The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu
was Peter Sellers
' final film before his death. Released in 1980, it tells the story of the 'last duel' between the titular Dr. Fu Manchu and his arch-nemesis, a British police inspector named Nayland Smith. The film opens with the yearly ritual of Fu Manchu drinking from his elixir vitae
, the secret formula that prolongs his life (he is 168 years old when the movie opens) but a clumsy servant drops the Elixir, shattering the container and wasting the precious fluid.
Fu Manchu (after dispatching the hapless servant) must therefore brew up a new batch of elixir vitae - and the ingredients list is daunting, including large diamonds and bits of famous artworks. A crime spree thus begins, and Nayland Smith is brought out of retirement to chase down his old opponent.
The movie wasn't a success either in terms of box office or in terms of critical response. I, however, saw the movie as a young lad who had been raised on The Pink Panther movies, and found it hilarious. Sellers portrays both protagonists, Fu (a.k.a. 'Fred') Manchu and Nayland Smith; the former is a megalomaniacal scheming Oriental criminal, and the latter is a retired, slightly cracked in the head policeman. Smith has a lawnmower which he takes with him everywhere; he is often seen deep in thought with a pipe, happily mowing away at some helpless carpet, because it 'helps him think.'
The movie has a few in-jokes - for example, Burt Kwouk appears as one of Fu Manchu's henchmen, after playing Kato in the Pink Panther movies. This leads to a moment of 'recognition' between Sellers as Fu Manchu (who looks quite like a demented Clouseau in disguise) and Kwouk.
Helen Mirren makes an appearance (a singing one at that!) as does Sid Caesar and David Tomlinson. The film was directed by Piers Haggard (thanks IMDB!) you may have difficulty locating it for viewing, as Amazon.com tells me that there is no DVD edition available; it was only sold on VHS *hack, cough*. Given the quality of some movies on DVD, this is a bloody crime, and hopefully will be remedied soon.
UPDATE: indeed, it was remedied in 2010! A DVD is now available, at least in Region 1.