Director: Jess Franco
Blue Underground

Following the disappointment in finally sitting down to view Blue Underground's FU MANCHU discs, I wasn't really looking forward to their release of Franco's GIRL FROM RIO, a similar comic-book style action film starring GOLDFINGER babe Shirley Eaton in one of her meatiest roles. It wasn't as bad as the FU MANCHU flicks, but it also wasn't as entertaining as I would have hoped, either.

Kicking off with a slinky seduction and murder setpiece, with Yana (Franco regular Beni Cardosi), one of sadistic villainess Sumitra (Eaton in a black wig most of the time)'s spider-like female servants offing a man who infiltrated her all-female fortress, GIRL FROM RIO soon becomes a 60s retro lounge with a kitschy theme song crooned by a syrupy singer over the credits. Promising start, right? Well, the "plot" commences with American Jeff Sutton arriving in Rio with $10 million in stolen cash. He hooks up with manicurist Leslye (Maria Rohm sans her blonde locks in an awful black wig) in a nanosecond! Meanwhile, slumming George Sanders is Sir Masius, an uber-gangster who sends out his henchmen in kiddie fright masks to pummel Jeff for his cash while Maria Rohm stands by wearing an eye-fetching see-through black dress. Before Masius can capture Jeff, however, the thoroughly confused hero (don't worry, we the audience are, too, Jeff!) is kidnapped and drugged by Sumitra's Amazon women and flown to her island paradise. The evil Sumitra gives pep talks to her "soldiers," a huge gaggle of beautiful women with machine guns and in barely-there costumes, via an intercom which broadcasts over her complex. Her seduction of Jeff, with her flowing blonde hair and arachnid use of her legs, is a highlight of the film! So begins a battle between the two super-villains to gain control of Jeff's fortune. I know, it's a limp plot to be sure.

THE GIRL FROM RIO could be considered fun in the right frame of mind. It's filled with kitschy 60s fashions, beautiful women with guns, and Shirley Eaton is always lovely, and seems to be really enjoying playing something other than the damsel-in-distress, love interest, or ingenue. The problem with the film is that it takes forever to become interesting. The first half hour is spent with the audience in total confusion as to who the heroes and the villains are, with no action, lots of dialogue, and no exploitation elements. Once Jeff arrives on Sumitra's island, the fun begins. He witnesses the machine gun arsenal of the island, a classroom of women learning how to kill men in hand-to-hand combat, and a room of isolated captives driven mad by nymphomania and greed. Once THE GIRL FROM RIO gets kicking, it becomes a great comic-book style action film that you just know Franco loved making. The Amazon women run around in their skimpy outfits, shooting to kill as Jeff tries to escape with a diplomat's daughter, and Sumitra makes her girls sexually mawl and feel up victims as a form of torture! Things really start cooking when Masius decides to attack Sumitra at her fortress, and it's girls vs. gangsters! Unfortunately, seeing George Sanders in a glorified cameo slumming 19 years after his Oscar win for ALL ABOUT EVE and shortly before he committed suicide is a real downer. GIRL FROM RIO isn't a great Franco film; in fact, it isn't even a good Franco film, but it has enough entertaining moments that you should enjoy a rental. A purchase is something I couldn't really recommend.

Blue Underground has done well by GIRL FROM RIO, remastering the film from a gorgeous source element to deliver the best version of the film ever available. Colors are bold and bright, the image clean and beautiful, with only mild grain during the opening credits (stock footage) and speckles during one reel change. The English mono audio is great, with Daniel White's lounge tunes sounding lovely and dialogue easy to understand. Strangely, the track calls Eaton's character "Sumitra" while the actors' mouths say "Sumuru." Copyright problems?

Once again, BU has stacked on the supplements for another Franco flick. The most important is the featurette, interviewing director Jess Franco (who couldn't be boring if he tried), producer Harry Alan Towers (brief), and star Shirley Eaton. Eaton's interview is badly lit, making her look like an old hag, but other recent interviews with her show she still exudes a beautiful charm all these years later. Eaton expresses enthusiasm in finally being able to play a woman of confidence and strength, but also displays her anger at the inserted lesbian scene with her character played by a body double. She also reveals why she retired from acting. Franco speaks at length about his love for comic strips, pulp novels, and the inspirations for the visuals of RIO. Strangely, there is no theatrical trailer, but a well-written lengthy essay by Dr. Lawrence Knapp about the history of Sax Rohmer's "Fu Manchu" and "Sumuru" novels is a great read. A lengthy poster and stills gallery highlights international posters (under many different names), an entire German lobby card set, production stills, the full German pressbook with ad mats, the complete U.S. pressbook, and video sleeves from around the world. (Casey Scott)