Once again, Blue Underground has given First Class treatment to a Fourth Class movie. A barely coherent thriller from that dynamic duo of Jesus Franco and Harry Alan Towers, a DVD of The Girl from Rio (1969) would have been an easy pass if produced by anyone other than Blue Underground. In their caring hands though, even a picture as lousy as this is practically a must-see.
The company appears to have an ongoing relationship with director Franco. Last fall, Blue Underground released three other Franco-Towers collaborations: Blood of Fu Manchu (1968), The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969), and The Bloody Judge (1970). The Girl from Rio is very slightly better than those pictures, though still saddled with the same absurdly cheap production values and jaw-dropping ineptitude of Franco's lively but hopeless direction.
Shirley Eaton reprises her role from The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967), as the Ayesha-like ruler of Femina, a city of women bent on conquering the world. The Girl from Rio opens as Jeff Sutton (Richard Wyler) arrives in Rio de Janeiro with, supposedly, $10 million in stolen loot. Master criminal Sir Masius (George Sanders) sets his sights on the fortune, sending henchmen Carl (Herbert Fleischman) and his band of minions (driving elaborately adorned hearses) after Jeff. Sumuru (Eaton), now lording over her futuristic empire and army of beautiful women, also has designs on the mysterious man.
From its nonsensical pre-title sequence, an amateurishly shot jumble of sex and torture never referenced again, The Girl from Rio unmistakably bears the stamp of Jesus Franco, that auteur de dechets for whom no shot is left un-zoomed. His defenders position Franco as a New Wave genius who was simply drawn to trashy material. But Franco is either unconcerned with or possibly incapable of shooting and cutting sequences in a comprehensible, linear fashion. His roaming camera pans to nothing in particular, shots are plain out of focus, and all sense of geography and blocking of actors within a scene is skewered. Only Franco would zoom in and out of a sunset for no good reason, or show characters take off in one plane and land in another. Only Franco would shoot a love scene with tight close-ups of a man's armpit and ear.
The picture abounds in ludicrousness: Sumuru, for all her wealth and the technological wonders of Femina, resorts to using a portable fan as a torture device. The climatic battle between Masius's gang and Sumuru's half-naked babes is like something out of Super-8 movie shot by a teenager: explosions are represented by puffs of yellow smoke, while extras shake toy guns in a vain attempt to convince us they're firing real weapons.
The picture is such an utter mess even the name of Eaton's character is unclear. Probably for legal reasons, Sumuru has become "Sumitra" in the credits, but sounds like "Sumunda" in the film itself. (AIP released The Million Eyes of Sumuru in the U.S., and MGM apparently now owns those rights.)
Despite all this, The Girl from Rio plays better than most of Franco's films. Relative common sense prevailed when shooting the Femina sequences, which are filmed at an unnamed but strikingly futuristic building (possibly in Spain?). Franco and cinematographer Manuel Merino compliment these scenes with striking angles that emphasize the building's great lines and reflect the director's obvious love of Italian comic books. Special credit also goes to the uncredited costume designer whose Barbarella knock-offs are colorful and imaginative.
As for the cast, Shirley Eaton gives a deliriously villainous performance worthy of Joan Crawford, though George Sanders is sadly hammy in the kind of role that bored him and perhaps contributed to his suicide three years later. Leading man Wyler is a hole in the screen, pure cardboard, but Elisa Montés is notably sexy as Sanders's girlfriend-secretary. The IMDB lists Walter Pidgeon in the cast, though if he is, this reviewer didn't spot him.
Video & Audio
Blue Underground has done another fantastic job, giving The Girl from Rio a nearly flawless 16:9 transfer. The film elements have very minor wear, but otherwise the presentation is excellent, with a clean, sharp image. The excellent color adds to the presentation, complementing the Pop Art quality of the costumes and a long Carnival sequence. The film is presented in 1.66:1 format, with barely noticeable black bars on the sides of the image. The mono sound is decent enough, and no subtitles are offered. The picture, listed under its German title (Die Sieben Männer der Sumuru) in the IMDB, appears to have been a German-Spanish-U.S. (and possibly British) co-production, but the audio is English only.
Blue Underground's handsome set of extras begin with Rolling in Rio, a 14-minute retrospective in 16:9 anamorphic / 1.77:1 format. The amusing documentary features interviews with Franco, Towers, and Eaton. Franco is his usual super-enthusiastic self (his films stink, but Franco himself is quite charming), while Eaton is refreshingly frank about her unhappiness with much of the film, which contributed to her decision to leave show business altogether. The documentary also recounts how the picture finished ahead of schedule, so much so that Towers was able to conceive, and Franco shoot one-third of what became 99 Women (1969) in their spare time.
Next up is an extensive Poster & Still Gallery, loaded with lobby cards, pressbooks and the like. Also included is a Jesus Franco Bio and Facts of Sumuru an informative essay by Dr. Lawrence Knapp on the character's literary origins, and featuring wonderfully lurid pulp cover art.
Like modern-day John Carradines, Franco and Towers, now both past seventy, continue to churn out cinematic chum. Nor have we heard the last of Sumuru. To paraphrase Fu Manchu, the world shall hear from her again: Towers, incredibly, has produced a brand new Sumuru. Heaven help us.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! The Incredible World of Japanese Fantasy Films. He is presently writing a new book on Japanese cinema for Taschen.