Crafted in the wake of Jean-Luc Godard’s immortal Alphaville ‒ a deadpan French New Wave satire of contemporary espionage and sci-fi films ‒ Jess Franco’s Cartes sur table ‒ better known to English-speaking audiences as Attack of the Robots ‒ is a campy tale of tricks and traps. In fact, Franco’s French/Spanish co-production even casts the same lead from Godard’s cult classic: the one and only Eddie Constantine (a personal favorite film idol of mine), who sets out to discover just who is turning people with the rare “Rhesus Zero” (presumably a variation of the extremely rare Rhnull blood type) blood type into mindless, bronze-skinned automatons assassins controlled by thick, dark-rimmed eyeglasses.
Here, rather than having Constantine spoof his famous pre-007 FBI agent character Lemmy Caution once more, Franco instead pokes fun at the current James Bond film phenomenon. After a wave of assassinations are committed around the world by the mysterious “attack robots,” ex-Interpol agent Al Pereira (Constantine) ‒ who just happens to have the same rare blood type ‒ finds himself being coerced into investigating the weird crimes by his former employers and Communist Chinese spies alike. Sure, it’s a silly premise. It’s also a very silly and extremely politically incorrect by today’s standards, as contemporary viewers will no doubt instantly observe once the film’s “Asian” counteragent; especially considering the part is filled by European bit actor Vicente Roca in yellowface.
Representing the “real” villains here are the talents of Françoise Brion (a semi-regular in Constantine’s Lemmy Caution films) and future French Connection mastermind Fernando Rey, both of whom prove perfectly capable of keeping their tongues in their cheeks. Stunning Sophie Hardy portrays the proverbial love-interest to the wisecracking Constantine, while cult Spanish actors Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui and Ricardo Palacios turn in amusing supporting parts. Franco himself even appears as a musician in two well-made lounge sequences, as does Eddie’s own son, Lemmy Constantine. Franco’s tosses in a handful of in-jokes to the 007 franchise wholesale here, from the fake gadgets Eddie’s Interpol handlers give him, right down to stealing Goldfinger alumni Gert Frobe’s surname as his unconvincing alias.
While the film itself is about as even as the ground directly above the fault line, Attack of the Robots‘s quirky setup and execution are ultimately what make it so enjoyable. Though the production was originally intended to be shot in color, the black-and-white stock it wound up being filmed in succeeds in establishing an excellent atmosphere akin to Franco’s subsequent outing, The Diabolical Dr. Z. A popular staple of late-night pre-cable TV and mail order video distributors of the ’90s and 2000s, Attack of the Robots is the sort of absurd high-grade art which holds a special place in my heart. So much so, that I extracted the audio from several Sinister Cinema and Something Weird Video releases in 2014 and synced it up to the French Gaumont DVD, creating an English-friendly “fandub” for what was then the best copy available.
Fortunately, this spectacular Blu-ray release from Redemption Films and Kino Lorber blows that ol’ non-anamorphic PAL disc out of the water (and you won’t need a multi-region player to enjoy it, either). The MPEG-4 AVC 1080p encode, mastered from Gaumont’s original film elements and presented in its intended 1.66:1 aspect ratio, is a sight to behold, especially if you had once owned any of the fuzzy, choppy 16mm transfers previously sold on VHS and DVD-R. Accompanying the main feature is the original French LPCM 2.0 soundtrack with optional English subtitles. The original French theatrical trailer is also included, as is a bonus audio commentary from Franco biographer Tim Lucas. And that’s all I have to say about that particular special feature.
I do, however, have a lot to say regarding another special feature on this release, which is exclusive to Redemption/Kino Lorber’s release: the secondary English-dubbed LPCM 2.0 audio track. When I initially learned Kino was releasing this film earlier this year, I offered to send them my English fandub. They declined, informing me they already had an English audio track for the release. Upon receiving my review copy, I noticed they used the exact same fandub I stitched together in 2014, which had been adjusted from PAL for this Blu-ray release (naturally) by parties unknown. Believe me, I certainly know my own work when I hear it; especially when I had to copy and paste certain bits of dialogue to replace parts where the old English-dubbed 16mm prints were missing due to splices).
While it’s always flattering to see and hear your own work being used, I was more than a little displeased to learn my mini accomplishment from five years ago went uncredited. Also worth noting is the fact I sent my fandub to Tim Lucas in 2015 to see if he liked it. Evidently, he or somebody else liked it enough to include it here. Curious to see where Kino received the audio, I emailed them. They claimed to have received it from Gaumont. (Note: the official 2018 French Blu-ray does not include any English audio or subtitle options.) So I emailed Gaumont asking to confirm this. I never received a reply. A subsequent followup email to Kino expressed my increasing disquietude towards the situation. Again, I have yet to receive a reply on that matter. Sure, I realize my efforts may have simply been overlooked.
Needless to say, not receiving a reply (or even acknowledgment) is ‒ frankly ‒ a tad bit disheartening. I don’t produce these tracks for monetary gain. I, do, however, happen to be both autistic and dyslexic; so when I make fandubs like the one I made heard here, it is so fellow dyslexic Aspie film buffs can enjoy a film in their native tongue with as little reading as possible.
Additionally, while I’m on the subject, surviving 16mm prints of Attack of the Robots‘ original domestic release in the ’60s excised a brief Sophie Hardy upskirt shot (for obvious reasons), which included dialogue. Since there was no English audio available for that scene in any print I watched, I created a separate subtitle track to go along with my fandub in order to make the film 100% English-friendly. Redemption’s BD release does not include English audio for this scene, as it likely doesn’t exist. It also neglects to add a separate English subtitle track for the very brief bit of French dialogue, so you’ll need to switch the subtitles on as soon as Sophie Hardy faints in Eddie’s bedroom after discovering a body hanging in his armoire.
If only there was some way someone could have told them about that in advance. (Additionally, I also made a Spanish fandub in 2014 as well as transcribing Spanish and Italian subtitles from two other international releases I found; the aforementioned scene did not appear in any version I saw other than the French cut.)
If may sound petty and stupid to you, but imagine being the sad sack who very well may have said “Screw that guy; I’ll take full credit for this myself!” But, hey, I take that sort of work seriously; it requires a great deal of time, focus, creativity, technical know-how, and a really damn good ear for this sort of thing. It’s a passion of mine, after all. Last year, Severin Films released Bruno Mattei’s shockingly bad Shocking Dark. Several audio tracks I synced and a set of English subs I painfully transcribed from an old hissy Japanese VHS were used, and the folks at Severin were receptive to my emails. They also acknowledged my efforts with a special thanks credit. They even sent me the finished Blu-ray release, along with a few bonus discs as a token of their appreciation.
For someone who does this sort of restorative preservation work pro bono and purely out of passion, that’s a more than adequate way of showing one’s thanks, wouldn’t you say?