Sunday, 22 November 2009

Attack of the Robots (1966)

Another early Jess Franco eurospy flick, Attack of the Robots (Cartes sur table) dates from 1966 but has a very different feel to the following years’ Lucky the Inscrutable. It has less of a comic-book feel, but in its own way it’s just as much fun.

Eddie Constantine is a former Interpol agent Al Peterson, brought out of retirement to track down a group of mysterious assassins. These killers are in fact humans turned into automatons, almost unstoppable and without human emotions such as fear or remorse. They have been involved in the slayings of a number of important public figures, but who is behind this dastardly plot? Peterson didn’t want to come out of retirement, preferring to spend his time these days on glamorous blondes and good whisky, but he is not only tricked into it, he is also unwittingly being set up as bait.

He flies to Spain, and it doesn’t take long before he finds not only the criminal gang behind the plot but also two beautiful women. He’s really more interested in the women than the conspiracy, but things become complicated for him when he is kidnapped by Red Chinese spies. They also want to use him as bait, to discover the scientific principles behind the process of turning people into killer robots. There are plenty of plot twists, an lots of double-crossing, as Al becomes the victim of the machinations of both the beautiful blonde Lady Cecilia Addington Courtney and the equally beautiful brunette Cynthia Lewis.

Craggy-faced Eddie Constantine was born in the US but achieved fame in Europe in the 1950s as the star of the French-made series of Lemmy Caution crime/spy thrillers. As far as I know he was only capable of giving one performance, but it didn’t matter because it was a terrific one. And he’s ideal for the kind of spy spoofs that Jess Franco liked to make because that one performance of his was given with tongue planted firmly in cheek. He’s the perfect movie secret agent - brave, resourceful, scrupulously honest but more devoted to womanising and boozing than to the job. He’s immensely likeable and always slyly amusing.

Françoise Brion as Lady Cecilia and Sophie Hardy as Cynthia are equally perfect in their roles.

There’s a nice mix of humour, glamour, action, romance, sexiness and silliness. Franco solves the problems of low-budget film-making with his usual style - Al is provided with the kinds of gadgets that every self-respecting secret agent has to have, but conveniently none of them involve expensive special effects. The diabolical criminal mastermind’s secret laboratory has enough gadgetry to be convincing but it’s clearly done on a shoestring. The lack of elaborate sets and fancy effects makes no difference to the movie since it’s driven mostly by Eddie Constantine’s acting style and Franco’s flair as a director.

There are some good running gags, such as Al’s Mexican friend who is determined that next time he’s going to get the first punch in, but he never does. Being a Franco movie there are of course night-club scenes with sexy dancers and with jazz musicians (including Franco himself). Despite Al’s womanising the movie is considerably less sexist than the James Bond movies (movies that this one was obviously cashing in on). There’s no nudity, and no graphic violence. It’s a Jess Franco movie that could almost qualify for a G rating!

It’s fast-paced and consistently good-humoured, very stylish and always highly entertaining. An absolute must for eurospy fans, for Jess Franco fan, or for anyone who loves tongue-in-cheek 60s spy movies.

No comments: