Have it your way, baby
A UK region 0 DVD review of SUPER BITCH by Gort
 

Cliff is an inspector with the Special Branch. He works undercover in London and Rome, rooting out drug traffickers and putting them out of business. He dresses like Lewis Collins, has a hairstyle that only looked cool in the 70s, and is God's gift to the ladies. He's also a bastard of the highest order.

It does, it has to be said, take our Cliff a while to reveal his true colours. At first he comes across as just another in a long line of uncharismatic 70s plain clothes cops, humourless buggers with fencepost personalities who tended to settle arguments with a fist or a boot. There's a sign of things to come when, after spying on a covert meeting between two local crims at an Italian tourist spot, he shoots one of them in the head with a sniper rifle. At this point it's not clear just what Cliff does for a living or who he is really working for, and he seems to be being set up as a sort of low-rent James Bond.

In no time at all he's on a plane to London, where he bumps into shapely Joanne (a frequently naked Stephanie Beacham), an old flame he wastes no time jumping back into bed with. Turns out she's working for an escort agency that secretly films and then blackmails their more influential clients, particularly those with kinkier tastes. Quite how they manage to keep the filming secret is beyond my comprehension, since the resulting movies include hand-held close-ups and the odd shot taken from the unfortunate victim's viewpoint. Did he not suspect something when they handed him the camera and asked him to grab some footage for them? "It's OK mate, we're not going to show it to anyone." "Oh, OK then, I'll give it a go." Their latest victim is an American businessman of some repute, whose celluloid naughtiness (he likes to dress up and act like a rabbit) is used to force him to buy a drug-stuffed statue in Paris and transport it to the UK. The reasoning behind this is that someone as important and influential as him will not be molested by customs officials. Which is probably true.

Escort agency boss Morrell has his fingers in other pies, you see, and has promised a percentage of his dealings to Cliff for his help, then is forced to cut a deal with American hard man Gamble to avoid being beaten to a squishy mess. But Gamble doesn't figure in Cliff's master plan, so our intrepid detective removes him from the equation by impersonating a police officer (the fact that he is one doesn't seem to matter) and descending mob-handed on Gamble's remote farmhouse hideout. On the pretext of an arrest, Cliff and his goons march the Gamble gang outside, then slaughter them with machine guns and dump their bodies in a freshly dug trench. It may well be unintentional (then again, who knows?), but this plays uncomfortably like the sort of massacre of prisoners by Nazi soldiers that you'll find in a number of more recent WW2 movies. Which of course casts Cliff as the chief Gestapo officer. You see what I mean about him being a bastard?

Gamble, it turns out, was the international enforcer for one Mamma la Turca (that's Mamma the Turk to you), a female Italian mobster whose gang is made up of her own wacky and seemingly ever-cheerful offspring. Mamma's arrival on British soil temporarily moves the film into the realms of the surreal, as she is driven around London in an open-top car while her brood joyfully serenade her with a song celebrating her skills as a ruthless killer. A short while later, two of them are beating one of Morrell's boys senseless while their brother laughingly bangs out a tune on his guitar.

Even as a slice of 70s exploitation, Super Bitch is a distinctly offbeat concoction. An Italian police actioner set primarily in London with a largely English cast and dialogue to match, its English lead character is played by an Italian (exploitation superstar Ivan Rassimov, no less), while it's Italian crime kingpin is played by the very English Patricia Hayes (who's great, by the way). And what the hell is going on with that title? Super Bitch? Who the hell is that supposed to be? Mama la Turca? I can't believe that, she's way too much fun. Joanne, perhaps? Not very likely, as despite her profession, she's probably the nicest person here. Maybe, just maybe, the film was way head of its time in the street lingo stakes, anticipating the day when guys could call each bitches without sounding gay, as in "Give me my fuckin' money, bitch!" Of course, Super Bitch wasn't the original title. No, that was Si può essere più bastardi dell'ispettore Cliff?, which Google Translate hilariously assures us is Italian for "It may be more bastards Inspector Cliff?" and Babylon translator suggests is "It can be more bastards of the inspector Cliff?" Neither of these are gramatically sound questions (or sentences, as it happens) and are thus both probably wrong. It was also released in the US as Mafia Junction (oh, you don't want to get off there), and the rather more literal Blue Movie Blackmail in the UK. But it's Super Bitch here. So how you like that? Eh, bitch?

In the 1970s, the Italian crime action thriller – known locally as Poliziotteschi – was a sub-genre in its own right, one peppered with colourful titles like Violent Professionals, Syndicate Sadists, Rome Armed to the Teeth and frankly superb-sounding Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man. And as a genre piece, Super Bitch ticks all the required boxes: men are tough and ruthless, women get naked at the drop of an innuendo, the violence is vicious and bloody (there's even a Peckinpah-esque slowmo death during the Nazi slaughter sequence) and cars chase each other at death-defying speed. In the hands of cinematographer turned director Massimo Dellamano – who shot A Fistful of Dollars and A Few Dollars More, and directed the 1969 adaptation of Venus in Furs and the rather smart What Have They Done to Your Daughters? – it wastes no time and takes no prisoners, trotting from scene to scene with energetic gusto. And despite its sex-object attitude to the younger women (Patricia Hayes keeps her kit on – funny, that), its magic mushroomed youngsters, its super-gay gang member and a leading man who you want to see repeatedly kicked in the nuts, it's smartly assembled and actually rather fun. It also concludes on a not completely unexpected twist that suggests – and I may well be misreading the signs – that my dislike of Cliff was the intended reaction.

sound and vision

Super Bitch has undergone restoration for this release and it shows. Perhaps because my first experience of a good part of 70s and 80s exploitation cinema was fuzzy VHS knock-offs, I'm always a surprised when such a film polishes up as well as it does here. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is clean and reasonably detailed and the contrast is for the most part well balanced, though this does vary depending on the lighting of the scene in question. The colour palette has an earthy bias not uncommon in films of the period, and the grain is more prominent in some shots than others, suggesting more than one source was used for the transfer. Compression artefacts are occasionally visible on the odd single coloured wall and on car exhaust fumes, but are never a big issue. Some edge halos are also evident, suggesting some edge enhancement has taken place.

The Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack is available in both English and Italian with optional English subtitles. While as an Italian film it may seem that the Italian track is the one to go for, it quickly becomes clear that the majority of dialogue was delivered in English, so that's probably the one to go for. Both are post-dubbed and reasonably clear, but have the sort of range restriction we tend to associate with exploitation movies of the period, and there's an audible background hiss throughout. The English track is slightly louder and a touch brighter than the Italian.

If your looking for a bit of fun, then comparing the English language track to its Italian equivalent can provide some amusement. The best way to do this is to play the film with the English track selected and the subtitles for the Italian track activated. Do so and the differences between the tracks are both obvious and, just occasionally, downright bemusing. Here's a small selection:

English language track English subs on the Italian track
"You're a diplomat. And an art collector." "Think diplomatic. You're a man of taste."
"Go on, give her a haircut. She'll love that." "Don't cut out her tongue. She really won't be able to speak."
"None of your bloody tricks." "That won't do any good. You know what I'm like."
"That bitch!" "Damn it."
"Yeah, spider's pool hall?" "Anonimas Corpione, who's speaking?"
"You snivelling shit, put Mamma on." "Don't be an idiot. Let me speak to Mamma."
"And to think I thought this was a gift of love."

"It is. In fact it saved your life."
"Cliff, is it true this is an oriental good luck charm?"

"Yes, Japanese. With a radio transmitter inside."
"Hello sir, we are now staked out on watch at the warehouse, where Nikropolis [sic] the Greek has accepted the delivery of the crate. Tony Akara with two of Mamma's children have just entered the warehouse." "Jameson here. The merchandise was collected this morning from New York customs. Naturally, there were no problems. Our agents are keeping an eye on it. It's currently in the Nikropos [sic] warehouse. What do you want us to do? Do you have further orders?"
"Somebody fucked you, baby." "They tricked you."

extra features

Bullets, Babes and Blood: The High Octane Action of the Italian Police Film (17:47)
Celebrated Italian exploitation movie directors Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust, The Atlantis Interceptors) and Sergio Martino (The Case of the Scorpion's Tail, Primitive Desires), British filmmaker Darren Ward (Sudden Fury) and critic Paolo Zelati take us on an informative trip through the golden years of the Italian Poliziotteschi, with focus on key films and the elements that defined the sub-genre. A neatly assembled piece directed by Arrow stalwart Calum Waddell.

Ruggero Deodato Remembers Ivan Rassimov (1:55)
Director Ruggero Deodato briefly pays tribute to actor Ivan Rassimov, in what looks like an out-take from the above documentary.

Booklet
A collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by author and critic Calum Waddell, to quote the press release, but since this was not supplied with the review disc I can comment no further.

summary

If Italian exploitation cinema is your bag, particularly its 70s crime dramas, then Super Bitch certainly delivers the goods, and should have special interest for a UK audience for its outsider's view of still-swinging London and its surrounding districts. A decent restoration is backed by a concise documentary, which provides some welcome background to the genre.

Super Bitch
Si può essere più bastardi dell'ispettore Cliff?
Mafia Junction
Blue Movie Blackmail

Italy / UK 1973
94 mins
director
Massimo Dallamano
screenplay
Massimo Dallamano
Sandy MacRae
cinematography
Jack Hildyard
editing
Antonio Siciliano
music
Riz Ortolani
production design
Elena Ricci
Alan Withy
starring
Ivan Rassimov
Stephanie Beacham
Patricia Hayes
Verna Harvey
Ettore Manni

disc details
region 0
video
1.85:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 mono
languages
English
Italian
subtitles
English
extras
Bullets, Babes and Blood: The High Octane Action of the Italian Police Film
Ivan Rassimov tribute
Boolet
distributor
Arrow Video
release date
29 October 2012
review posted
8 November 2012