Monday, February 5, 2024

FRANCO FEBRUARY - DAY 5! THE GIRL FROM RIO (1969) (Blue Underground 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray Review)

Franco February Day 5, a look back at Blue Underground's phenomenal 4K of Jess Franco's delightfully demented spy-thriller The Girl From Rio (1960).
4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray 

Label: Blue Underground
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 94 Minutes 
Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HD MA with Optional English SDH, Français, Español Subtitles 
Video: Dolby Vision HDR 2160p Ultra HD Widescreen (1.66:1)
Director: Jess Franco
Cast: Richard Wyler, Maria Rohm, Shirley Eaton, George Sanders, Marta Reves, Elisa Montés

One of Jess Franco's more swanky spy-thrillers The Girl from Rio (1969) came during his entertaining cycle of films with notorious producer Harry Allan Towers (The Blood of Fu Manchu) and based on characters created by Sax Rohmer - thought this film was written by producer Towers under the moniker Peter Welbeck. The flick has a very comic book-esque spy-thriller vibe along the lines of other swinging '60s flicks like Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik, and 007 'natch, complete with a bisexual super-villain named Sumuru, played by Shirley Eaton of Goldfinger, reprising her role from the earlier film The Million Eyes of Sumuru, though here she's going by the name Sunanda, seemingly to avoid legal action from Rohmer who created the character, as well as Fu Manchu, of which Jess Franco directed a couple of loose adaptations starring Christopher Lee. 

Anyway, Sunanda has a diabolical plan to enslave all the male of the world and rule over them with her army of sexy warrior women, who live on the secret island enclave of Femina off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. Enter into the picture a handsome American playboy/thief named Jeff Sutton (Richard Wyler, Frenzy) who is on the lam with ten million dollars of stolen money, arriving in Rio he sets about checking into a hotel sets and flirting with manicurist Leslye Manors (Maria Rohm, 99 Women), managing to get her into the sack in record time, but it was the swinging  '60s afterall! It turns out that sexy Leslye is one of Sumuru's operatives, having been tasked with getting Jeff (and his ten million dollars) to the island of Femina. Sumuru plans to steal Jeff's money to further her man/world-conquering master plan. 

Her plan hits a snag when Rio-based crime boss Masius (George Sanders, Psychomania) also discovers Jeff and his ten million dollar, of which he also has designs on. Masius sends his masked henchmen  to intercept the playboy and we get some fun hand to hand combat with Jeff kicking ass and fleeing the island via plane, ending up on Femina where the sadistic Sunanda tortures him, as well as other prisoners, among them heiress Ulla (Marta Reves, Two Undercover Angels), whom she keeps ion a 007-style torture room with prisoners kept in glass boxes. Meanwhile Masias learns that Leslye is a operative of Sunanda's and has his thugs water torture her to find the locations of the hidden island, and he launches an air attack on the island. 

Girl from Rio is a kitschy swinging '60's spy-thriller as only the fevered mind of Jess Franco could have brought upon us, chock-full of stylish, eye-popping eroticism and nudity, patented Franco zoom-ins, sexy warrior women in skimpy leather-clad outfits with machine guns, diabolical 007-esque set-pieces and tortures, and of course plenty of sex. I actually think this is a pretty accessible Franco entry, old Uncle Jess was not always easy for uninitiated to get into, but this swingin' spy-thriller seems like a good entry point to point to me. It helps that the budget seems pretty sizable for a Franco flick, as did most of the Towers produced, and the Rio locations looks great, including scenes from Rio de Janeiro's Carnival festival with colorful costumed people filling the streets. The main cast are all pretty great, Eaton is underused but she has presence to spare and is quite lovely to look at, meanwhile old man George Sanders looks to be having a bit too much fun in the role of the Popeye comics-loving crime boss, while Wyler makes for a solid lead as the American man of action. The plot is completely absurd in a 007 send-up sort of way, and I love that about it, it's pretty wacky stuff, but also delightfully demented and chock full of those Franco flourishes that keep me coming back for more. 

Audio/Video: Jess Franco's spy-thriller Girl from Rio (1960) arrives on region-free 4K Ultra HD from Blue Underground in 2160p UHD widescreen (1.66:1) with a brand-new Dolby Vision HDR 4K restoration from the uncensored original camera negative. BU previously issued the flick on a double-feature Blu-ray with The Million Eyes of Sumuru back in 2016, and that release left plenty of room for improvement; the colors were at times dull, contrast was wonky, and the source showed some blemishes and inconsistencies. With this new UHD improvements are plentiful and quite pleasing from start to finish, this is a wonderous new upgrade that blows away the previous release, and also features a bit more information inthe frame which is always a plus. The 4K resolution offers copious fine detail throughout, as well as a superior grain management that highlights a lot of texturing and finer points of the cinematography by Manuel Merino (She Killed In Ecstasy). On top of that we have the Dolby Vision HDR color-grading which bolsters the image with richer colors, without over-baking the color-grade, it's done quite respectfully to the source, but primaries really shine with vivid blues, reds, greens and yellows. Also gone is the yellow push of the 2016 Blu-ray giving skin tones a much healthier and natural tanned appearance, plus reds look actually red and not orange, and what were formerly dull greys reveal pleasing shades of blue, and black levels are much stronger and nuanced. Perhaps even more than the touched-up colors is the depth and clarity of the image, as well as excellent contrast levels that are stable and do not flux. The same new restoration is downgraded to 1080p HD for the accompanying Blu-ray which also showcases new livelier colors, back levels, and contrast minus the WCG color-grading. Even if you are not 4K enabled yet this is worth a double-dup for the superior A/V and extras - future proofing your collection. 

Audio is capably handled by an English-dubbed 1.0 DTS-HD MA track with optional English SDH, Français, or Español subtitles. The track is mostly free of any hiss or distortion, there are a few spits where I could detect some very minor age-related source issues, but there were faint and few. The English-dibbed dialogue comes through clear and precise, and the score from Daniel J. White (Shining Sex)is pretty swanky and perfectly suits the erotic-comic book spy-thriller nature of the flick, plus the theme song with vocal accompaniment is pretty spectacular. 

This release is pretty stacked with special features, starting off by carrying over the previously release BU extras; these include the 6-min Rolling in Rio featuring archival interviews with Director Jess Franco, Producer Harry Alan Towers and Star Shirley Eaton, plus a 6-min Trim Reel featuring soundless outtakes, and a Posters and Stills Gallery

New stuff starts of with a new Audio Commentary with Film Historians Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth who deliver a fact and info filled commentary chock full of knowledge, but also quite fun and conversational. Next up is a new 41-min Rocking in Rio - Interview with Stephen Thrower   Author of “Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco” who gives his usual highly detailed appraisal of the film as well as a history of it's home video releases and various cuts in different territories. Also new are 10-min of Additional Scenes from German Version complete with burned-in subtitles and a German credit sequence. Another solid add is the inclusion of  the RiffTrax Edition of The Girl from Rio (1969) Riffed by Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett & Kevin Murphy that runs a shorter 68-minutes. 

The 2-disc UHD/BD release arrives in an oversized, black dual-hub keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork with a fantastic new illustration that really highlight the comic-book spy-thriller nature of the flick. The first-pressing comes with a Limited Edition Slipcover with embossed highlights featuring the same swanky new artwork. 

Special Features: 
- NEW! Audio Commentary with Film Historians Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth
- NEW! Rocking in Rio - Interview with Stephen Thrower   Author of “Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco” (40:35)
- Rolling in Rio – Interviews with Director Jess Franco, Producer Harry Alan Towers and Star Shirley Eaton (14:27) 
- NEW! Additional Scenes from German Version (9:48) 
-  Trim Reel (6:07) 
- Poster & Still Gallery
-  NEW! RiffTrax Edition – THE GIRL FROM RIO Riffed by Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett & Kevin Murphy (67:48) 

Screenshots from the Blue Underground Blu-ray:
Top: Blue Underground Blu-ray (2016)
Bottom: Blue Underground Blu-ray (2023)

More Screenshots from the 2023 Blue Underground BD: