Attack of the Robots (1966)

Original Title: Cartes sur table
Country: Spain / France
Director: Jess Franco
Starring: Eddie Constantine, Françoise Brion, Fernando Rey, Sophie Hardy, Alfredo Mayo, Ricardo Palacios, Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui
Music: Paul Misraki

Some reviews almost don’t have to be written. The title and the people who made the film, both in front of, and behind the camera, almost tell the whole story. So when I say that there is a film called Attack of the Robots that is directed by Jess Franco and starring Eddie Constantine,and you happen to be familiar with the work of Franco and Constantine, then you really don’t need to know too much more. And the great thing here is, that this film delivers everything that a film called Attack of the Robots – directed by Jess Franco and starring Eddie Constantine should deliver.

But for those of you who are not familiar with the work of Franco and Constantine, I will – somewhat foolishly – try to explain what is going on here. First let’s deal with the enigmatic Mr. Franco. Jess (sometimes ‘Jesus’) Franco is a film director who started his career with a certain amount of flair and promise. So much so, that he was courted by the larger studios to become a mainstream director. But Franco was a man who chose to walk to the beat of his own drum. So rather than kow-towing to the bigger studios and making safe, commercial pictures, he chose to work almost autonomously with small producers. With minuscule budgets he made films that looked fantastic; had marvellous head-spinning jazz scores; and more often than not paraded ample quantities of female flesh across the screen. Which is all great. Unfortunately, the scripts were usually garbage – I am sure almost made up as they were shooting – the pacing was atrociously slow, and the plots became more and more unintelligible. In short, Franco’s films were stylish B-grade schlock. But having said that, I have a strange affection for Franco’s films. Despite any vestiges of commons sense, I find myself being drawn back to his films time and time again – even the ones that I swore I would never watch again.

That brings us to Eddie Constantine. Constantine was an American actor who never broke big in America. So he went to France and became a superstar. The thing is, he played virtually the same character in every film, which was a wise-cracking, womanising, whiskey drinking private eye or secret agent. His most famous performance was as the character Lemmy Caution (a character he often played) in Jean Luc Goddard’s Alphaville. In Attack of the Robots he plays a secret agent named Al Peterson – at least in the English dub. There is a European poster that suggests his character is called James Clint (surely an amalgamation of James Bond and Clint Eastwood). Strangely in this film, Eddie doesn’t do too much drinking, but he still is a wise-cracking womaniser.

That finally brings us to the film Attack of the Robots, and in fact there aren’t actually any robots in this film, only robotised (or zombified) minions. The weird thing here, and I believe it is worth noting that the villain (I am not really giving anything away) is played by Fernando Rey, who played a similar role in the Franco (not Jess) and Ciccio comedy Due Mafioso Contro Goldginger (or Two Crazy Secret Agents). In that film, Rey as the villainous Goldginger also used robotised henchmen to do his bidding. In some ways it is so similar, I find it hard to believe it is a coincidence.

The film opens in an embassy in Buenos Aires, and a swish gala function (or a ball) is being held. In through the window, a character with dark skin, horned-rimmed glasses and dressed in black clothes, and carrying a gun, crashes the event. He barges through the crowd to the English Ambassador, and then pumps several bullets into him. The film then jumps to the Netherlands and to an airport, where an Archbishop is disembarking from the plane. As he reaches the tarmac, once again a dark skinned gentleman with thick glasses rushes out and shoots. The Archbishop falls over dead.

As I continually describe the assassins as ‘dark skinned’ it may sound like I am being racist, but let me assure you that I am not. The assassins in the film – the ‘robots’ if you will – have been through some mind altering robotising process. One of the side effects appears to be a darkening on the skin. When these ‘robots’ are killed, their skin colour reverts back to its natural pigmentation.

Interpol manage to capture a robot, and they discover that the suspect has Rhesus Zero blood, which is quite rare. Assuming that the villains can only robotise people with rhesus Zero blood Interpol plan to send one of there agents out there as bait to be captured. The problem is that Interpol don’t have any agents with rhesus zero blood, but hey know of a man that does – he used to be an agent, but has now retired to a life of luxury and womanising. His name is Al Peterson (Eddie Constantine).

Without telling Peterson the whole story, Interpol manage to convince him to go to Allicante in Spain to investigate a criminal syndicate out there – and for a price he agrees to go, armed with a bunch of the latest gadgets from the Department of Dirty Tricks.

Within moments of arriving in Allicante, Peterson has already befriended a fellow ‘tourist’ Cynthia Lewis (Sophie Hardy), who constantly seems to be following Peterson around. But she’s not the only woman in town who is interested in the big lug. There is also the delightfully named Lady Cecilia Addington Courtney (Françoise Brion).

Lady Cecilia, as you have no doubt suspected is evil, and she works with Sir Percy (Fernando Rey), and together they run a criminal organisation that seems to specialise in assassinations. It is never revealed why they do this, and it is also suggested that they are only subordinated to a much larger controlling body. Who the heads of this ‘evil organisation’ is, is never revealed – and it is never revealed if Lady Cecilia and Sir Percy are the only ones making the robotised assassins.

As you are probably aware by now, Attack of the Robots, is B-grade sixties Eurospy schlock, and while it is certainly very flawed – definately very silly – and possibly verging on nonsenical, I found it to be extremely entertaining. Constantine does his thing – the same thing as always (with a little less booze)…Franco provides some great visuals and serves up a great swinging soundtrack – the music is by Paul Misraki, but Franco can be seen at a piano in a strip club (where else?) The film may not serve up the same level of modern jet-setting Spy-Fi as a Bond film, but it has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. The players have a great time with it, and I think most viewers would have a good time too.

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