A painfully sad, nonsense comedy featuring some terrific actors and very little else. Peter Sellers, nearing the end of his life (he’d be dead in the summer of 1980) looks well worn in his role as retired inspector Naylon Smith (who endlessly pushes a lawn mower wherever he goes). He also plays Fu Manchu but he’s under such make-up he’s difficult to see. Sid Caesar plays an FBI agent along side perennial, diminutive supporting actor Steve Franken and Helen Mirren plays an undercover inspector who at first portrays the queen (in order to be kidnapped by Fu Manchu) due to her tap dancing Shirley Temple numbers and playing saxophone, but she soon switches sides out of love.
The film is a typical makeshift collection of sight gags and Mario Bava special effects stylings. It feels distinctly like a mid sixties farce that should include Frankie Avalon or Herman’s Hermits, but it’s a full 15 years late (hell, I was in high school when this was made). I always picture a team of writers smoking a lot of weed and shit-storming up a script. Very little of this farce is entertaining or at all funny. I’m sorry, it’s just not (I’m sure I laughed harder at any of the Pink Panther films which make this look like a strange children’s play). There are mechanical spiders stealing gems, tons of hokey East Asian references (we’ll leave aside made up white guys playing Asian roles, I suppose we had no comic East Asian actors at the time) still funny in 1980? There’s a backwards tie on Sellers at one point, a big dance/martial arts demonstration, Chinese food jokes, lots of barefoot henchmen who stand out like sore thumbs everywhere, a house balloon that goes from England to the Himalayas, and well, you get the picture. The one thing these films get right is the general ineptitude of the world. You can’t really fail lampooning heads of state and their functionless efforts. It also, other than Mirren, lacks any ladies to look at. None of Fu Manchu’s henchmen are lookers, and especially in a comedy or horror film, this is always a mistake. Ladies are anti-sadness, they absorb the negative energy and release positive rays.
Stories abound of Sellers by the mid-seventies, being very difficult to work with, depressed, and abusing all manner of drugs. These are sad stories and much of his depression was centered on his self-doubts and impostor syndrome worries. It’s a shame he had to finish his career up with a shambles like this. I often feel like these kinds of movies are the film industry equivalent of filling out a contract – You’re Lou Reed and you owe a couple of disks to your record label so you turn on the recording equipment lean your guitar against an amp at full blast and go have some dinner. The result, Metal Machine Music, a double album of feedback noise without rhythm, melody, or any structure really. Incidentally this is just a story, I’m not sure anyone has confirmed this is why he made MMM.
I did actually chuckle at Dr. Fu Manchu’s list of accomplishments, he apparently went to an Indiana School of Medicine and was a Veterinarian, that’s a cute addition to his villain resume.
This thing was two bucks on Prime, but you can skip it unless you’re a Sellers maniac. I’d recommend you watch Being There instead.