I have watched this movie three times now, and twice while planning to write about it for this site. I didn’t get around to doing a piece on it after the second viewing, because I was left unsure as to how it should be presented. It’s neither a full-on campy romp nor a consistently high-quality film I can praise without my tongue resting in my cheek. Super Bitch, which has carried different titles over the decades (I’m going with the one that’s on the DVD I own), is somewhere in between those two classifications. But clearly it has a kind of hold over me, and is one I’ve wanted to cover, so here goes.
Super Bitch is a poliziottesco, i.e. an Italian crime/cop film from the late 1960s/’70s. The cinematic style is similar to that of Italian giallo movies, both of them edgy/often violent features with a clear European feel, the difference being that gialli are more on the arty/stylish side of crime/suspense stories and poliziottesco titles lean more in the direction of being straight, hard-nosed toughies. Think Dirty Harry movies as made through the creative outlook of an Italian director, and you’ll have an idea of the type of film at hand here.
This particular example of the subgenre, directed by Massimo Dallamano (who did some cinematography work on a few Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, in addition to directing some notable giallo titles), has a multi-tiered plot that’s a little difficult to follow at times. But it kinda goes as such: Ivan Rassimov plays a dapper, arrogant narcotics cop named Cliff. He’s out to infiltrate and bust up a drug smuggling operation, but he doesn’t mind having booty calls with one of the employees of the firm he’s after, and he may have questionable personal interest in all the illicit doings he’s investigating. There are basically two gangs of drug smugglers involved in the story, which takes place in the Middle East initially but settles mostly in England. One outfit is run by a woman known as “Mama the Turk” (more on her in a few), and the other one functions out of a London-based escort agency headed up by a seedily “suave” guy named Morell, portrayed by Ettore Manni. The two gangs are in battle with each other over drug dealing power, and they do to each other some of the usual things that competing gangster mobs do.
For the camp film lover, there’s plenty of delightful outrageousness here. The most ridiculous character is Mama the Turk, played in over-the-top fashion by British actress Patricia Hayes. She’s a badass granny who talks tough (but in a foolish-sounding voice) and plays rough as she runs her little outlaw operation. The fact that her sons like to serenade their victims with ad-libbed (and horrible) novelty tunes as they go about doing their dirty deeds, only adds to the silly fun from that set of characters. The wildest scene takes place at the HQ of the London escort agency, when an evening hostess played by ridiculously beautiful Stephanie Beacham lures a hapless male client into a foray that involves bunny ears and tails, and carrots. It’s all laughs and bizarre foreplay until the lusty fella gets confronted by an unsmiling bodyguard when he tries to finalize the scenario by having them do it like rabbits. The bunny play is caught on film, and that footage becomes blackmail fodder that Morrell uses to force the would-be rabbit lover to smuggle some drugs for him. Some other fun from the escort agency comes by way of bitchy chatter between a trash-talking, glam rock-looking male escort and some of his catty co-workers.
Silliness and shaky plotline aside, Super Bitch works fairly well as a crime thriller. Even though the story meanders around in ways that leave you scratching your head at times, it’s a suspenseful tale with plenty of gritty action. It’s tough in the way fans of hard-edged crime films will appreciate. There are moments of steamy sex and Peckinpah-esque violence, but none of that gets gratuitous. Also, it’s just a pleasing film to look at, Dallarmo working his cinematographer’s eye to great effect in putting together a series of dazzling images. I enjoy seeing it on my DVD player, but this is one that really should be viewed up on the big screen, and man would it have been a treat to view it as such at a drive-in back at the time of its release.
One of my favorite aspects of the film is its music. Italian composer Riz Ortolani provides some groovy, funky/jazzy sounds that will please anyone who likes things such as Morricone scores, or the kinds of tracks heard on those wonderful Beat at Cinecitta compilations of music from Italian exploitation films.
And the biggest question about the movie, at least when it comes to the title I’m running with here? Who, exactly, is the super bitch? Is it the Stephanie Beacham character, for using her sexuality to lure guys into trouble? Or is it Mama the Turk, for just generally wreaking havoc while speaking in that sick-sounding voice, and for unleashing her children and their horrific songs on the unsuspecting world?
In sum: there are campier camp films than Super Bitch, just as there are better crime thrillers. But if you feel intrigued by the idea of a tough, early ‘70s Italian crime film that offers eye pleasing images, giggle inducement, and action film thrills, you might want to join me in taking some pleasure from this odd title.
Brian Greene's short stories, personal essays, and writings on books, music, and film have appeared in more than 20 different publications since 2008. His articles on crime fiction have also been published by Crime Time, Paperback Parade, Noir Originals, and Mulholland Books. Brian lives in Durham, NC with his wife Abby, their daughters Violet and Melody, their cat Rita Lee, and too many books. Follow Brian on Twitter @brianjoebrain.
See all posts by Brian Greene for Criminal Element.