21 November, 2009


George Nader is a hoot in Lindsay Shonteff's 1967 Sumuru misadventure...

Jess Franco's 1968 Sumuru flick featured terrific costumes, a wasted George Sanders and numerous eye-catching posters.

"I have a million eyes, for I am Sumuru."

After finally getting a chance to see this 1967 Lindsay Shonteff (CURSE OF THE VOODOO) directed Sax Rohmer adaptation I can report that it's more entertaining and visually stylish (even in a cropped 1.33:1 poor quality print) than Jess Franco's 1968 Sumuru adaptation THE GIRL FROM RIO but has less interest in terms outre fashion design and codified genre commentary.* Both films were produced by Harry Alan Towers and bombed at the box office.

THE MILLION EYES opens with CIA Agent Nick West (George ROBOT MONSTER Nader) hijacked by British intelligence (in the person of the avuncular Wilfrid-Hyde White) and ordered to Hong Kong where he will infiltrate the world of female super-criminal Sumuru (Shirley Eaton), who owns an island undermined with high explosives and populated by a crack army of female assassins dressed in black tights. We see plenty of bare midriffs but no nudity. Boot and leather fetishists will have no complaints and watching Eaton whip a chained up Nader is camp fun of the highest order. Sumuru's dream is a world dominated by women where Love is a capital offense. That seems just fine with Nader as he takes every chance to get into a hot clutch with every Sumuru operative in reach.

Fun is the key word here. Nader, in full flight from Hollywood, was already involved in Euro espionage in his German-produced Jerry Cotton series [THE TRAP SNAPS SHUT AT MIDNIGHT] lets it all hang out here [everyone knew he was gay, but friend Rock Hudson was still deep in the Hollywood closet] as the fey, wise cracking secret agent who quips he had better in High School after getting kissed by Shirley Eaton! It's fun to watch George having a ball at Harry Alan Towers' expense. He's certainly more engaging than Richard Wyler in Franco's take. On the other hand there's the unavoidable presence of top-billed Frankie Avalon who can't act, isn't funny and looks like he needs to be back in a BEACH BLANKET BINGO movie or the Mickey Mouse club. He shouldn't be in the film at all, but I guess it wouldn't have gotten made without a "name" to sell it in the US. It didn't sell there or anywhere else, though.

No film featuring the legendary Klaus Kinski can't be without interest and here he matches Nader in tacky goofball antics by playing a double role, wearing a fright wig, smirking broadly and generally flailing wildly about as the sex-addicted Sindonesian President Boong.

Maria Rohm as cult- inductee Helga is no more necessary to the plot here as she in the Franco Sumuru film while her presence is certainly understandable given her relationship with the producer. She proved to be actress in her later Franco films, especially as Madame St. Ange in EUGENIE...THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION (1970). She's just a pretty blonde here. More to the point are Sumuru's guard, who engage in all sorts of erotic tortures, including one who strangles a prisoner to death with her thighs. So, yes it's also more erotic than Franco's 1968 film. Of course Franco's 1987 Sumuru inspired ESCLAVAS DEL CRIMEN is another story.

John Von Kotze's compositions are quite well-arranged considering this is basically a silly spy spoof attempting to be sophisticated, a typical set-up features amazons on either side of the frame sporting Mauser machine pistols, which, conveniently enough for the prop department budget, the Hong Kong police also use during the final assault. The Shaw Brothers Hong Kong sets look interesting but their scale can't be appreciated in this presentation and it's impossible to fully evaluate a 2.35:1 Techniscope film cropped to fullscreen. I can't say that I've ever been a fan of the Canadian born Lindsay Shonteff but this does deserve an OAR DVD presentation for curiosity value if nothing else. At least it all ends with a bang as Sumuru self-destructs her island empire. No such apotheosis graced Franco's THE GIRL FROM RIO.

It should also be noted that Nader also played the hero in the 1967 Vincent Price vehicle THE HOUSE OF 1000 DOLLS, also produced by Towers.

My favorite Sumuru movie scenes are those oddly angled and lit inserts in Jess Franco's BLOOD OF FU MANCHU (1968), about which Ms. Eaton is understandably still miffed since she filmed them during THE GIRL FROM RIO shoot only to have them appear in BLOOD, for which she got no remuneration. I admit to not having read the Rohmer Sumuru novels, but I would very much like to at some point.

There is also a reportedly alternate German version of this film which I haven't seen.

*Thanks to Bill Connolly and Robert Guest for providing me with videos of this rarity.


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Mikó Bálint said...

THE MILLION EYES OF SUMURU is one of the films I would buy without hesitation if a company like Blue Underground or Severin released it after meticulous remastering. I admit that I'm in love with the silly and colourful spy stories of the 1960s, they are the perfect time capsules to a most fascinating era. THE GIRL FROM RIO was the third Franco film I've ever seen and is still one of my favourites. I also like the maestro's two campy Fu Manchu opuses. I just can't understand why so many people hate them. They are funny (ok, not in the Neil Simon-way, but funny...), comic strip-like works with a very special mood. Just what the doctor should order for a cold and boring winter night!

dfordoom said...

I'd buy The Million Eyes of Sumuru in any form I could get it in! I'm a huge fan of Sax Rohmer's Sumuru novels. I totally agree with Revelator - I love Franco's Fu Manchu movies and The Girl from Rio. Franco did that kind of comic-book inspired tongue-in-cheek spy thing exceptionally well.

Robert Monell said...

MILLION EYES OF SUMURU is one of the films I would buy without hesitation if a company like Blue Underground

I'm rather surprised it hasn't appeared on R1 video or DVD yet. It's a 40 year old film! Maybe a rights issue or something. It's at least as good as THE GIRL... .

Robert Monell said...

kind of comic-book

Yes, that's what Franco obviouly had in mind. He loves comic books. You even see George Sanders reading a comic book. It reminds me more of a newspaper COMIC STRIP, a bit different. I think BLOOD is rather underrated after seeing it again recently, colorful and fun. I think the editing is problematic. The German version is tighter and emphasizes action. CASTLE is even more colorful with that gel lighting.

dfordoom said...

I'm also puzzled as to why The Million Eyes of Sumuru isn't available. But a lot of very entertaining eurospy and British spy spoof movies of the 60s are not available (including Jess Franco's early eurospy movies like Attack of the Robots). I suspect that the copyright owners just don't think there's a market for them, or they don't know how to promote them. They know there's always a market for old horror movies. But I think these movies would sell if they were packaged as camp classics.

dfordoom said...

He not only loves comic books, but he's one of the very few directors who has truly captured the spirit of comics on screen. Mario Bava did it with Danger! Diabolik! and Corrado Farina did it with Baba Yaga, but most of the other attempts by other film-makers just don't quite work. Franco always seemed to be abe to pull it off successfully.

I wonder if it's his love of jazz? An understanding of the rhythms of jazz might be the key to doing comic-book and comic-strip movies successfully.

Stephan said...

The two Sumuru films were quite successfull in Germany (and in Italy two I guess).

The German version of MILLION EYES isn't very interesting, it just tried to eliminate most of the funny stuff and tried to sell the film as a more serious spy adventure. The German version of THE GRIL FROM RIO however is interesting: It includeds a heist sequence at the beginning (about 10 minutes), that isn't in the English version of the film.