ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Phil Bailey is a long time photographer and film writer, who doesn’t actually hate everything, but has no fear of being a contrarian. Follow at Twitter at @stroke_midnight or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/philbaileyphoto
Sumuru, the femme villain bent on world domination, originally created for a BBC radio serial by Fu Manchu creator and author Sax Rohmer. If there is a Sax Rohmer story, then producer Harry Alan Towers must be lurking somewhere nearby. Towers produced a series of Fu Manchu films with Christopher Lee starring as the Chinese scientist bent on world domination and decided to take on Rohmer’s lesser known creation with James Bond girl Shirley Eaton in the lead with The Million Eyes of Sumuru in 1967 and followed it up two years later with The Girl from Rio.
The Girl from Rio was directed by Eurocult legend Jess Franco, sandwiched between his two Fu Manchu films The Blood of Fu Manchu and The Castle of Fu Manchu. This is nowhere as gonzo as his most famous/notorious films, it still boasts some great style and a bevy of beautiful women is all manner of undressed and barely dressed. Shirley Eaton, the blonde who was killed by being painted gold in Goldfinger is Sumuru who doesn’t really do much other than lounge around and look beautiful so Eaton is perfectly cast, but the real stars of the movie are Jess Franco regulars Maria Rohm and Beni Cardoso who just fit better with Franco’s vision (that vision being long legs and bare midriffs) and you can just feel Franco’s energy perk up when they are on screen, especially the impossibly leggy Cardoso as Sumuru’s head torturer/dominatrix Yana Yuma who basically steals the movie.
If you’re waiting fora recap of the plot, forget it, because that’s basically what the director did. Rio suffers from the common ailment of Eurocult films of having simultaneously too much and too little plot, It has so many plot threads that are so underdeveloped you can’t really keep it straight, despite all of the on-screen expository telephone calls. It has something to do with a mobster and a British Lord both vying to plunder Sumuru’s island fortress: Femina. Sumuru’s island fortress comes complete with a torture chamber and an all girl army decked out in pleather halter tops, capes, and go-go boots. There’s a lot of talking, a lot of scantily clad women, just enough nudity to keep the plot moving forward. The whole affair plays out like a super sexy, R rated The Man from U.N.C.L.E episode, which makes sense as the title is an obvious play on The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. tv series.
The Girl from Rio is a trashy if slight Eurocult delight that has loads of stylish eye candy. The trippy Italian comic feel to the scenes on Femina almost make up for how odd and disjointed the rest of the movie is. Structurally the movie is a bit of a mess, obviously stitched together from multiple chunks of footage that never quite convinces you that all of these people are in the same story. All faults aside, the campy, fetishistic delights that Jess Franco indulges in during the Femina sequences are well worth the 90 minutes and make the whole affair worthwhile, if just barely.