The Girl from Rio
Germany - Spain / 1969
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring
Shirley Eaton
Richard Wyler
George Sanders
Color / 94 Minutes / R
Format: DVD (R0 - NTSC)
Blue Underground
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
4
    8   10 = Highest Rating  
"What kind of Space Age sorceress are you?" the hero asks super-villain Shirley Eaton at one point in this ludicrous film.
    A rather lame one, I can attest. Not only does her plan for world domination make no sense, but her army of machinegun-toting, go-go booted Amazons doesn't even have any bullets the gals just shake their weapons at the camera while gunfire crackles on the soundtrack. Some of 'em don't even have ammo clips!
    The Girl from Rio is yet another late '60s collaboration of director Jess Franco and producer Harry Allan Towers, the team responsible for such poverty row pulp fictions as The Blood of Fu Manchu and The Castle of Fu Manchu. Towers, using his "Peter Welbeck" alias, also wrote the script, so it is he who must shoulder most of the blame for what ended up on screen. Though Franco does what he can to imbue it with a pop art/comic book sensibility and a breezy attitude, the film is severely undercut by its miserly budget and a choppy screenplay rife with bad dialog.
    Mysterious and badly dressed playboy type Jeff Sutton (Richard Wyler) arrives in Rio and checks in to a hotel. According to underworld rumors Sutton is believed to be carrying $10 Million in stolen cash. This draws the interest of a big-shot local mobster, Mr. Masius (Hollywood veteran George Sanders, in one of his last roles). Sutton supposedly stole the money in America but the nature of the theft is never explained; all we need to know is that Masius really wants to get his hands on it. So he sends various henchmen against Sutton, who continually defeats them with the hideousness of his plaid sports jacket. (Actually he uses poorly staged judo moves and karate chops to best the baddies. Franco isn't exactly known as an action director.)
    In between dodging Masius' thugs Sutton takes up with the hotel's hot-to-trot manicurist, Leslie (Maria Rohm in a horrid black wig), who's very easy to get in the sack. She's really an agent of Sumitra (Goldfinger's Shirley Eaton), an evil female genius who plans to take over the world with an army of women she's building at a secret base called Femina in the Brazilian jungle. Leslie's job is to lure our hero to Femina so that his purloined millions can be added to Sumitra's coffers. (World domination naturally requires regular infusions of capital.) Sutton, however, isn't who he seems to be either. No thief, he's actually a mercenary hired to rescue a kidnapped heiress from Sumitra's clutches. The $10 Million is phony. It's merely bait to attract Sumitra's operatives, so that he can learn where her headquarters is located. But drawing the attention of mob boss Masius wasn't part of the plan...

    Set to a lively samba-flavored lounge score by Daniel White, The Girl from Rio blithely bounces along from one ridiculous set-piece to the next, rarely making any sense, until it finally self-destructs (as Sumitra's base is supposed to do) in the disastrously botched finale. As the hero, Wyler is a complete dud (that jacket has got to go!), punching a lot more air than henchmen. All the film's action scenes are pathetic. Other shots are clumsily recycled to bridge scenes or pad out the running time. (Perhaps explaining some of Sumitra's "instant" dye jobs... For some inexplicable reason her hair color changes from brunette to blonde and back again from scene to scene.) Eaton obviously relished the chance to play a "dragon lady" and is fine in the Sumitra role, but how she could recite some of that dialog with a straight face is beyond me. The secondary villain, Masius, is the sort of ruthless gangster who wears polka-dot cravats, uses a pink telephone (with a 90-foot cord) and deplores the sight of blood. (While his thugs torture the captured Leslie for information, he lies on a sofa chuckling over a Popeye comic book.) Sanders, perhaps a trifle embarrassed to be participating, at least gets to snuggle up to shapely Elisa Montés, whose comic performance as Masius' sexy "accountant" is one of the film's high points.
    So the movie's not a complete waste. Any flick this dumb is going to have a few unintentional laughs. (Behold the foxy heiress being tortured with a plastic electric fan! And there's that silly gun-shaking business to simulate actually firing them. Blanks cost money, ya know!) Shot on location in Rio De Janeiro, Franco takes good advantage of the scenery and local color. He could've made a great documentary just on the Carnivale. (Instead he made this film and 99 Women, starring Herbert Lom and Rosalba Neri, at the same time!) Maria Rohm (Justine, The Bloody Judge) shows us a bit of skin, too.
NOTE: Though based on pulp writer Sax Rohmer's Sumuru character, Eaton's female Blofeld is listed as "Sumitra" in the closing credits but referred to as "Sunanda" by everyone in the film. What the ???

It almost goes without saying that The Girl from Rio receives first-class treatment by Blue Underground. The print used for this transfer, anamorphically letterboxed at 1.66:1, looks remarkably good. (Only a tiny bit of damage is fleetingly glimpsed.) Colors are especially vibrant the ladies' outfits and costumes of the Carnivale revelers showcase a kaleidoscope of different hues. As for audio quality, the disc's digital mono track is clean and clear. White's enjoyable score isn't compromised.
    Extras: a poster/still gallery, a talent bio of Jess Franco (the same as featured on the other BU Franco titles), a step-through essay on Rohmer's Sumuru novels (illustrated with pulp paperback covers), and a 14-minute documentary, Rolling in Rio, with director Franco, writer/producer Towers and star Shirley Eaton participating. Deft editing incorporates scenes from the film with salient and amusing anecdotes in the interview segments. BU has a track record of producing terrific featurettes (for their own label and others); the one included with The Girl from Rio is no exception. 2/16/04

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