Color, 1969, 94 mins.
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Shirley Eaton, Richard Wyler, George Sanders, Maria Rohm
Blue Underground (UHD, Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 4K/HD/NTSC), Umbrella (DVD) (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

Color, 1967, 79 mins.
Directed by Lindsay Shonteff
Starring Frankie Avalon, George Nader, Shirley Eaton, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Klaus Kinski, Maria Rohm
Blue Underground (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), ELEA-Media (Germany R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

The busy and shameless British producer The Million Eyes of SumuruHarry Alan Towers was never one to miss a trend, and one he exploited all the way through the '60s was the The Million Eyes of SumuruJames Bond craze sweeping the globe. His entry into feature films with spy yarns like Mozambique and Code 7, Victim 5 paved the way for a handful of Edgar Wallace and Sax Rohmer adaptations clearly inspired by the exotic thrills of the 007 films, with the latter author turning into a fine showcase for Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu in several titles. Towers also wrote several of these films (as Peter Welbeck), and that applies to another pair of Rohmer projects (with no attribution to the author) based around his jet-setting supervillain, Sumuru, who started off as a radio serial essentially offering a female twist on the Fu Manchu character. Rohmer ultimately penned six novels with the character, though none of the storylines really informed the films. Both features were turned into star vehicles for Shirley Eaton, best known for being fatally painted gold in Goldfinger, who had also starred in Towers' solid '60s version of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. Her career didn't last very long (she retired in 1969 to raise her children), but she certainly left an impression while she lasted.

First up we have the lesser of the two films, 1967's The Million Eyes of Sumuru, which is mainly noteworthy as a rare English-language production for its time to be shot in Hong Kong at Shaw Brothers' studios. Director Lindsay Shonteff was the definition of a gun for hire director, having done solid work on the horror cult favorite Devil Doll and a couple of middling spy films, and he brings competence to this generic tale of two secret agents trying to take down the nefarious Sumuru. Her plot this time involves using her trained army of female accomplices to seduce and marry the eleven wealthiest men in the world before taking over their empires (by deadly means if necessary), and it's up to the governments of the West to stop her plan. The genial Colonel Baisbrook (Hyde-White) pushes together a pair of agents, Tommy Carter (Avalon) and Nick West (Nader), to undertake the mission, though they mainly run around and toss out lame wisecracks, even when they find a topless woman dead in their hotel room.

Luckily Eaton was a strong enough presence to hold the basic concept together, even if everyone else seems adrift including a misleading "introducing" appearance by Maria Rohm, Towers' eventual wife. Fans of Klaus Kinski will enjoy his incredibly bizarre glorified cameo here as one of the targets, a prissy president who keeps a look-alike bodyguard on hand and disguises himself in brownface! Also The Million Eyes of Sumurunoteworthy is the bouncy, Eastern-flavored score by John Scott (credited here as Johnny), who became a library music fixture and would go on to such films as Greystoke, Shoot to Kill, The Million Eyes of SumuruKing Kong Lives, and of course, Yor, the Hunter from the Future. The 2016 Blue Underground release marked the first U.S. home video edition of any form for this film, either solo on DVD or on Blu-ray as a double feature with its Jess Franco-directed sequel (of sorts), The Girl from Rio. Why this has remained so elusive for decades is a mystery, but it looks solid here with bright colors and minimal damage (albeit with noise reduction significantly applied). The DTS-HD MA English audio track sounds fine, and optional English subtitles are provided along with the original theatrical trailer.

Next we jump to the far more outrageous and interesting second Eaton film, Jess Franco's The Girl from Rio. This time our hero is an American guy named Jeff Sutton (Dick Smart 2007's Wyler), who shows up in Rio with a stolen stash of $10 million that immediately gets the attention of crime boss Masius (Sanders), who's too lazy to get up and answer a phone by himself. Jeff's presence also puts him on the radar of our gal Sumuru, now alternately calling herself Sununda, Sumitra or Sunanda for no apparent reason, who's up to her old tricks in the female enclave of Femina, scheming to defeat "all men's kingdoms" through willpower and wiles. Jeff's too busy getting manicures and bedding women whose names he can't bother to learn to notice the suspicious behavior at first. While strolling around with his latest conquest, Lesley (Rohm again in one of her many Franco appearances), he's approached by a quartet of menacing men in masks who try to spirit him away to Masius, but Sununda's ladies step in and bundle him off on a plane instead. Soon he ends up in the villainess's futuristic lair where sexuality and sadism rule the day, and Masius will stop at nothing to track him down -- even if it means trying to drown Lesley to death in a swimming pool while giggling at Popeye comics. Sununda's no less wicked, keeping her enemies captive in giant glass cages with tape over their mouths and mowing down any imperfect girls in her army with machine guns when they disappoint her. Of course, Jeff turns out to have an ulterior motive as well that pits him in between the two criminal masterminds.

This kinky curio was made at the height of Franco's collaborations with Towers and sits snugly alongside their two Fu Manchu films, Blood of Fu Manchu and another 1969 film, The Castle of Fu Manchu. The twisted sex content is pretty far out for a supposedly mainstream Euro 007 imitation, with men frequently restrained on the floor and attacked by predatory The Million Eyes of Sumuruwomen. You also get a fair amount of nudity in the uncut version, including some peek-a-boo shots of Rohm getting out of the shower and several female cast members wearing see-through mesh outfits. There's also a kicky score The Girl from Rioby frequent Franco composer Daniel White, who blesses us with a fantastic sub-Julie London theme song containing the following lyrics: "The girl from Rio, dangerous and cool as ice / She plays with men just like a cat plays with mice. / Sometimes a smooth operator comes along / But she soon changes his song. / The girl from Rio is every man's desire / One cold look sets a poor man's soul on fire / He longs to hold her in his arms for just a kiss or two / Dreaming is easy to do!" Apart from some carnival footage in the third act the Rio setting is mostly inconsequential, but it definitely makes for a catchy title.

The Girl from Rio bowed in some English-speaking territories in a brutally edited edition as Future Women, the source for some really lousy TV broadcast prints and gray market video copies, with every shred of sex and violence removed. Blue Underground first released The Girl from Rio on DVD in 2004 completely uncensored, including a fetishistic opening scene that paves the way for Franco's later Blue Rita, though the transfer exhibits some significant damage in several spots. The film was shot in English with most of the actors providing their original voices, though it's obvious they're repeatedly saying the "Sumuru" with the other random names dubbed in with little regard for lip sync. Extras on the DVD include a poster and still gallery, a "Facts about Sumuru" essay covering the character's literary history, and most substantially, "Rolling in Rio," a great 14-minute featurette with Franco, Towers and Eaton. Franco is effusive about Eaton and the comic strip nature of the film (which is sort of a cousin to his Lucky the Inscrutable as well), while Eaton is amusingly candid about her affection for the director and surprise about the naughtier side of his filmography. She also reveals her annoyance with a stand-in lesbian scene involving her character wedged in without her knowledge, and she also discusses her reasons for leaving the film industry for good after making this in Brazil. Towers has less to talk about, though he does go into the fast shooting schedule (which wrapped a week before they even got to film the carnival) and The Girl from Riohow this The Girl from Riosegued into the making of 99 Women. Don't miss Franco's Hitchcock anecdote at the end, too. The 2016 Blu-ray version of The Girl from Rio sported a much cleaner transfer, albeit with some obvious noise reduction and softness. The featurette is carried over along with a higher res poster and stills gallery.

In 2023, Blue Underground revisited the title for a 4K UHD and Blu-ray combo edition featuring a fresh scan from the negative that very clearly improves on its predecessors with richer colors, more detail, fine film grain, and more info visible in the frame. The deeper blacks in particular make for a more eye-popping experience, especially with HDR on the UHD making the most of those vivid carnival shots and the gradations on those blazing blue skies. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track also sounds great and comes with English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles. The "Rolling in Rio" featurette is carried over here, and in a clever touch, the new "Rocking in Rio" (40m35s) is a welcome new appraisal of the film and a thumbnail sketch of its history with the always insightful Stephen Thrower, who really helps understand this as part of the Franco-Towers cycle (and their separate films around the same time). He also digs into the tricky issue of how the story views female power and notes the differences between the English and German version (with the latter making our hero a lot more engaging). A new audio commentary by Troy Howarth and this writer can't be evaluated obviously, but it will hopefully prove enjoyable. As for that German version, you get a welcome 9m54s selection of that exclusive footage (with burned-in English subtitles), featuring new main titles and the elaborate setup for Wyler's character that kicks the story into motion. Also included is a trim reel (6m6s) of silent outtakes including some extra nudity and action beats. Also included is a new expanded gallery of promotional material and the entire RiffTrax edition (77m48s) with Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy goofing on a slimmed-down cut of the feature.


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Updated review on September 15, 2023