When you think of Kilmainham Gaol and the big screen, it is undoubtedly the classic 1969 film The Italian Job that comes to mind. Four years before the release of that film however, audiences would have caught a glimpse of the prison in The Face of Fu Manchu, a 1965 film staring Christopher Lee in the role of Chinese villain Fu Manchu. The film is set in London, and the plot involves the evil mastermind working from a secret base underneath the River Thames. While Kilmainham was transformed for the role, the stonebreakers yard where the leaders of the 1916 rebellion were executed is clearly visible in the trailer above.
In his history of film producer Harry Alan Towers, Dave Mann wrote that the use of Kilmainham caused considerable controversy at the time, as Towers “caused commotion when he stabled horses in the courtyard where IRA martyrs had been executed.” A reporter from The Irish Times visited the set of the film and noted that “time goes by very slowly. When a scene has been shot four times, there is a call for lunch. For the monks sandwiches and tea are served in the main hall of the prison among the grim tiers of cells and the metal staircases.”
The prison courtyard is also visible in the below 1965 poster advertising the release of the film, which is available to purchase here.
Upon the films release, the Sunday Independent complained that “the Thames is easily identified as the Liffey- I could see the Pigeon House in the background. Rush is the Essex village exterminated by Fu Manchu’s deadly gas. I don’t complain about that. But it is asking too much to expect anyone to believe that the Wicklow Hills are the Himalayas!”