Friday, 24 October 2008

Madame Sin (1972)

A science fiction/spy thriller starring Bette Davis has to have considerable camp appeal, so it’s perhaps surprising that Madame Sin isn’t better known. Perhaps the fact that it was a made-for-TV movie explains why it’s often overlooked. It’s a cross between a spy spoof movie and a Fu Manchu-style potboiler (with a dash of Sumuru), with Davis playing an Asiatic female diabolical criminal mastermind planning to steal a ballistic missile-armed British nuclear submarine.

Tony Laurence is an American spy who becomes embroiled in her plot. At her secret headquarters on a mysterious island she employs brainwashing techniques and various high-tech sonic gadgets to bend people to her will, thus giving her useful if unwilling slaves. As it turns out she and Tony’s father (also a spy) were once lovers, so she has a personal interest as well in manipulating him.

If you’re expecting James Bond-style action sequences you’re going to be disappointed. The budget didn’t run to expensive social effects and spectacular stunts. On the other hand, as TV movies go the production values are respectable enough and the plot has nice twists to it. There’s a dash of 70s cynicism, and the ending can be seen as either upbeat or downbeat depending on where your sympathies lie.

Davis is in great form, and Denholm Elliott as her charming but sinister financial adviser is inspired to try to out-camp Davis, giving a delightfully arch performance. Robert Wagner as Tony Laurence is solid if unremarkable, Gordon Jackson is heroic but baffled as the commander of the submarine and the supporting cast includes the array of delightful character actors you expect in a British production of this vintage.

If you don’t expect too much from it Madame Sin will provide 90 minutes of amusing diversion, with the bonus of Bette Davis in full-on camp mode. The one is rather like 1960s TV shows such as The Avengers and the Man from UNCLE - silly tongue-in-cheek fun.

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