The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu

The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu is a 1980 comedy film. It was the final film featuring star Peter Sellers and David Tomlinson. Pre-production began with Richard Quine as director. By the time the film entered production, Piers Haggard had replaced him. Peter Sellers handled the re-shoots himself.[2] Based on characters created by Sax Rohmer, the film stars Sellers in the dual role of Fu Manchu, a stereotypical Chinese evil genius,[3] and English country gentleman detective Nayland Smith. Released only two weeks after Sellers's death, the film was a commercial and critical failure. It was also the final screen appearance for Tomlinson, who retired from acting shortly before its release.

The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu
Original film poster
Directed byPiers Haggard
Peter Sellers
Richard Quine
Produced byZev Braun
Leland Nolan
Hugh Hefner
Written byRudy Dochtermann
Jim Moloney
Peter Sellers
StarringPeter Sellers
Helen Mirren
David Tomlinson
Sid Caesar
John Le Mesurier
Music byMarc Wilkinson
CinematographyJean Tournier
Edited byClaudine Bouché
Russell Lloyd
Braun Entertainment Group
Playboy Productions
Distributed byOrion Pictures Corporation
Warner Bros.
Release date
  • 8 August 1980 (1980-08-08)
Running time
101 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
United States
Box office$10,697,276[1]


Sellers had previously recorded a 1955 "Goon Show entitled "The Terrible Revenge of Fred Fu-Manchu"[4] set in 1895. In the film, his Fu insists friends call him "Fred" and that he had once been the groundsman at Eton.

In addition to Sellers, the film features Sid Caesar as FBI agent Joe Capone, David Tomlinson as Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir Roger Avery, Simon Williams as his bumbling nephew and Helen Mirren as Police Constable Alice Rage (Mirren sings the Music Hall standard, "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow Wow").

Burt Kwouk, Sellers' longtime co-star in The Pink Panther films, makes a cameo appearance as a Fu Manchu minion who accidentally destroys the elixir vitae, prompting the joke that Fu thinks he looks familiar. John Le Mesurier has a small part in the film as Nayland-Smith's butler.

Unlike other Fu Manchu works, Fu's daughter and Nayland-Smith's friend Dr. Petrie do not appear in the film.


The opening titles announce it is set "possibly around 1933." The story concerns the 168-year-old Fu Manchu, who must duplicate the ingredients to the elixir vitae (which gives him extended life) after the original is accidentally destroyed by one of Fu's minions.

When the diamond "The Star of Leningrad" is stolen by a clockwork spider from a Soviet exhibition in Washington D.C., the F.B.I. sends a pair of special agents to seek the assistance of Scotland Yard as a card from Fu Manchu's organisation the Si-Fan has been left at the crime. Sir Roger Avery of the Yard feels this is a job for Fu's nemesis, Sir Denis Nayland-Smith, now retired.

Nayland-Smith correctly surmises that Fu Manchu will steal the identical twin to the missing diamond that is held in the Tower of London. Nayland-Smith also predicts that Fu will be thwarted by the tight security (several aged Beefeaters) at the Tower, then will kidnap Queen Mary to gain the jewel. He recruits a woman police constable to impersonate the Queen and fool Fu's gang. The plan backfires somewhat, however, when she falls in love with her captor. One of the officers, an obese Chinese cuisine loving glutton who has been ordered by the doctor to walk around for five miles a day on stilts, is promised access to Fu's outdoor restaurant of Chinese food and helps them steal the diamond. In the finale to the film, Nayland and his fellow officers visit Manchu's mountain base in his flying country house, "The Pride of Wiltshire", taking the real diamond with him which Manchu later uses to make himself young and vibrant again. Before taking the elixir, Manchu warns Smith that his latest fiendish plot will wipe out his enemies. Smith rejoins his fellow officers in time to see a rejuvenated Fu Manchu sporting an Elvis Presley type jumpsuit, rise from the floor and, with his cohorts now forming a rock and roll band, sing the song "Rockin Fu Music".


Sellers also appears in an uncredited cameo as a Mexican bandito.


In 1976 Robert Kaufman was writing the script for Fu Manchu to star Peter Sellers and Michael Caine.[5]

The production of the film was troublesome before filming started, with two directors—Richard Quine and John Avildsen—both fired before the script had been completed.[6] Sellers also expressed dissatisfaction with his own portrayal of Manchu[7] with his ill-health often causing delays.[8] Arguments between Sellers and director Piers Haggard led to Haggard's firing at Sellers's instigation and Sellers taking over, with his long-time friend David Lodge directing some sequences.[9]

Piers Haggard later recalled:

It was a very disagreeable experience on that film. I was brought in on an off-chance. He [Sellers]’d agreed to do a fairly stock Hollywood comedy thriller, similar to The Pink Panther really, playing a detective and a villain. And he’d fallen out of love with that project and didn’t want to do that script. They said, ‘Okay, what do you want to do?’ and he said, ‘Let me go off and do a bit of rewriting.’ So he went off with a Hollywood hack and turned it into a series of Goon Show sketches. The executives were absolutely appalled. They thought, ‘Oh my God, we thought he had a picture and now we’ve got a development situation.’ I knew one of them, so they said, ‘Maybe this guy Haggard could do something with this.’ So I got three weeks’ work to supervise a rewrite, which we did. We made Peter’s script much more coherent, turned it into something with a bit more of a beginning, middle and end. And they were very pleased with that so I got the gig. But then unfortunately within about two weeks my love affair with Peter Sellers was over but I had to soldier on. I did soldier on but it was no fun, absolutely no fun. Then just towards the end of the shooting he decided, which had been obvious, that either he would go or I would go so they got rid of me. I didn’t have much choice. So I was retired and he directed for the last week or so. It was pretty much a disaster from beginning to end.[10]


The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu was universally panned by critics. Sellers appears unwell and tired throughout the film and his characterizations of Nayland-Smith and Fu Manchu are both portrayed in a mostly subdued fashion. Phil Hardy described the film as a "British atrocity".[11] Orange Coast Magazine wrote "Peter Seller's last hurrah isn't nearly as impressive as his recent Being There. Even in the dual roles ... detective and the devious 168-year- old Fu Manchu, he musters only an occasional bright moment.[12] Tom Shales of The Washington Post described the film as "an indefensibly inept comedy",[13] adding that "it is hard to name another good actor who ever made so many bad movies as Sellers, a comedian of great gifts but ferociously faulty judgment. Manchu will take its rightful place alongside such colossally ill-advised washouts as Where Does It Hurt?, The Bobo and The Prisoner of Zenda".[13]


Since its release, the film itself has been criticized as contributing to racist stereotypes against the Chinese,[14] and the titular character has appeared in other racist depictions,[15] beginning from the character's first creation by Sax Rohmer.[16]


  1. The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980) - Box Office Mojo
  2. "Review". The Spokesman-Review. 15 May 1980. Retrieved 7 November 2012.
  3. Loukides, Paul; Fuller, Linda K. (1990). Beyond the Stars: Stock Characters in American Popular Film. Popular Press. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-87972-479-5. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  4. "The Goon Show Site – Script – The Terrible Revenge of Fred Fu-Manchu (Series 6, Episode 12)". 6 December 1955. Retrieved 7 November 2012.
  5. FILM CLIPS: 'Rose' Not 'Exorcist' Reincarnated Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times 31 July 1976: b7.
  6. Evans 1980, p. 242.
  7. Walker 1981, p. 212.
  8. Walker 1981, p. 213.
  9. Sikov 2002, pp. 370–371.
  10. Piers Haggard interview, 2003, MJ Simpson Archived 2 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine accessed 11 April 2014
  11. Hardy, Phil (1997). The BFI Companion to Crime. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-304-33215-1. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  12. Orange Coast Magazine. Emmis Communications. October 1980. p. 105. ISSN 0279-0483.
  13. Shales, Tom (8 August 1980). "'Fu' for Naught; The Fiendish Plod". The Washington Post. Washington. p. C1.
  14. Chow, "If We Called Ourselves Yellow", National Public Radio, 27 September 2018
  15. Kinkley, Jeffrey C.; Christopher Frayling . (New York, NY: PB - Thames & Hudson , 2014. Pp. 360. $35.00.) (1 December 2016). "The Yellow Peril: Dr. Fu Manchu and the Rise of Chinaphobia. By". Historian. 78 (4): 832–833. doi:10.1111/hisn.12410. ISSN 1540-6563.
  16. Anders, "The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu",, 15 May 2009.


  • Evans, Peter (1980). The Mask Behind the Mask. London: Severn House Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7278-0688-8.
  • Sikov, Ed (2002). Mr Strangelove; A Biography of Peter Sellers. London: Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBN 978-0-283-07297-0.
  • Walker, Alexander (1981). Peter Sellers. Littlehampton: Littlehampton Book Services. ISBN 978-0-297-77965-0.
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