31 August, 2014

Cartes Sur Table, Jess Franco (1966)

I recently got a chance to see the GAUMONT DVD of Jess Franco's Eurospy special, CARTES SUR TABLE, a 1966 spy adventure with science fiction and comic overtones, with Eddie Constantine as wise cracking Interpol operative Al Pereira.

The plot is prime comic book material done on a cut-rate sub Bond scale. An army of electronically controlled men and women "robots' (this was titled ATTACK OF THE ROBOTS in the US. I had a VIDEO YESTERYEAR VHS dub of a fuzzy, cut English language version, with Frank Wolff voicing Constantine), created by a sinister group led by a couple (Fernando Rey and Francoise Brion) in the employ of a shadowy political cartel, are carrying out a series of high profile political assassinations. The Chinese are also involved, but are after the formula which is capable of turning humans into mental slaves. Al Pereira, Jess Franco's favorite Eurospy/P.I., surfaces in Franco's universe as early as 1962, in his Eurospy-noir thriller, LA MUERTE SILBA UN BLUES. Played with casual flair by Eddie Constantine here in this knockoff of Godard's ALPHAVILLE (1965), he's not a character upon which a franchise would be built. This would be the Franco's last black and white feature. The character would later played by Howard Vernon (LES EBRANLEES, 1972) and, most frequently, Antonio Mayans (BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO-1982), among others.

Seeing it in OAR, with added English subtitles, and in very good video quality, is a revelation. It looks much slicker and sometimes even elegant in terms of atmospheric interiors. There are also several shots and an entire nightclub exotic dance scene, performed by Sophie Hardy, which have been restored to this presentation. Jess Franco's familiar high-pitched voice can be amusingly heard promoting Jean-Luc Godard's Eddie Constantine starring as Lemmy Caution in sci-fi/spy/noir masterwork, ALPHAVILLE. Franco's voice is heard in the background during scene between Constantine and Ricardo Palacios at a bus stop. CARTES SUR TABLE is not in the same class as ALPHAVILLE, but this edition makes a double bill possible and just maybe revelatory.

The high points are the glimpses of the high tech-low tech robot factory where kidnapped Rhesus 0 candidates are lowered into a giant electrified test tube, to emerge as mind controlled zombies and the climax where the robots turn on their masters. Francoise Brion, who appears as Lady Cecilia, the alluring leather clad female counterpart of Fernando Rey's renegade scientist,  would go on to appear in an important role in the director's 1973 erotic masterwork, AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO.

CARTES SUR TABLE (Cards on the Table) doesn't spill over into horror territory, but the adaptation by frequent Luis Bunuel scenarist Jean-Claude Carriere (THE MILKY WAY, THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY) is quite witty and sophisticated in the way it both parodies and represents a stylish riff on the Eurospy genre. Many of the attempts at silly slapstick fall flat and seem unnecessary and ill timed, even in this spy-spoof context. But the film is a breezy, fun way to visit the world of Jess Franco before he became a brand name and international icon of Le Bad Cinema. Franco would embark on a higher budgeted, widescreen, color Eurospy, LUCKY, THE INSCRUTABLE, featuring Ray Danton, the next year. CARTES SUR TABLE was remade in 1985 as VIAJE A BANGKOK, ATUAD INCLUIDO, with Howard Vernon, although the agent he played was not named Al Pereira in that one.  And, of course, Jess Franco's two final films, AL PEREIRA VS THE ALLIGATOR LADIES and THE REVENGE OF THE ALLIGATOR LADIES were the final installments in the director's long running series featuring Al Pereira.

One can only rejoice that a HD release of this film is planned by Kino-Redemption in 2019.   (C) Robert Monell 2018


Plusieurs meurtres de personnalités internationales sont perpétrés. Interpol découvre que des terroristes ont trouvé un procédé scientifique permettant de transformer en assassins, agissant comme de véritables robots, les personnes qui appartiennent à un groupe sanguin très rare, le «rhésus O». Al Pereira, un agent secret possédant le «rhésus O» est envoyé comme appât dans la région d'Alicante, où semble siéger cette organisation criminelle.

Année de sortie : 1966
Durée : 91 mn
De : Jess Franco
Avec : Eddie Constantine, Françoise Brion, Sophie Hardy 

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