammer's Dracula, Prince of Darkness
(1965) and soldier through five more sequels, producer Harry Alan Towers (who scripted under the nom de plume "Peter Wellbeck") called Lee back four more times to play Fu Manchu in continued adventures of diminishing quality. Though Lee was pleased with The Face of Fu Manchu
as a change of pace, filming in Ireland in January was far from ideal, with several of the cast and crew being struck down with influenza; Lee also found the Asiatic eye makeup, which took two hours to apply, uncomfortable in the extreme. The film did sufficiently well in America to inspire a New York movement to nominate Fu Manchu for mayor.
By Richard Harland Smith
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