THE GIRL FROM RIO: Jess Franco’s Jet Set Bondsploitation Epic Swings onto 4K UHD

The piece below was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.

1969’s The Girl from Rio aka Future Women just hit 4K UHD thanks to Blue Underground and if you haven’t seen this swinging Jess Franco Bond knock off, you’re in for a treat.

The film is one of the more restrained films I’ve seen from the Spanish director, who’s best known for his rather prolific catalog of 207 films that mostly reside in the torrid realm of sexploitation. What makes Rio odd is its lack of skin, especially considering that it was made in partnership with producer Harry Alan Towers, who also produced his Marquis de Sade inspired outings. Towers produced not only Spanish, but also Italian sexploitation pictures, and famously produced some of the Laura Gemser films that would later be rebranded as Black Emanuelle titles. That being said, this is a rather tame R rated actioner, but that doesn’t make it any less great by any stretch of the imagination.

Like most of Franco’s films, the director uses a real location, that of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to elevate his Jet Set Bondsploitation film that has our 007 proxy, Richard Stapley (Richard Wyler), fleeing to Rio with $10 Million in stolen money. This has every criminal outfit in the area after him including Sumitra (Shirley Eaton/Goldfinger) and her army of gorgeous women warriors who hope to use the money to take over the world. Technically, this film is a sequel to The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967), and features Sax Rohmer’s Sumuru character (renamed Sumitra in the English dub, strangely obliterating all references to the character). While there’s a bit of a twist at the halfway point, the film is a fun romp into the world of Jess Franco by way of this secret agent tale that doles out its story in equal parts camp, parody and the kind of luridly fetishistic Franco subtext you’d expect. 

For those that dig old school Bond and James Franco, there’s a lot to appreciate here with its pulpy action supplemented by a bizarre 60s rogues gallery of villains of course with plenty of girls and guns. While Wyler isn’t the strongest lead, he’s luckily surrounded by a cast of characters led by Shirley Eaton who definitely makes up for his lack of gravitas. Also the film later adds Marta Reves’ Ulla who quickly shifts gears from damsel in distress to a co conspirator to Wyler’s Stapley. My personal favorite however of the eccentric cast, has to be the delightful Elisa Montés who plays Masius (George Sanders) accountant/girlfriend, whose cheeky presence is accentuated by her collection of cunning little psychedelic inspired hats.

The film is presented here uncut in 4K on a dual layer 66 GB UHD by Blue Underground, from a new scan from the original camera negative. The film was shot in the same “batch” as Eugenie and Justine, and looks just as good. The transfer is crisp, bright and clean with a well balanced contrast throughout. The groovy color palette here and mandatory gel lighting is accentuated by a layer of Dolby Vision that makes some of the costumes and scenes really pop.

The special features include an all-new audio commentary with film historians Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth – this is informative and entertaining; “Rocking in Rio” – an all-new interview with Franco expert Stephen Thrower; and “Rolling in Rio” – interviews with director Jess Franco, producer Harry Alan Towers and star Shirley Eaton. 

For folks looking to get their feet wet in the Franco Filmography, this definitely feels like a good gateway. While you get a good idea of his style, it feels about as mainstream as I think Franco could get. Girl from Rio is a rollicking adventure that for the most part works in spite of itself. The only hurdle for entry is probably the odd dubbing here that sometimes feels like parody. But once you’re acclimated to that and Franco’s dreamy zoomtastic cinematographic style, you’re all set to have a groovy good time. Being a Bond fan this definitely hit the sweet spot for me and gave a new appreciation for Franco watching this odd riff on the secret agent film, that as expected loses interest in its male lead altogether only to empower and entrust the film to a character that would normally be relegated to a femme fatale.

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