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Bette Davis as an insane super-agent and Robert Wagner as her dupe? Why not? Everybody's having a lot of fun. The villains are equally amusing. The whole thing is tongue-in-cheek and high camp, and it always remains true to its own little world. One of the-lets-have-fun-and-not-take-anything-too-seriously-made-for-TV-flicks that ABC excelled in churning out in the early 70's.
Ever wonder what Fu Manchu would look like if Christopher Lee looked just
like Bette Davis?
Stop wondering, here's the answer. Ms. Davis plays the evil Madam Sin, an oriental villainess who is plotting world conquest from her Scottish castle, fully equipped with laboratory, sonic weapons, hypnotic drugs, etc.
She abducts Robert Wagner, an ex-CIA man whom she frames as a defector. Then she dupes him into helping her kidnap a naval officer and steal a nuclear submarine. European audiences paid to see this pilot for an unsold TV series.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Madame Sin' was a late addition to the cycle of James Bond rip-offs
that began in the '60's. It was the creation of American writer Lou
Morheim and Barry Shear, the latter responsible for directing several
'Man From U.N.C.L.E.' episodes. The script though was by Barry Oringer
and David Greene, who also directed the stylish spy romp 'Sebastian'
with Dirk Bogarde.
Robert Wagner is cast as 'Anthony Lawrence', an ex-C.I.A. agent down on his luck. He is approached in a London park by Malcolm De Vere ( Denholm Elliott ) who offers him a job. No sooner has he turned it down than two nuns appear, ostensibly collecting charity money, one of whom zaps him with a dandy sonic device. Lawrence is driven off in a fake ambulance to a rendezvous with a helicopter. When he wakes up, he is on the private island of the mysterious super-villain Madame Sin ( Bette Davis ).
The Madame has an underground laboratory in which scientists have perfected a means of mind control. She intends, with Lawrence's help, to abduct the commander of H.M.S. Starfish, Britain's newest nuclear submarine. To act as bait, one of Lawrence's old girlfriends Barbara ( Catherine Schell ) is around...
Stylish romp, camp and fun. I suspect it was Anne Robinson's favourite movie once as the Madame seems to be the inspiration for her 'Weakest Link' persona. Bette Davis goes through it all puffing cigars, wearing blue eyeshadow and what appears to be one of Ena Sharples' old hairnets. The script alas does not give her any memorable lines, hence she never once exudes the menace required for the role. She was far more sinister in 'The Anniversary' in 1969.
Wagner plays 'Lawrence' in much the same key as 'Al Mundy', his character in 'It Takes A Thief'. Denholm Elliott steals the show, and Gordon Jackson and Dudley Sutton also light up the screen. Gabriella Licudi ( 'The Liquidator', 'Casino Royale' ) is one of the evil nuns.
Enjoyable though this is, one wishes it had been made for the cinema on a bigger budget. It cries out for explosive set pieces but does not get them. Brian Eatwell's sets dazzle though, and it concludes with an original twist on the normal 'Bond' style endings.
It was intended as a back-door pilot for a series that was never made. Pity. I would have liked seeing Madame Sin going after the Russian Crown Jewels.
The movie does have some nice ideas - using sonic weaponry etc. that does make it more interesting. It doesn't seem to have anything else that drew me in. Wagner and Davis acted well, and there were a few funny scenes that would draw light chuckles. The plot does have a few twists that does make it watchable but nothing that will make you think or go beyond the story itself. The implausibility of some fight scenes appear a bit confusing, but need to be taken according to the time of the movie being made. If you have an hour-half to spare, this movie won't really help ease the boredom, so best bet would be to skip it. Rating 4/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is worth watching just for the fun of seeing Bette the Great
playing a female Fu-Manchu in a straight-face parody of the James Bond
The usually wooden Robert Wagner is a former secret agent who seems to have fallen into hard times, we can deduct from his shabby appearance and his wandering down the Dilly as the film starts. He can't even afford himself a fare to fly back to the States, but then he angrily rejects Denholm Elliot's offer of a couple of days' work and no questions asked because he obviously can see the man is a crook in a Savile Row suit. Then, the action begins in pure old Avengers style as Wagner is kidnapped in St. James' Park in broad daylight and under anyone's nose the British always mind their own business, we know- and flown to a castle in Scotland and welcome to Madame Sin's secret lair!
Playing Madame must have been fun for Bette, plus a cheque with six zeros in her bank account. Wagner seems to be the only actor in the cast who thought they were making a serious movie, because even Denholm Elliott plays tongue-in- cheek with a perpetual grin, and Roy Kinnear's cameo as a passer-by whom Wagner persuades to call the Navy from a phone booth and report that Madame is about to steal a nuclear submarine brings a few smiles too.
Nevertheless, it has to be said on Wagner's behalf that he does his own driving stunts while keeping his hair on, which is something.
Made for US TV but released theatrically in Europe in a slightly longer version, Madame Sin is one of those busted TV pilots that probably looked a lot better on paper than it did on screen. Bette Davis is the Fu Manchu-like supervillainess operating from a Scottish castle lair on her own private island and Robert Wagner the disillusioned CIA agent she tries to recruit in a plot to steal a Polaris submarine to sell to Cuba for a billion dollars, but it's a lot less outrageous and camp than that makes it sound. In fact, it's not much fun either, played for the most part as straight drama, and very drawn out drama at that with little vigour or action. Even Michael Gibbs' score, taking its cue from Madame Sin's obsession with sound waves and their applications, seems more suited to a low-key avant-garde British horror film than a spy spoof. It does raise the odd half-decent idea, like the notion that the forces of evil can sometimes be more benign and less ruthless that the forces of good or the hint that Sin might be prepared to kill her surrogate (or possibly even real) son to revenge herself on a lover who abandoned her, but the show never really engages with them. There's a decent supporting cast including Gordon Jackson, Catherine Schell, Alan Dobie, Dudley Sutton and Burt Kwouk but, aside from Denholm Elliott's jovial public schoolboy sadist sidekick and Roy Kinnear as a tourist roped into making a phone call for the hero after he's been temporarily rendered deaf, they don't have much to do. Still, you do get to see Wagner punch a nun and there's a surprisingly bleak ending, but it's all too easy to see why this pilot got shot down in flames.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Filmed in the United Kingdom with a reasonably solid cast of mostly British professionals, this spy caper nonetheless remains a pretty dull affair, enlivened not too frequently by bursts of unintentional hilarity. Wagner plays a secret agent, captured and forcibly recruited by Davis, as the title character, to steal away an important naval commander (Jackson) and help brainwash him into steering a submarine into her clutches. Aided by Elliott, she coerces Wagner into taking part in her misdeeds by using his missing and presumed dead girlfriend Schell. Filmed amid windy and expansive fields and seasides, the film has the benefit of authentic locales to keep it from looking like a standard bit of studio-manufactured tripe. However, too much of it is bland and tedious for it to make much of a mark, even with the always interesting presence of Ms. Davis. Here, her sometimes exaggerated features are frozen in a quasi-Asian mask of taut expression and heavy duty eyelashes (and a sizable dollop of baby blue eyeshadow) and she's always clad in black from head to toe, except for the occasional bit of jewelry. As is common for her at this stage of her career, she becomes winded easily and takes breaths in odd places of her dialogue as she shows Wagner around her compound (which sometimes resembles the inside of the big metal ball at Epcot Center), her black chiffon scarf continually being flitted about as she maneuvers around. Wagner (who was friends with Davis through his marriage to Natalie Wood) is low-key and laconic through most of it, his character being frequently assaulted one way or another and otherwise worried about the issues confronting him. Elliott provides a nice touch of élan in an unchallenging role. Schell's role is very small and doesn't give her the chance to make much of an impression, though she doesn't embarrass herself. Comedy favorite Kinnear has a bit as a father who is manhandled into making an urgent phone call for a character who has suddenly become deaf. The deaf aspect of the plot makes it somewhat unique, though often it is responsible for more titters than drama. The terrain, which bears an odd resemblance to the area where "The Birds" was filmed, is interesting up to a point, but the endless, endless shots of people driving and running in the grass eventually begin to cause a loss of interest. Despite her distinctive and striking appearance, Davis isn't really given anything particularly memorable to do and thus the film becomes rather forgettable.
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