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Super Bitch

Review by: 
Black Gloves
Mafia Junction
Release Date: 
Arrow Video
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Massimo Dallamano
Ivan Rassimov
Stephanie Beacham
Patricia Hayes
Verna Harvey
Ettore Manni
Bottom Line: 

This deranged 1970s thriller from Massimo Dallamano offers many unexpected delights as it wends its quaint, flower-power-era way across the screen; such as, for instance, veteran British comedy actress Patricia Hayes pitted opposite that chiselled icon of Italian cult cinema, Ivan Rassimov -- both their characters embroiled in an utterly loopy plot about rival gangs of international drugs smugglers vying for supremacy and for control of the sleazy London escort agency one of the film’s three main criminal networks uses as a front for its activities. The sheer unlikeliness of it all, and the enjoyable wonkiness of the labyrinthine plot, turns out to be merely a convenience which enables the movie to combine two successful ‘70s genres -- the American crime thriller and the mainstream British soft core sex film -- to produce an odd variant that shifts haphazardly in tone as it attempts to reconcile the hard-hitting drug smuggling template of “The French Connection” with its own anticipation of the cheesy, titillating faux glamour of Jackie Collins’ “The Bitch”, by way of a sleazy “Get Carter-style” double-crossing-gangsters narrative. Of course, even then it does so in the slightly whack, off-centre and extremely violent manner which marks out the Italian approach to the ‘piloziotteschi’ genre in general: incorporating plenty of funky, brass-backed incidental music (from Riz Ortolani), frenzied car chases and lashings of gratuitous nudity, most of it in this instance supplied by the young Stephanie Beacham -- many years before she starred opposite Joan Collins in “Dynasty” (who wasn’t far off hitting a similar stage in her career in which she was herself regularly shedding clothes in the kind of films this concoction to some extent attempts to emulate, if only from its own charmingly askew Italian perspective). The result, it has to be said, is truly unique: a one-off Italian exploitation vehicle efficiently helmed by Dallamano that feels especially worthy of note for managing to corral so many unlikely acting combinations together in the same mad spectacle. At one stage Mr Bronson from “Grange Hill” even turns up!

Rassimov plays an undercover narcotics agent working for the British drugs’ squad, who’s so deeply involved in the activities of the drug smuggling organisation he’s successfully managed to penetrate that it’s impossible for anyone to say for sure whose side he’s really on. Even his London contacts don’t fully trust him, and with good reason as he’s perfectly willing to plant a bullet in the brain of anyone who threatens to get in his way -- whoever they work for. To complicate matters, there are two other rival outfits fighting for control of the lucrative New York-via-London-and-Paris smuggling route, and Rassimov’s Italian crime bosses, not suspecting that he’s also a policeman, have planted him as a spy in the London-based group which organises the movement of the drugs across International borders and which is controlled by a man called Morell (Ettore Manni). He’s also the boss of an escort agency that pimps out Stephanie Beacham (and plenty of other bellbottoms-&-headscarves-clad ‘70s birds) to kinky-but-respected businessmen, and then secretly films their assignations in order to blackmail these paragons of virtue (who would never be suspected of any wrongdoing) into smuggling cocaine abroad for them. All three crime lords are out to take control of this lucrative gateway business, and Rassimov soon sets about playing them all off against each other, while bedding Beacham and giving his own drugs’ squad bosses the run-around as he plots to the organise some increasingly muddled events to the ultimate benefit of mainly himself.

This unlikely set-up has the virtue of enabling Dallamano and his co-screenwriters to segue neatly from, say, a Beirut assassination plot and the ensuing car chase across exotic-looking desert highways, to a largely ‘70s London-based tale of sex, crime and passion (cue shots of Rassimov driving through the streets of the city with the Houses of Parliament in the background). The escort agency all looks very legit on the surface, if garishly furnished with inflatable S-shaped chairs, painted with bright orange ‘70s floral patterns and inhabited by long-haired, frilly shirted bohemian Brian Jones types in floppy hats and crush velvet suits (and that’s just the blokes), all of which indicates an exaggerated Italian-based idea of 1970s British fashions, which makes the London of Hammer’s “Dracula AD 1972” (Beacham’s previous film) look conservative. Beacham manages to hook a respected grey-haired businessman into the gang’s latest scheme to smuggle a shipment of cocaine out of Paris concealed in a statuette sold by a respected auction house, by taking part in secretly filmed kinky sex games with him which involve them both dressing up as rabbits and nibbling from a basketful of carrots (I told you this was deranged); but there’s tension behind the scenes because she’s been bedding Clint Eastwood-lookalike Rassimov (unaware that he’s both an undercover agent and an assassin employed by one of the three rival mafia-like families) and despite still having plenty of affection for her husband, Morell: the underworld father figure who’s still in love with her and who rescued her from a potentially harsh life on the streets working as a prostitute for this much higher-paying form of what is essentially the same business.

There’s also more trouble in the offing when the two rivals to the Italian crime lord who Rassimov’s been working for each attempt to exercise muscle on the weak-willed Morell to get him to switch his allegiances to them. One of them is a smartly dressed local London-based gang who look like they’ve wandered into the film from the set of a 1970s British gangster movie (but who are all played by unconvincingly dubbed Italian actors) and who attempt to take over Morell’s offices; and then there’s Patricia Hayes’ ‘Mama the Turk’: a diminutive, black-clad elderly matriarch who’s devoted grown-up offspring do all her dirty work for her, involving kidnapping and extortion.

This latter thread is where the movie launches into its more outré mode as Mama’s troupe of hippy ne’er-do-wells carry out their various beatings, stabbings and kidnappings to improvised musical accompaniment, serenading their victims with the aid of a heavily strummed Spanish guitar wielded by one of Mamma’s sons -- a ginger-haired character who looks like shaggy from “Scooby-Doo”! Rassimov’s cold, efficient and calculating mind sets about organising a response to these various challenges, while he apparently continues to placate his disgruntled employers in the drugs’ squad. Thus the movie flicks from gaudy ‘70s soft-core shenanigans between Rassimov and Beacham one minute (there’s even some full-frontal nudity from Miss Beacham), to tough stand-offs and violent gangster double-crossings & shoot-outs the next; and ends up on a bizarrely comic note with the cackling Mama and her errant musical offspring kidnapping Beacham and holding her prisoner on a houseboat.

With its over-the-top fashions and catchy funk-you-like incidental score (not to mention the sing-along-a-mugging episodes conducted by Mama’s bizarre family gang) “Super Bitch” (the Italian title translates as the more prosaically descriptive “Blue Movie Blackmail Plot”) is an absolute hoot, and manages to fill its pacey ninety-three minute run-time without any stultifying longuers while constantly surprising with the next outrageous twist or head-scratching set-piece. Unlike some of Dallamano’s classier films, this one seems more concerned with providing pure entertainment and spectacle without too much concern for the social commentary and subtext which finds its way into his more accomplished gialli, such as “What Have they Done to Your Daughters?” Beacham may have been cast as nubile eye candy more than anything else (though what nubile eye candy she was back in 1973!), but the English language dub features her own voice (not too sure about Patricia Hayes’ Italian accented tones though?!) and allows her to imbue a slightly ridiculous role with at least some amount of nuance and character. Rassimov, with perfectly coiffed hair and taut cheekbones, is a perfect Eastwood clone in his cool dark shades but, in true cynical Italian style, also makes for a ruthless anti-hero who we’re never sure about until the very end. The cast is decked out with a mix of Italian and English second division players, the latter including Verna Harvey, who had only recently starred opposite Beacham in Michael Winner’s prequel to “The Turn of the Screw”, “The Nightcomers”.

“Super Bitch” looks super fine in this colourful transfer from Arrow Video. We get both English and Italian audio tracks in mono and also a very enjoyable 17 minute featurette, “Bullets, Babes and Blood: The High Octane Action of the Italian Police Film”, in which directors Ruggero Deodato and Sergio Martino, who made some of the sub-genre’s most uncompromising flicks, discuss the social background which inspired their efforts, while Italian critic Paolo Zelati and British Indie filmmaker Darren Ward talk about what still makes these action-based Police films so attractive all these years later. Deodato also supplies a heartfelt tribute to actor Ivan Rassimov in a separate minute long piece. The disc comes with a collector’s booklet, penned by the permanently employed Calum Waddell, and a reversible sleeve featuring a choice between the original artwork and a newly commissioned cover by Graham Humphreys.

This is a daft but hugely entertaining entry in the Italian action thriller stakes, enlivened with a ‘fashionable’ London setting and superb direction from the always reliable Dallamano, as well as a great mix of cast members. Euro-cult watchers need this one in their collections immediately. 

Read more from Black Gloves at his blog, Nothing but the Night! 

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