Super Bitch didn’t become Super Bitch until 1987. Before then it had gone by a whole series of names depending on territory. In Italy the original title was Si può essere più bastardi dell’inspettore Cliff? which loosely translates as It Could Be More Bastards Inspector Cliff?. Faced with such awkwardness US distributors opted for the more straightforward Mafia Junction, whilst us Brits were treated to Blue Movie Blackmail. Super Bitch was another UK invention, coined in time for a late eighties VHS revival that also handily coincided with Stephanie Beacham’s stint on the Dallas spin-off, The Colbys. Oddly enough, this new title had more to do her role on that TV series than it did the film in hand, but such is the logic of marketing. Indeed, I suspect that Arrow have opted to keep it simply because Super Bitch jumps out more than any of the alternatives. And yet, whatever you choose to call it, ultimately this is still the same film: a cultish slice of early seventies Euro-crime cinema from Massimo Dallamano, the man behind What Have You Done to Solange?.
By the time of Super Bitch’s filming in 1973, Dallamano had already established his credentials. He’d been a prolific cinematographer since the 1940s (most notably lensing the first two instalments in Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy), but given up the position in the late sixties to concentrate on writing and directing. British viewers should be familiar with Venus in Furs from 1969 (not to be mistaken with the Jess Franco film of the same name and year) which Shameless issued onto DVD five years back, his bizarre 1970 take on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (titled, simply, Dorian Gray) and, of course, 1972’s What Have You Done to Solange?, one of the standout gialli. Among those still to come with Solange’s semi-sequel What Have They Done to Your Daughters? in 1974, supernatural thriller The Night Child (aka The Cursed Medallion) in 1975, and Colt 38 Special Squad in 1976. The latter marked Dallamano’s final credit; he was killed in a car accident in November of that year, aged just 59.
Though bookended by Solange and Daughters, Super Bitch has little in common with the giallo. It’s a globetrotting crime thriller in the familiar poliziotteschi mould complete with drug smugglers, high-speed car chases, double- and triple-crosses, excessive violence and nudity, and an impossibly catchy score by Riz Ortolani. Proceedings begin in Beirut with an introduction to Mamma the Turk, a formidable presence on the international drug smuggling scene played, most unexpectedly, by British sitcom star Patricia Hayes. Two assassinations, a car chase and a failed operation later we relocate to London for the duration. Here Ivan Rassimov’s Inspector Cliff must infiltrate an escort agency as he seeks to close Mamma down resulting in all manner of complications and corruption. Machine guns are readied, flesh is bared and, for the cultists out there, a great deal of fun is to be had.
For this particular viewer it’s the combination of London and Euro-crime thrills which proved most interesting. There’s something distinctly odd in seeing this level of sadism (and occasional sleaze) within a British setting: one minute you’re noting the seventies package design on tins of Heinz soup and Kellogg’s Frosties, the next Rassimov is brutally handcuffing a girl to the point where her breasts fall out of her blouse. We also get to see Grange Hill’s Mr. Bronson (Michael Sheard) die in a spectacularly bloody fashion and numerous minor players mown down with automatic weapons. Of course, there were strange goings-on in British cinema at the time (1973 was the year that produced The Wicker Man, Psychomania and Horror Hospital), but nothing quite so gleefully ultra-violent.
Similarly, the nudity requirements on Stephanie Beacham also surprise. Super Bitch predated her all of her major television roles (Tenko, Dynasty, Bad Girls, Coronation Street, and so forth), but came after a handful of turns in horror, or at least horror-tinged, pictures. She’d appeared in Michael Winner’s The Nightcomers (an unofficial prequel to Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw), Roddy McDowall’s extraordinary Tam Lin and Hammer’s less-than-extraordinary Dracula A.D. 1972 and would later work for the likes of Pete Walker and Norman J. Warren on low-budget genre flicks, but none demanded quite as much disrobing as Dallamano. No doubt a certain faction of the audience will welcome the news, though once again this combination of Italian exploitation and familiar British elements sits somewhat strangely. Much the same could also be said for the casting of Hayes (more commonly seen opposite Tony Hancock, Arthur Haynes, Benny Hill and Warren Clarke’s Alf Garnett), especially when watching the English dub version. Beacham, at least, provided her own voice; Hayes was less fortunate. Also standing out as somewhat incongruous is Leon Vitali, here making his big screen debut prior to making an impact in Barry Lyndon and, subsequently, becoming a key member of Stanley Kubrick’s behind-the-scenes team.
I should make it clear that none of the above should be intended as criticisms. Indeed, such additions make Super Bitch all the more fascinating and, arguably, it needs them. Far from being Dallamano’s best, the film is lumbered with alternately sloppy and ridiculous plotting which, ultimately, seems more of an excuse for the gratuitous sex and violence than it does anything else. There are qualities to be found – Ortalini’s score, in particular, stands out – but this is more a case of revelling in the generic aspects and the overall weirdness. Where else would you find a film in which Patricia Hayes claims she has “a pair that will put you all to shame” or gets picked up from the airport by her all-singing family of criminal underlings? They’ve even composed a theme song for her including the lyric: “Mam-mam-mam-mam-mam-mamma we love you/ When you kill, you kill with perfect skill.” The same year she also appeared in the big screen sitcom spin-off Love Thy Neighbour, which offered no such pleasures.
Super Bitch is the latest addition to the Arrow Video range, earning itself a DVD release alongside another of Dallamano’s features, The Night Child. This marks its first appearance on a home video in the UK since the 1987 VHS, though there was an Italian DVD some years back. The new disc presents in the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio (anamorphically enhanced) and with a choice of either Italian or English soundtrack. Both have their advantages – the English dub, for example, includes Beacham and Vitali, among others, providing their own voices – so any selection is likely to be down to personal preference. There are also slight differences between the two and the optional English subtitles for the Italian version reflect as much. As for presentation quality, there are definite issues when it comes to the visuals. The image is somewhat soft and, whilst mostly free of damage, also looks to have been artificially sharpened a touch resulting in some prominent haloing and the occasional blown-out white. You can certainly understand why a Blu-ray wasn’t on the cards. As for the soundtrack options, both appear in their original mono and both demonstrate signs of age, though that’s to be expected from moderately budgeted Italian productions of the time. A mostly average presentation, then, though fans wishing to upgrade their old videotape (or catching the film for the first time) should still find this more than watchable.
Extras amount to two on-disc featurettes plus a booklet with new liner notes from Calum Waddell. The first featurette is the meatier of the two, an 18-minute piece entitled Bullets, Babes and Blood. Here we find Italian directors Sergio Martino and Ruggero Deodata among those taking us on a brisk tour of the poliziotteschi genre interspersed with clips from Lucio Fulci’s Contraband and Enzo G. Castellari’s Street Law. It’s an entertaining and insightful overview, taking into account the US models which proved to be an influence (The French Connection, Serpico) and the political situation in Italy at the time. Those wanting to know more should keep an eye out for Mike Malloy’s recent feature-length documentary Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the 70s, which screened at this year’s Film4 FrightFest. The other on-disc addition is a brief two minutes in the company of Deodata as he recalls working with Super Bitch’s lead Ivan Rassimov. The accompanying booklet was not supplied for review purposes.
Italian exploitation on British soil.