Switchblade Sisters AKA The Jezebels (1975)
Normally if a movie contains knife fights, rape, pimping, drug dealing, nudity and shootings, you can safely assume it’s a drama. Not Switchblade. It’s pure comedy from start to finish. It’s so OTT there’s not one ounce of dramatic tension to be found, but wander into its overheated, estrogen-fuelled territory seeking a snigger fest and you’ll be fine.
The story: The stability of a fearsome high school girl gang is threatened by a sassy, resourceful new member, especially when its associated boy gang goes to war with a larger gang. Soon there’s blood on the streets. Homework is never done. Hey, everybody’s gotta be in a gang.
Lace (Robbie Lee): Introduced to the tune of Black-Hearted Woman. As an R&B singer on the soundtrack ominously belts out Evil as a man can be/Never gonna be as evil/As the devil in a woman, it’s clear this is our main Bad Girl, especially as she looks like a prettier version of Johnny Rotten. She’s the leader of a ten-strong pack of teenage vixens called the Dagger Debs. So what’s she up to? As it happens, sitting at a dressing table sharpening her switchblade. Good. Dabbing on some perfume. Not so good. Standing, slipping on a black denim jacket and… admiring her figure in the mirror. Uh-oh, doubt Steven Seagal ever did this. How long before she starts swooning over some guy and writing love poetry? As it turns out, about twenty minutes. At least she refers to her boyfriend’s cock as ‘junior’.
Patch (Monica Gayle): Our Iago figure. Yes, really. Lost an eye in service of the gang. No one’s been able to find it. Has anyone looked down the back of the sofa? Spits out one of the flick’s best lines in response to a cop’s frisking hands: “Get your hands off the fruit, faggot!”
Maggie (Joanne Nail): The new girl in town. Favors tight denim shorts. Not gang-affiliated. Can look after herself, though. She immediately beats up the knife-wielding Patch with nothing more than a soda-filled straw, but is then accused of fighting dirty. Doesn’t object much to being raped, later telling her rapist: “I like you.”
Dominic (Asher Brauner): Lace’s boyfriend, who looks to be pushing thirty but is still at school. He’s a self-proclaimed bastard and president of the Silver Daggers. So mean that he refuses to pay for his burgers at the gang’s diner hangout. He does have a considerate side, though, by only raping girls who ‘ask for it’. Perhaps he could get meaner by working on his insults. For example, when the bow-tied school principal suggests a rival gang share the Daggers’ territory, he says: “Why don’t you stick your head up my ass? Sir.” Surely his possessive adjective use is confused here? Unless, of course, he wants the principal’s head up his ass. Luckily, the rest of the gang let the grammar slip go and don’t immediately instigate a bloody coup d’etat because their leader’s gone seriously homo.
Crabs (Chase Newhart): An over-cocky, medallion-wearing rival gang leader that gets transferred into the Daggers’ school. Despite being an alleged schoolboy, Crabs has a Sean Connery-level of chest hair. Appears to base his gang’s look on a cross between the 70s glam rockers, Slade, and Rupert Bear. None too enlightened when it comes to the ladies. Breast-ogling, ass-grabbing and abduction off the street for a spot of gang rape all form part of a busy day’s misogyny. Wins points for calling Dominic ‘Dumb-minic’, a fiendishly clever level of goading in anyone’s book.
Muff (Marlene Clark): A friend of Maggie’s who happens to be a man-hating, militant commie black with a pudding bowl afro haircut. She hates ‘capitalist gangsters’ and believes political power grows out of the barrel of the gun. I think we all know such a type. Handy to know if you want to get your hands on Mao’s Little Red Book or an M16. Oh, and an ad hoc armored car.
Mom Smackley (Kate Murtagh): An overweight, predatory lesbian jailer sporting an unconvincing curly wig. Drawls like Clint Eastwood. Calls Maggie ‘cutie pie’ and grabs both her ass cheeks, but is labeled a ‘fat pig dyke’ in return. Never mind. Mom’s got two blond lackeys and a pair of rubber gloves.
Why it’s bonkers: Switchblade is female-centric but a long way from feminist, typified by its lack of female role models, a couple of grumpily accepted rapes and the way Dominic pimps out the members of the Dagger Debs to his horny fellow high schoolers for $5 a pop. Most of the time the girls are referred to as ‘little beavers’. Still, I guess our ladies eventually gain control, even if they do prove themselves just as groan-inducingly stupid as their male ‘cripple-dick’ counterparts.
For the record I will never buy into females physically pushing guys around, especially when played straight as it is here. Whenever the girls indulge in their macho swagger the movie, credibility-wise, falls flat on its tits. Then again, I’m not sure director Jack Hill was aiming for such a notion. In fact, fuck knows what he was aiming for with his scattershot approach. Take a mass shooting at a roller rink that results in a fair few deaths. We’re talking about teenagers with semi-automatic rifles blowing the shit out of anything that moves. Surely such a major event would have resulted in part of the city being locked down and an intensive hunt for its perps? Instead a cop wags a finger at Lace, complaining that ‘a couple of people got beat up at the roller rink. We don’t like that. It don’t reflect well on us.’
Whatever the case, Switchblade’s a barmy romp, despite all its nasty (but non-graphic) elements. It wants to depict urban grittiness, but that’s a tough ask when it’s awash in unintentional humor. I particularly enjoyed a washroom catfight that results in Mom Smackley being transformed into a male stunt double who’s finally subdued by a toilet plunger on the face. Indeed, the ladies magically change gender throughout whenever a physically demanding fight is needed, a directing decision that does suggest a lack of faith in females being able to properly fight. It’s almost as if Hill were worried they might end up looking like silly girlies.
Saturn 3 (1980)
Ambition can be a dangerous thing. Ask Macbeth. Or take a look at Farrah Fawcett’s career. After one season of Charlie’s Angels and an iconic red swimwear poster shoot she was a massive star. Hollywood was surely the way to go. So she went and started making one dud pic after another. By the turn of the new decade she was still managing to nab top billing, but the $10million Saturn pretty much put the kibosh on things until her 1986 Golden Globe-winning (brief) comeback in Extremities. Frankly, I’m surprised anyone gave her a lead role again, but no one emerges from this extraterrestrial turkey looking good.
The story: It’s the distant future and, as usual, Earth’s fucked. Saturn 3 is an ‘experimental food research station’ where Fawcett and the none-too-young Kirk Douglas are busy playing chess, drinking, skipping rope, patting their dog and taking showers together. No wonder Earth is starving if it’s relying on these two lazy bastards to kick start things again. Meanwhile, a rogue, half-mad captain (Harvey Keitel) fails some sort of exam. Instead of wearily sharpening his pencil again and retaking it, he kills the legitimate candidate, steals a space shuttle and goes out to see our lackadaisical lovers, perhaps to join in the skipping. Gotta be easier than passing exams.
Alex (Fawcett): An archetypal Silly Girl. Forever flinching, getting flustered, fainting, screaming and running away. I don’t think she comes up with one idea or proves to be any practical help whatsoever when things go awry. Makes up for her rampant silliness by briefly going topless.
Major Adam (Douglas): He’s in charge of Saturn 3 which means he’s the boss of Alex, a pet dog and some pot plants. Worries about becoming ‘obsolete’ but already seems to have achieved that with aplomb.
Captain Benson (Keitel): At this stage in his career Keitel had notched up plenty of quality fare, such as Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The Duellists and Blue Collar. All good things must come to an end and you’d be hard pressed to find an actor looking so desperate to be anywhere else. Sporting a little gay ponytail, he’s terse, non-blinking, unsmiling, and even speaks in a monotone. His expression does not alter throughout. I guess his pronounced lack of enthusiasm isn’t a huge surprise when he’s required to do stuff like hoist a dog in the air and look up its ass. Then there are his attempts to seduce Alex: “You have a great body,” he says to her. “May I use it?”
No idea why he commits murder to get out to Saturn 3, but once there he takes his boyhood love of Meccano to another level by building a demigod robot that incorporates a ‘non-born human brain’.
And, of course, the robot also wants to fuck Alex.
Hector: Our dog-hating, eight-foot tall, randy robot. Its weedy head is nothing more than a pair of eyes on a telescopic arm, somewhat undermining its sense of malevolence. Not a patch on Robocop’s Enforcement Droid Series 209 and is more like Metal Mickey than the T-1000. However, it does put in a slightly more animated performance than Harvey Keitel. As do the pot plants.
Why it’s bonkers: I think I’m honor-bound at this point to make a tired joke about Saturn 3 not being as good as the first two installments. Anyway, in 1980 Douglas was in his mid-sixties while Fawcett was thirty-two. I know the movies like to pair an older man with a younger lady but sheesh. Yes, Douglas is in terrific shape (the gnarly old fucker lived till he was 103), but it’s hard to think of a more unconvincing, mismatched screen couple. Then again I guess Alex is marooned in space and not exactly stuck for choice.
To be fair, there’s not much else to scoff about during Saturn’s opening half an hour. It has decent special effects, typified by its Star Wars-like opening of a gigantic spaceship taking an age to pass overhead. The film also boasts a suitably grandiose score while the space station is well created.
Bit by bit, though, it goes steadily off the rails. Sometimes it’s minor stuff like a very visible cut on Benson’s forehead shifting from left to right in successive scenes, but mainly it’s the half-baked story. Nothing really makes any sense, especially after the surly Benson arrives. He’s the key character but his motivation and goals are lost in the murk. A cardboard cutout of Keitel could’ve done the same job. No tension whatsoever is generated by the love triangle (or should that be love-rectangle considering Hector wants in on the action?) Benson also acts like a rapist in waiting which, for some reason, fails to turn the happily monogamous Alex on.
Then, of course, we get consistently funny scenes like Hector making indignant whirring noises when he comes under attack from a couple of hurled plastic buckets or a jet of dry ice. My favorite bit, though, would have to be Benson barging in on Adam and Alex in bed. “Doesn’t it disgust you to be used by him,” he asks Alex, “to be touched by an old man?” Moments later we’re treated to the sight of a nude sexagenarian leaping onto his spacesuit-clad critic and wrestling around the floor.
Poor Harvey. No wonder he never set foot in space again.
Who Dares Win AKA The Final Option (1982)
I was a kid during 1980’s Iranian Embassy siege in central London, which was resolved by the SAS kicking some serious terrorist butt. During the raid the soldiers abseiled from the roof, smashed through the windows and knocked out every baddie in about a quarter of an hour. All on live television! Not only that, but the vast majority of hostages were rescued unharmed.
Unsurprisingly, the SAS’ reputation as the planet’s best trained, deadliest bunch of super soldiers skyrocketed to the point of mythology. There was nothing these lads couldn’t do. Each one was John Rambo except, of course, a Green Beret was a fucking wimp in comparison.
The triumphant SAS raid also had an immediate effect on me and my schoolmates. At playtime we became hard-as-nails paratroopers, forever bursting into the staffroom to hurl stun grenades and rescue hostages until the principal wrote to our parents insisting we stop, especially as Mr. Walker, the Games Teacher, was getting very, very tired of being abducted and waterboarded.
Two years after that daring Iranian Embassy mission, it wasn’t much of a surprise that the Brits got a film up and running about this elite unit’s legendary exploits. Mr. Walker probably didn’t go to see it.
The story: An undercover SAS captain infiltrates a radical bunch of peace-loving loonies who want a nuclear missile fired at Scotland. Christ, I know Haggis Land is a bit grim, but this seems awfully harsh.
Captain Peter Skellen (Lewis Collins): Introduced pretending to be a hostage during a super-tough training exercise as his SAS buddies burst into a room with guns ablazing. Doesn’t flinch once. This is obviously a Real Man who could kill you with a karate chop from ten feet away. Immediately backs up his unquestionable masculinity with heroic feats of strength, such as beating up two hooded, hogtied captives, leaping onto a departing ferry, riding a motorbike for a short distance in a straight line, and jumping off a slow-moving bus. Disapproves of the theater, especially if the male performers wear tights and dance. This is not what Real Men do. Claims to be very knowledgeable about nuclear war. “I know more about nuclear devastation than you ever will,” he tells the chief baddie. As he’s too young to have lived through Hiroshima or Nagasaki, I’m not sure how he obtained this information. Doesn’t do much else, except glower and use a portable shaving mirror at night to communicate an amazing array of information via Morse Code to his superiors.
Frankie Leith (Judy Davis): A bad attempt at a Strong Female Role, Frankie is a rich revolutionary and leader of the People’s Front. Not sure why anyone wants a revolution or a nuclear explosion when they’ve inherited a lovely house and a tidy sum. Personally, I’d plump for things to continue as they are. Then again, Frankie is thick. Really, really thick. Despite knowing a major operation is on the cards, she thinks there’s nothing fishy about being picked up by a man who quickly reveals he’s ex-special forces. The next day she offers Skellen a five-hundred quid a week job with the People’s Front and moves him into her place, even though he hasn’t been checked out and fucks ‘like a man just out of prison’. [This is slander: all SAS men are amazing lays]. When presented with credible photographic evidence and eyewitness accounts that Skellen is working for the other side, she insists his ‘expertise’ will prove invaluable. As for her commitment to nuclear disarmament, she believes the best way to achieve this noble goal is to atomize Scotland. “We want the world to see what one bomb can do, not in theory but in fact.”
Colonel J. Hadley (Tony Doyle): Skellen’s immediate boss and the SAS’ main PR mouthpiece. Usually seen with his beloved soldier boys in the background as they abseil into burning houses, assault terrorist-riddled trains, run across gangplanks between buildings, set off controlled explosions and generally go through their super-fit paces. I think this is supposed to give the impression that the SAS’ training never stops. You’re sleeping and they’ve cracked yet another way to kick our radical foes in the balls. “When the SAS is called upon to do what we’re trained to do, it has been likened to a surgeon cutting out a cancer,” Colonel Hadley says while stroking his engorged penis and blowing a kiss at a passing paratrooper. “It’s a filthy and difficult job, we don’t like doing it, but it is our duty.”
Secretary of State Arthur Currie (Richard Widmark): On hand in a brazen attempt to appeal to the American movie-going public. Not impressed by Frankie, and makes the mistake of trying to talk to a zealot. “Miss, why don’t you go out and hijack an airplane?” he says after her bout of machine gun-wielding tomfoolery has interrupted a formal dinner at a colleague’s residence. “It’s a lot more fun. Little kids can hijack a dinner.” Yeah, mate, but can they blow up Scotland?
General Ira Potter (Robert Webber): Another unimpressed dinner guest. Slightly less diplomatic than the Secretary of State, as when offering his verdict on Frankie: “She’s a fucking lunatic.”
Why it’s bonkers: After Top Gun there was apparently a big surge in drooling blokes wanting to slip on aviator sunglasses and become closeted homosexual navy pilots. Well, before the cocktastic Cruiser strutted his pert pecs, Lewis Collins did pretty much the same by starring in a two-hour advertisement for the SAS. Who Dares is undoubtedly a load of right-wing, flag-waving, jingoistic bollocks that a fair few idiots somehow pegged as anti-CND, even though the film makes it clear the terrorists have infiltrated the group to use it as cover. Not that their camouflage plays any role in the proceedings.
Indeed, this clumsily written flick doesn’t make a lick of sense. The People’s Front is an anti-nuclear protest group. Its express aim is to prevent nuclear explosions so its fanatical goons try to do the exact opposite by getting a US nuclear missile launched at a submarine base. I mean, it would be like those humorless Nazis in PETA deciding the best way to get their anti-cruelty message across is to start slaughtering animals on live TV.
Mad Frankie can justify it all, though. “We want this to be done in the name of peace,” she says, giving the authorities a generous eighteen hours to disperse the Scottish natives. “We want everyone, every nationality, all the billions of us, to be reminded of the devastation of a nuclear explosion.”
Why does she think anyone has forgotten what Little Boy and Fat Man did?
Oh well, at least we get a half-decent catfight.
Body of Evidence (1993)
A perfect example of why the so-called erotic thriller is derided. Released ten months after Basic Instinct’s gigantic success, Body apes that vastly superior flick’s opening as a camera prowls around a mansion toward a bedroom. We can hear fucking, there’s a shot of nipple clamps, and a TV screen is showing a video of a naked Madonna, black bush out, riding an older dude on a bed in the reverse cowgirl position.
Hang on, now there’s a dead dude on the bed viewing himself balls deep in our panting heroine. It’s the same guy! I think he expired watching himself doing the nasty which, of course, is almost as ideal a way to cark it as dying while fucking.
Man, this is mind-bending stuff. Less than two minutes in and we’ve already had nudey num-nums, pervy sex toys and death. I suspect my childlike sense of wonder is gonna be stretched to the max by this little beauty.
The story: A blond strumpet is accused of using her super-heated snatch as a weapon of war against a coked-up old man with a dodgy ticker. Why? Coz she’s the main beneficiary in his $8million will. Blond ambition, me thinks. She’s put on trial, charged with inconsiderate lovemaking and mediocre acting. Much solemnity ensues.
Rebecca Carlson (Madonna): Liberated and confident, she thinks people who don’t use drugs and handcuffs during sex are conservative hypocrites. She’s the boss in bed and always fucks on top, although she doesn’t mind a bit of anal rape. Such is the advanced state of her nymphomania that she can’t even pop to the pharmacy without ending up naked. Insists she’s innocent of the state’s charge, although we soon learn of her criminal tendencies when she confesses to repeatedly stealing strawberries during childhood. Spouts constant, hard-fought wisdom e.g. “I fucked you,” she tells one conquest. “I fucked Andrew. I fucked Frank. That’s what I do. I fuck.” Specializes in blank stares, especially on the witness stand where you can almost see her sex-obsessed brains leaking out of her ears.
Frank Dulaney (Willem Dafoe): Rebecca’s straight arrow lawyer who predictably can’t control his cock. It’s twitching from the moment he meets her grieving at the funeral of her ex-lay, but instead of clamping on an icepack he starts chasing the gold-digging tart up the stairs of her luxurious riverside home and tearing her dress off. Beaver munching ensues but before long he’s getting dragged into more kinky, sexually adventurous shenanigans. “Are you scared?” Rebecca asks before tipping some hot candle wax onto his bare chest.
Rebecca fancies herself as an uncompromising S&M advocate, but back in the UK I can remember reading about a bunch of gay blokes who enjoyed nailing each other’s cocks to planks. Eventually the crown’s attempt to prosecute them fell apart because it was a case of consenting adults. No victims whatsoever. When you realize how some people get their kicks, the stuff Frank endures at Rebecca’s behest (such as leaning back on some broken glass) seems… well, a bit gay. To be honest, I’m disappointed Frank doesn’t end up tarred and feathered and crucified upside down with a live eel up his ass.
Anyhow, he rightly believes the state’s case against Rebecca is ludicrous. “What’re you gonna do?” he taunts the district attorney. “Tag the body as a murder weapon? Exhibit A? It’s not a crime to be a great lay.”
Robert Garrett (Joe Mantegna): The D.A. Obviously wants to fuck Rebecca, but as that’s impossible he deals with his blue balls by trying to throw her shapely ass in jail for twenty years. Incapable of saying anything sensible. “She is a beautiful woman,” he tells the jury, “but when this trial is over, you will see her no differently to a gun or a knife.”
Joanne Braslow (Anne Archer): The dead man’s duplicitous secretary, whose main contribution is to call Rebecca a ‘cokehead slut’ and sport some sort of awful, backcombed mullet.
Sharon Dulaney (Julianne Moore): Frank’s wife. The wronged woman. In a dog of a role she offers nothing, except another bad hairdo and the sight of her sweaty, naked breasts during a deeply unerotic, nay awful, sex scene.
Judge Mabel Burnham (Lillian Lehman): A stern, no-nonsense stickler who likes to bang her gavel, warn counsel, clear the courtroom, and keep a rod up her ass in the movie’s sole non-sexual insertion. A shame as this movie was really crying out for a pisstaker. “I can’t change the titillating nature of this trial,” she says on its opening day, “but if I had wanted to work in a circus, I would’ve learned how to ride a trapeze.” Well, your honor, a performer doesn’t ride a trapeze. So yah boo sucks to you. At another point she reminds a witness of being under oath and the need to ‘take it seriously.’ Thanks for clarifying, judge, because I had no idea murder trial participants were supposed to go about things ‘seriously’.
Won’t someone please put a whoopee cushion on her chair?
Why it’s bonkers: The concept alone in this tit-heavy travesty is enough to justify such a tag, but there’s also the dialogue. Jesus Christ, it’s one long stream of po-faced howlers. Even eleven-year-old boys come out with stuff like: “Can you really screw someone to death?”
Or how about a clueless crime scene examiner being told the sex toy he’s just picked up is a nipple clamp. “How does this thing work?” he asks. Fucking hell, mate, how about we leave you alone for five minutes and you try to work it out?
Later a doctor testifies that banging a coked-up man with a heart condition is ‘the same as shooting a loaded gun’ at him. Hmm, don’t think so. And what about Rebecca posing this nugget: “Have you ever seen animals make love?”
The performances don’t help with Madonna being our main offender. I’d say she’s an improvement on Elizabeth Berkley’s wretched overacting in Showgirls, but (despite the similar blondness and fantastic body) definitely a poor man’s Sharon Stone. The flat chemistry between Madonna and Dafoe is also a million miles from the fireworks generated by Body Heat‘s Kathleen Turner and William Hurt. Not that this half-courtroom drama, half-bonkfest doesn’t try hard with its licking, shirt-ripping, bondage, and impromptu groping in an elevator. Indeed, it puts such an emphasis on sex that (like Showgirls) everything becomes ludicrously unsexy.
Perhaps the worst scene is when Frank storms around to Rebecca’s house after she’s ruined his marriage and shoves her to the floor. Her response? To stick a moistened finger down her panties and start flicking the pea. About a minute later she’s still rubbing away as he stands with his back to her trying to walk out, his twitching nose obviously scenting warmed-up pussy. Boy, it’s crass, awkward stuff, released just a few months after Madonna’s equally obvious (but hugely successful) coffee table book, Sex. I suggest you don’t flick through that tome’s pages and then watch Body because you might start finding it a tad tricky to separate character and person.
I dunno. Sometimes I think it’s just a bad idea all round showing lengthy, detailed sex scenes. Maybe movies ought to take a leaf out of The Graduate’s book. Discretion can work very nicely, you know.
Body did not do well at the box office, proving to be another unfortunate misstep in Madonna’s acting career that followed the equally panned Shanghai Surprise and Who’s That Girl. No need to worry, though, coz Swept Away was still to come.