THE TERROR OF THE TONGS. (1961) A HAMMER FILM PRODUCTION DIRECTED BY ANTHONY BUSHELL. WRITTEN BY JIMMY SANGSTER.
STARRING CHRISTOPHER LEE, YVONNE MONLAUR, MARNE MAITLAND AND GEOFFREY TOONE.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘Have you ever had your bones scraped, Captain Sale?’
This film provided Christopher Lee with his first ever top billing, despite the fact that he had already acted in three of Hammer’s most famous films: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) as the Creature; DRACULA (1958) as the titular Count; and THE MUMMY (1959) as Kharis/The Mummy.
And his role as Dracula became the one with which he remained most identified, right up to his death in 2015 at the tender age of only ninety-three. Well, I was convinced he’d make it all the way to a hundred and even beyond, but sadly, it wasn’t to be.
And, just regarding his lack of top billing in these films, it was said of Hammer at the time that Peter Cushing was its star; Christopher Lee merely its monster. Well, never mind; he certainly came into his own in the end.
Having said that, action-adventure movie THE TERROR OF THE TONGS, despite its lush settings and gorgeously sumptuous costumes, is not my favourite Hammer film, nor yet is Chung King my favourite leading role of Christopher Lee’s.
I much prefer him as Dracula, as that sexy midnight lover from the coldness of the crypt who died, yet lived; as that sexually magnetic and dominant lover who makes real women out of Melissa Stribling’s Mina and Carol Marsh’s Lucy in the original Hammer DRACULA film of 1958.
In THE TERROR OF THE TONGS, he plays Chung King, the undoubtedly dominant and austere but at the same time oddly sexless leader of a terrorist organisation of organised criminals known as the Tongs, a name to strike horror into the hearts of Hong Kong dwellers in the early twentieth century. They’re the Chinese triads, the Japanese yakuza and the Italian-American mafia all rolled into one, they’re so feared and abhorred and, dare I say it, opium-raddled.
Chung King, while undeniably a dominant and cruel leader, just as you’d expect from the head of such an organisation, is sort of strangely asexual, with sadly not much going on behind the voluminous folds of his black kimono.
Why doesn’t he get to have sex, even implied, with any of the beautiful women who attend at his court? Or even with Yvonne Monlaur as Lee, the stunning sexbomb heroine of the film? Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu, in another series of films, not made by Hammer, doesn’t get any sexual action either.
Once the make-up people slap the old ‘epicanthic fold,’ apparently his least favourite of all the prosthetic enhancements, over his eyes to give him an Oriental look, they might as well be de-sexing him, it seems.
Makers of both THE TERROR OF THE TONGS and the FU MANCHU films both gravely under-used the sensuality and sexuality of their handsome heart-throb of a star, methinks. The films could have been so much more memorable if they’d only allowed him to be the man we know he could be in them.
Anyway, the plot of THE TERROR OF THE TONGS is relatively straightforward. Set in British-occupied Hong Kong in 1910, it sees Geoffrey Toone as maritime Captain Jackson Sale revenging the murder of his teenage daughter by the terror organisation known as the Tongs.
They didn’t kill her willy-nilly; they did it to protect their identities from becoming known, but Captain Sale is beside himself with grief nonetheless. He won’t rest until he tracks down the head of this brutal organisation and cuts it off at its source, so to speak.
The head is Chung King; he won’t react well to being tracked down and killed…! He might even despatch one of his infamous ‘hatchet men’ to treat Sale (Sale/Sail- geddit???) to the solemn splendour of a so-called ‘ceremonial killing.’
Don’t be worrying on Sale’s behalf, though. The hatchet men announce their presence well in advance. They holler at you from across a crowded street once they clap eyes on you, then they wave their hatchets in the air and advance upon you slowly across that crowded street.
This gives you plenty of time to assess the situation, light a cigarette, chat with a friend, escape into a waiting rickshaw or even kill your would-be assailant as he approaches.
Even if, by some miracle, he actually manages to wound or even kill you, you’ll have plenty of time to put your affairs in order while waiting impatiently for your would-be assassin.
Maybe, just maybe, if the Tongs had concentrated more on the killing element and less on the ceremony element involved, they may have lasted longer as an organisation of terror. It’s just a thought, that’s all. Make of it what you will.
Man: ‘Oh look, that hatchet-wielding Tong over there is hollering menacingly at me. Looks like my number must be up, so. Have I time to get that haircut at all? Oh yes, that looks much better. Brings out my eyes, you say? Why, thank you! Still coming over here waving his little thing, is he, that Tong fellow?
‘Oh well, in that case, I might just try to fit in that show I’ve been dying to see. Is there time for a bit of dinner too? Oh, time for dinner and a few pre-show cocktails, how spiffing! God, I’m tired now after all that smashing grub and booze. I think I’ll just have a nice little lie-down while I’m waiting…’ And so on. You get the picture.
Anyway, Sale has two allies in his desperate mission. Ally One is Marne Maitland (he plays the mysterious Malay in one of Hammer’s most magnificent films, THE REPTILE, 1965) as the Beggar, who is in reality the leader of a resistance movement against the Tongs.
Ally Two is Yvonne Monlaur as Lee, the former enslaved mistress of a Tong debt collector, who now has decided she loves Captain Jackson Sale, because he has accidentally freed her from her bondage by seeing off her captor-owner.
Yvonne Monlaur could just be the most beautiful of all the Hammer women. Her face, her voice, her body! She’s perfect in every possible way. Her performance as Marianne Danielle in Hammer’s THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960), in which she plays a young finishing school teacher breaking her journey to the school at the sinister, vampire-ridden Chateau Meinster, is an absolute joy to behold.
How her dresser must have enjoyed putting her in those fabulous gowns and dressing her gorgeous chestnutty hair for THE BRIDES OF DRACULA. Am I in love with Yvonne Monlaur? A little, yes, what of it? Do you blame me? What a beauty! She wears some stunning Chinese dresses with matching shoes in THE TERROR OF THE TONGS.
She’s pictured with Christopher Lee in some publicity shots for the movie, but they don’t have a joint love story in the film, more’s the pity. They could have made her Chung King’s unwilling mistress who falls in love with the dashing and much less cruel British maritime captain, Jackson Sale.
Two of the best-looking people on the planet having an on-screen romance or even some hot and steamy rumpy-pumpy? Phwoar. Ah well. Probably not in 1961. Think of the kerfuffle down at the Censor’s office…! And anyway, who am I to tell Hammer what they should or shouldn’t have done? It is what it is. Enjoy.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.