New out this month in the UK on DVD ‘Region 0’ is Massimo Dallamano’s 1973 cop thriller ‘Super Bitch’, starring Ivan Rassimov and Stephanie Beacham. ‘Super Bitch’ was the title given to the film for UK videotape release in 1987 in the wake of Beacham’s success as catty Sable Colby on TV in ‘The Colbys’ and later ‘Dynasty’. The original Italian title was ‘Si può essere più bastardi dell’ispettore Cliff?’ (‘Could Anyone Be Possibly more of a Bastard than Inspector Cliff?’) and the film was also known as ‘Blue Movie Blackmail’ for its UK X-rated release in 1973. Beacham features prominently in the newly-commissioned DVD cover artwork by Graham Humphreys, with the original Italian poster artwork (foregrounding Rassimov) on the reverse.
In ‘Super Bitch’, Rassimov plays Cliff Hoyst, a US agent for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, who infiltrates a London escort agency being used as a front for drug smuggling. Visually he looks like Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry Callahan and Cliff is similarly expert in the use of firearms and playing dirty. Don Siegel’s ‘Dirty Harry’ (1971) was one of the key influences on Italian ‘poliziotteschi’ cop films, when it was released in Italy as ‘Ispettore Callaghan: il caso Scorpio è tuo’ (‘Inspector Callaghan: the Scorpio Case is yours’). Beacham plays Joann, one of the escorts who becomes involved with Cliff, and much of the film’s continued cult popularity is due to her occasional nude scenes.
Dallamano’s was a consummate cinematographer who later became a director. He worked on some of the earliest spaghetti westerns, including ‘Gunfight at Red Sands’, ‘Buffalo Bill, Hero of the Far West’ and ‘Pistols Don’t Argue’, and Sergio Leone’s ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ and ‘For a Few Dollars More’, sometimes under the pseudonym ‘Jack Dalmas’. His directorial debut (billed as ‘Max Dillman’), the revenge western ‘Bandidos’ (1967), is rightly celebrated for its impressive cinematography. He made two great gialli – ‘What Have You Done to Solange?’ (his masterpiece, which was set in London) and ‘What Have they Done to Your Daughters?’ – and the erotic, strange ‘Venus in Furs’ (1969), with Laura Antonelli. He also directed an ‘Exorcist’/’Death in Venice’ derivative, ‘The Night Child’ (1974), which has also been released by Arrow Films.
In ‘Super Bitch’, Inspector Cliff initially appears to be an assassin – during a well-shot episode at the ruins of the Roman temples to Jupiter, Mercury and Venus at Baalbek, in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon. The plot shifts from Beirut, to Paris and New York, but is mostly set in London (though interiors were lensed at SAFA Palatino in Rome). The film depicts the seedy underbelly of London life, with blue movies and blackmail laced with drug smuggling, threats, thefts and murder. As with so many 1970s Italian cop movies, the film’s biggest crimes are against fashion – with colourful costumery and décor on display – though whatever she wears, Beacham looks beautiful. The score is catchy, with Riz Ortolani’s strutting brass at its funkiest on the theme music. The film was largely shot in and around London, with touristy scenes filmed in Kensington and Chelsea, the Café Royale, Cumberland Gate, Trafalgar Square, Charring Cross Station, the Zella 9 gallery, Newbury Park station, outside a theatre in the Haymarket, Camera Place and Hyde Park (look out for Speaker’s Corner), while the International Escort Agency is quartered at 47A Belgrave Square, in the heart of Belgravia, SW1 – just up the road from what is now the Italian Cultural Institute.
‘Super Bitch’ was photographed by Jack Hildeyard, who also shot ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’. The London locales ensure that this cop thriller includes the distinctive dark blue Rover police cars, which were synonymous with 1970s British crime films and the popular TV series ‘The Sweeney’. As ‘Super Bitch’ is an Italian-UK co-production, the film offers an oddly exotic, slightly surreal view of London. There’s an appearance by that Italian B-movie staple J&B Whisky and also a less-usual cameo by bottles of Heineken. The Anglo-Italo origins are reinforced by an eclectic cast. Ettore Manni played Morrel, the head of the escort agency, Luciano Catenacci was vicious New York gangster Louis Gamble, and Cec Linder was blackmail victim Paul Lansin, who is snapped eating carrots whilst wearing furry rabbit ears. The supporting cast includes Gareth Thomas, Michael Sheard, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Verna Harvey and toothsome Tutte Lemkow. The latter plays Banco, a guitar-strumming gangster who is one of the sons of the film’s most memorable character – crazy matriarch Mamma the Turk, played with cackling abandon by well-known British actress Patricia Hayes. About nine minutes into the movie, when Mamma the Turk takes off across the Lebanese desert in a convertible (with Mario Novelli in hot pursuit in a Citroen) and a car chase ensues, you know you’re in for an eye-opening ride.
Arrow Film’s DVD release is an excellent, colourful transfer in 1.85:1 ratio, running 94 minutes. The sound is good and available audio tracks are the English dub or the Italian language dub, with translated English subtitles. Though the English dubbing is well done – with Beacham dubbing herself and Rassimov voiced by the same unknown voice actor who dubbed Terence Hill in ‘My Name is Nobody’ and Sam J. Jones in Dino De Laurentiis’ redo of ‘Flash Gordon’ – the film plays even better in Italian, with several plot points more clearly delineated. DVD extras include ‘Bullets, Babes and Blood’ (a short documentary on Italian crime movies) and a collector’s booklet written by author and critic Calum Waddell on the Italo crime movie explosion.
You can order the DVD from Amazon UK
Or direct from Arrow Films
There’s more about Dallamano, his gialli and the key Italian crime films in my book ‘Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult’, published by I.B. Tauris