Jess Franco Directs Eddie Constantine in Faux-007 International Adventure.
DIRECTED BY JESS FRANCO/FRENCH/1966
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: JULY 16, 2019/REDEMPTION FILMS
Eddie Constantine may not be Humphrey Bogart or Charles Bronson or even anywhere in between (at least not in this movie), but his face is a roadmap all its own, and he looks damn fine in a fedora. Forever viewed as the character of Lemmy Caution even when he’s technically not, Constantine plays tough guys in the key of Spillane, able to knock out an imposing troublemaker even when his punch is clearly a good ten inches from connecting. Such is the case of the actor’s turn in Jess Franco’s non-horror, very-1960s adventure, Attack of the Robots.
There are apparently two titles for this film, “Attack of the Robots” and “Cards on the Table” (Cartes sur table). Redemption Films obviously opted for the one bearing any appeal whatsoever (and, apparently adopted for its U.S. television runs on various regional late-night movie programs). After all, a pulpy, serial-episode-sounding title like “Attack of the Robots” can’t help but pique the curiosity of fans of hokey old sci-fi. (Myself included). It should then be duly noted that any hopes it being a kind of “Mike Hammer 2049” should be scuttled away. Attack of the Robots is more of a cut-rate 007 copycat that isn’t sure if it’s a spoof or not. It has its moments, and a very game cast (including Fernando Rey and Françoise Brion as villainous masterminds in a high-tech lair; Sophie Hardy plays a mysterious nightclub dancer who always seems to find herself crossing paths with our luggish hero), but this odd bird alas never quite takes to air.
Don’t come looking for any retro-keen blinking metallic buckets of bolts- these “robots” aren’t that at all. This is one of those older pictures where the titular term “robots” doesn’t match what you and I think of when the word is used, perhaps not dissimilar to “zombie” in modern parlance but lacking the legitimacy of that word’s earlier meanings. In this case, the robots in question are basically brainwashed people wearing glasses… and for whatever reason, sporting artificially darkened skin. (Dare we read into this otherwise unmotivated decision??)
First thing in the movie, we see what these “robots“ are capable of. All around the world, in coordinated assassinations, several of them manage to simply walk up to important dignitaries and ambassadors, and shoot them dead. The international powers that be will not stand for this. After several clunky scenes of the liberation, it is decided that special agent Al Pereira (Constantine) is the man for the job. We are told that he is a good agent, although clearly he’s a bit of a goof. Desperation to shed the Lemmy caution persona might explain his willingness to go as far as allowing the character to legitimately initially not notice that a child is standing at his hotel room door once he’s opened the door and scanned both ways just over the kid’s head. Not exactly an ace detective here. And more unfortunately, a failed gag.
As far as this Blu-ray is concerned, the film looks and sounds terrific, it’s slightly stylized black and white cinematography being a particular standout. It’s probably safe to say that these days there are more Jess Franco completists out there than Eddie Constantine completists. Heck, there’s probably more Tim Lucas completists, for that matter. Thankfully, Lucas is onboard for another of his tremendously well researched audio commentary tracks. As expected, Lucas his focus is primarily the late director, Jess Franco. It’s pointed out that this is in fact the filmmaker’s final black and white effort, and by design, also one of his most commercial. Lucas point out throughout the commentary that Franco isn’t afraid to have a bit of fun in the making of his films, often including inside jokes and tossed off references to other films of his. In just one of the bigger pointed out instances here, we learn that the short kid at Pereira’s door is in fact Constantine’s own son, Lemmy.
My own slow and half-futile attempts to “get“ the appeal and endurance of the work of Jess Franco are documented in several of my earlier reviews of his films. Attack of the Robots does little to improve my understanding in this department, though it’s scope (by Franco standards) and variation from the varying degrees of “Euro-trash“ of his better known work is somewhat respectable. It demonstrates a direct range between Franco being a director with range and trying to be a director with range. That said, deference to Tim Lucas on such matters is the smart move. He’s one of the few regular audio commentators remaining who truly goes all in for his research and seems to share every last morsel that he comes back with.
Be prepared to dig in the menus for the commentary track, it is most unfortunately buried in the “Setup” menu, beneath the French language soundtrack (with English subtitles) and the English language soundtrack. In said menus one can also find the trailer for the film.
As far as any such pantheon of faux-James Bond/post-Lemmy Caution swinging dick/private dick adventure goes, Attack of the Robots is a most curious footnote. Less racy than your typical 007 outing, but apparently still too hot for late 1960s TV, it’s fitting that this Jess Franco programmer has at least found a home on Blu-ray.