Synopsis: Two years before The Girl From Rio, Shirley Eaton (Goldfinger) also starred as Sumuru, a beautiful but deadly woman with plans for world domination. When a couple of wise-cracking, swingin’ secret agents undercover female operatives, they rush to Hong Kong and enlist the local police to stop her all-female army of assassins known as The Million Eyes Of Sumuru.
Frankie Avalon (Muscle Beach Party), Wilifrid Hyde-White (My Fair Lady), Maria Rohm (99 Women), and Klaus Kinski (Crawlspace) co-star in this action-packed spy spoof from producer Harry Alan Towers (The Bloody Judge) and director Lindsay Shonteff (The Man From S.E.X.).
eyelights: Sumuru. Shirley Eaton. the many pretty girls. the lovely locations.
eyesores: Frankie Avalon. the crappy humour.
“I have a million eyes… for I am Sumuru!”
I don’t know if you’re like me, but I love strong female characters. When I first saw ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day‘, I totally lost it for Linda Hamilton’s bad-@$$ Sarah Connor. Ever since then, I’ve gravitated towards female characters who are plausibly equal or better than their male counterparts.
(I say “plausibly” because, for instance, pairing Ellen Page with Dwayne Johnson and having her outdo him physically wouldn’t make any sense – though Hollywood would try to make you believe it.)
I mean, some of my favourite movies of all time (ex: ‘The Last Seduction‘) revolve around women outsmarting or outdoing everyone for the win – whether they’re good or bad characters. And I especially like it when they eschew contemporary female stereotypes that only serve to trap and foil women.
So I’m surprised to only now discover ‘The Million Eyes of Sumuru’, a 1967 motion picture that is based on the BBC radio serial and a half-dozen novels by Sax Rohmer, creator and author of the extremely popular Fu Manchu series. It’s even more surprising given that it stars Shirley Eaton as Sumuru.
Sumuru is the leader of an all-woman society that is scheming to manipulate powerful and rich men in order to gain supremacy. Under her direction, the Order of Our Lady has infiltrated all of the corners of the world, awaiting their moment. She is strategic, focused and ruthless in her approach.
In ‘The Million Eyes of Sumuru’, we find her openly assassinating the offspring of the world’s richest man at his funeral. Then she sends her agents to murder a betrayer in their midst – an agent who has fallen for a man. Unfortunately, this gesture attracts the attention of the intelligence community.
Enter Nick West, a CIA agent, and his side-kick Tommy Carter. After receiving information from British intelligence, they’re set on a path that will lead them to Sumuru. Nick will be manipulated and tortured by Sumuru, while Tommy tries to find and rescue him. Together they’ll foil Sumuru’s plans.
‘The Million Eyes of Sumuru’ has an interesting core that’s unraveled by poor writing and weak performances. In trying to appeal to mass audiences, the filmmakers made the intrigue far too simple, connecting dots that shouldn’t connect. They also dumbed the proceedings down with truly idiotic humour.
It’s bad enough that Nick and Tommy’s so-called witticisms were anything but, and that their schtick was grating, but the picture is mined with such beauties as Nick knocking out a Sumuru agent by calling her towards him so that her face turns right into his fist. I guess this was known as “comedy gold”.
To make matters worse, Nick is played by George Nader, who is only passably watchable as our lead, lacking any real charisma, and Tommy is hamstrung by Frankie Avalon, who was hot off the heels of the endless “Beach Party” series with Annette Funicello. Yeah, he’s entirely credible as a flaky CIA agent.
He has this “wonderfully funny” moment when he’s trying to convince a boat owner to follow Sumuru’s agents, who have just kidnapped Nick. When the man finds out it’s Sumuru he hikes his price. Tommy counters lower. The man hikes even more. Tommy hikes higher than him. The man lowers below his original price.
Ultimately, they agree on a price that’s higher than the boat owner’s and lower than Tommy’s.
Thankfully, there’s the ever-engaging Wilfrid Hyde-White as Sir Anthony, who brightens up encounters with Nick and Tommy. And then there’s Shirley Eaton, who had been struggling to break out after landing the role of Jill Masterson, the iconic golden girl, in ‘Goldfinger‘. She sinks her teeth into Sumuru.
I really like her performance, though it is a performance: she made Sumuru confident and commanding without being “bitchy”. She’s a terrific villain. My only complaint is that Sumuru breaks her own rules by seducing Nick – because she says she needs a man. Tell that to the women of Lesbos, you hypocrite!
I couldn’t help but wonder if casting Eaton in the part is a case of white-washing. Was Sumuru supposed to be Asian? Having not read the novels, I couldn’t say for sure, but she has been given different racial backgrounds on the book covers. Either way, with such a beautiful whitewash who’s to complain?
Anyway, up until then, it was so rampant to white-wash characters that Christopher Lee was playing Fu Manchu at the time. 6’5″ Lee. Here, they have Klaus Kinski covered in grey paint, playing President Boong. Now, I don’t know what country Boong is supposed to represent, but all of his soldiers are Asian.
Um… grey paint. Sheesh.
At least the female characters were somewhat diverse, thanks to Sumuru’s worldwide organization. Our first introduction to the Order is remarkable: it’s a slow reveal of a group of women lounging around looking at one of their own choking a man to death with her thighs in the middle of the floor.
Yikes. That’s cold. But I guess there are worse ways to go.
Aside for all the deadly lovelies, ‘Sumuru’ benefits tremendously from the gorgeous Hong Kong locations and elaborate sets, which they’d rented from Shaw Brothers studios. These added grandeur and exoticism to what would otherwise have been a fairly average production; this picture looks really good.
Otherwise, though, ‘The Million Eyes of Sumuru’ can be a thin affair. I’m a fan because of Sumuru herself and the whole concept of a female organization wanting to lead women to power. Cool idea. But it would have deserved a much more serious treatment to give it some weight. Here it feels like a teaser.
And, frankly, that’s not enough for me: I’d love to get a good look at those million eyes.
Date of viewing: February 4, 2017