"The Girl From Rio" is a luminescent, primary-coloured, mildly sexy comic-strip spy-fi caper, in the best sixties Op Art tradition -- delivered to us with help from the idiosyncratic eye of Jess Franco and the overactive pen of producer Harry Alan Towers (working as his own screenwriter under his usual pen-name Peter Welbeck); it’s a sort of ultra-cheaply produced alternative take on “The Million Eyes of Sumuru” -- Towers’ previous attempt at an adaptation of the Sax Rohmer potboiler, from 1967. Shirley Eaton ("Goldfinger") resumes ostensibly the same role under a slightly altered moniker: here she’s Sumitra, the devilish dominatrix leader of the futuristic city of Femina (‘future city of women’) -- a place populated exclusively by a scantily-clad, topless solder-class of machine-gun totting fems in leather capes and knee high boots (but armed with children's toy guns!) who obey her every command! This "space-age sorceress" trains many of these young women, such as Maria Rohm’s Leslye Manors, to go out into the wider male-dominated society and seduce unsuspecting millionaires with the intention of stealing their fortunes for the upkeep and expansion of Femina! With this cunning plan, she eventually plans to amass enough arms to enable her to take over the entire world! (‘All men at heart play a game with their victims, women. Now we are the victors and they our slaves!’) When Sumitra kidnaps the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, Ulla Rossini (Marta Reves), with the aim of extracting a ransom from the father, aging cut-price James Bond wannabe Richard Wyler is put on the case, in the guise of Jeff Sutton: an undercover super-spy posing as a career criminal on the run from the law!
For in order to arouse the interest of Sumitra, Sutton Arrives in Rio de Janeiro after having spread the cover-story that he is an escaping criminal with ten million dollars of stolen loot secretly stashed away! Sutton waits for the female mastermind to make her move, but things are complicated by the fact that every gangster in Rio has heard about the so-called stolen loot and is also out to get him in order to relieve him of his suitcase of cash (‘the safest thing to steal is stolen money’). In particular, gangster crime lord Sir Masius (an ailing George Sanders) is interested, not only in Sutton's alleged cash, but also the vast fortune his spies tell him is said to have been amassed in Sumitra's secret vaults at Femina. Can Sutton rescue his client's daughter while avoiding both male and female criminal groups? And will there be time for some hedonistic parting-down at the Rio Carnival? You bet!
This is not one of Franco's better movies; in fact, it is rather idiotic, even if seemingly deliberately so. The budget is non-existent and the pace often lags while Franco pads with endless shots of Rio’s sun-drenched coastline, in an attempt to add signifiers of jet age sophistication to a bodged together brew of thinly written pulp set-pieces. But thanks in large part to a fantastic restoration job on the print “The Girl from Rio” fulfils its primary function as a cartoonish, James Bond-style crime/spy-fi spoof rather well. Even if the content is lacking, the look of it is often beguiling. This is another of writer and producer Harry Alan Towers' Sax Rohmer adaptations (although the name of his evil female criminal mastermind has been slightly changed for some reason), and, much like Towers' Fu-Manchu adaptations, the story has nothing in common with anything Rohmer actually wrote. Instead, the film seems to have been conceived, like the previous Lindsay Shonteff film, as a vehicle for ex “Goldfinger” Bond girl Shirley Eaton, but done on an even poorer budget, and is full of snail’s pace car chases (Masius’ men drive around in hearses and combine sharp suits with African mask disguises) and futuristic torture scenes in Femina where male prisoners are kept in transparent cages, sedated on dry ice vapour drugs that billow from the floor, and periodically tortured with a laser gun in a bare studio set tarted up with multi-coloured gel lighting effects. Franco managed to kill off the Fu-Manchu series once and for all with his ultra-low budget "The Castle Of Fu-Manchu", and he appears to have done the same for Eaton's career with this particular outing — she never worked again after completing the film.
The film looks great, and Franco's ultra-garish lighting schemes come across beautifully on the DVD. The fact that everybody uses decorative toy guns throughout (Franco makes no attempt to hide this, and often zooms in on the useless weapons) and that, at one stage, an ordinary and completely ineffectual desk-fan is used as a murderous futuristic weapon of torture, only adds to the obviously deliberate camp irony and comic-book humour of the piece. The flamboyant costumes add to its cut-price, psychedelic pop art on a shoestring appeal with Mrs Eaton in particular being lavished with a costume change per scene which includes her donning a fetching lace embroidered cat-suit as she reclines on a revolving carousel-bed (all very sixties!) and even a Cleopatra-style gilt headdress and gold lame faux Egyptian costume. Gunshots are simply dubbed onto the soundtrack whenever anyone points their plastic weaponry and the destruction of Femina at the end of the film is achieved with the aid of three hired helicopters (shot from different angles to make them look like a fleet), two yellow smoke bombs and a shaky camera accompanying dubbed explosion sound effects! Franco’s budget was clearly next-to-nothing on this flick: the space-age city of Femina consists of little more than a Brazilian hotel foyer and corridors with some exterior shots of some typical ‘60s modernist architecture. Daniel White's musical score supplies us with an snazzy lounge cool, “The Girl from Ipanema-style” bossa nova theme tune that could have come straight from the “From Russia with Love” era pen of John Barry as well as an extra layering of cheese that gets added thanks to the ridiculous and wildly groovy sixties fashions prominently displayed: the women of Femina all wear revealing PVC tunics (Franco's "artistic" camera set-ups always seem positioned at just the right angle to give the viewer a good eyeful!); while macho hero Richard Wyler (if he’s meant to be a Bond wannabe then he’s of the aging George Lazenby school) is lumbered with the most disgusting plaid jacket for two-thirds of the film before swapping it for a tailored sports jacket for his action scenes ! Wyler's character, the spy Jeff Sutton, is just the kind of casually smug sexist who will make you want to side with the harsh, totalitarian regime of Eaton's Femina and her race of penny-weight-mascara adorned acolytes; but of course, it's all part of Franco's ironic spoof on the attitudes consistently found in sixties spy films. By the end, with Femina in ruins and Sumitra defeated, Sutton has at least three sixties Euro babes hanging off of his arm including a brunette Maria Rohm (who goes nude several times for racier-than-the-Bond-franchise-could-get-away-with love scenes) and he looks smugger than ever! Bah!
Medium Rare’s DVD presentation is well up to standard having been sourced from Blue Underground’s 2003 release. The film looks unbelievably good despite its shoestring budget. The one negative is the fact that there is a missing pre-credit sequence in which Wyler's cover-story is established (it wasn’t in the BU version either). This makes it rather hard to understand what's going on until well into the film! Extras include a 14 minute featurette and an extensive gallery of posters and stills. "Rolling In Rio" containing interviews with Franco, Shirley Eaton, and Harry Alan Towers. Franco expounds on his love of the comic-book style of the film and how cinema should be a "magic-box of surprises;" Eaton, who had obviously not seen the film until she came to record this interview, is horrified to find it to be "virtually pornographic" (it's not really -- but the nudity is far more extensive than one would usually find in a sixties spy caper movie), and is even more horrified to learn that Franco had used a body-double to shoot a nude lesbian scene for her character (c'mon, this is Franco ... you knew there had to be at least one!) without her knowledge or permission! The bad man!
An excellent presentation of a so-so Franco/Towers collaboration, this is probably only really of interest to the committed Franco fan or to the lover of cheesy Sixties spy films. I’m both, so this was fairly entertaining for its attitude and stylisation although the plot is thin, the comedy repartee flat and Franco’s staging often quite lax.