Review Date: 5/7/16
Cast: Frankie Avalon, George Nader, Shirley Eaton, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Klaus Kinski, Maria Rohm, Patti Chandler
Shirley Eaton dons a black wig and tries her hand at being an Asian supervillain in this failed attempt to bring Sax Rohmer's female Fu Manchu character to the big screen. Sumuru (Shirley Eaton) is a sadistic and short-tempered egomaniac who is plotting to take over the world by having her all-girl army replace a handful of key international figures. A couple of American goofballs (George Nader and Frankie Avalon) get caught up in her plans, and their rugged masculine charms single-handedly undermine Sumuru's entire organization. Wilfrid Hyde-White shows up as a mysterious British colonel who somehow ties everything together, and helps orchestrate a military assault on Sumuru's island fortress.
Filmed in Hong Kong at Shaw Brothers Studios, the film has a nice exotic flair to it. Unfortunately, the action is weak, the acting is poor, and the campy dialog is terrible. Shirley Eaton's Sumuru is so forcefully psychotic that she's hard to take seriously, while a lascivious Frankie Avalon is so goofy and self aware that you can't take him seriously, either. And then there's Klaus Kinski, who is just completely insane. The main appeal of the film is Sumuru's all-girl army, but most of them aren't very interesting or attractive, and they're not particularly effective, either. Patti Chandler is the one exception, who is drop-dead gorgeous and can snap a man's neck with her thighs. I also have to give props to Maria Rohm for running through the streets of Hong Kong wearing heels, which is an impressive feat. While they're intended to be sexy, the 1960's fashions fail to make a favorable impression, and the hairstyles are both amazing and amazingly awful.
The biggest disappointment is the chauvinistic and screwball tone of what could have been a serious action film. A common theme in classic femme fatale cinema is that love is a woman's greatest weakness, and that a man's love (or at least his penis) will ultimately redeem or destroy her. I find this plot device distasteful, as it completely subverts the strong, female driven aspect of the film and shifts the balance of power to favor fools over leaders and lust over intellect. The filmmakers clearly feel threatened and emasculated by the women in the film, which is countered by making it a spoof with a loud and clear "penis equals power" message.