Monday, 5 April 2010

The Bitch (1979)

In 1978 The Stud gave the British film industry a very big and very welcome box-office hit. It also made Joan Collins, whose career had had plenty of ups and downs over the preceding couple of decades, a very major star. The Bitch, released the following year, was an attempt to consolidate this success and in commercial terms was a definite triumph.

Personally I don’t think The Bitch quite measures up to its predecessor. The Stud set a formidably high standard in campy trashiness, a standard that possibly no sequel was going to match.

Fontaine Khaled (Joan Collins) is now divorced, not just from her husband but much more upsettingly from his vast fortune. She still has her London night-club, but it’s actually losing money. Not that Fontaine intends to let any such minor details cramp her style. She still enjoys the good things of life. Especially young and attractive men.

Returning from New York she meets an Italian charmer named Nico. She assumes he just wants to sleep with her (Fontaine naturally assumes all men want to sleep with her) but in fact he’s a jewel thief on the run from the Mob. He plants a stolen diamond in the pocket of Fontaine’s coat, intending to retrieve it after she goes through Customs. But he loses track of her in the crowd at the airport.

Eventually they meet up again. She’s not sure that she’s all that attracted to him, but she takes him to her bed anyway. After all it’s been several hours since she’s had a man, and a girl can only go so long without sex. Nico has all sorts of troubles. Apart from the difficulty of retrieving the diamond, it turns out to be a fake. He’s losing money at the gaming tables, and he has both American and English gangsters after him.

The convoluted plot also involves shady doings at the racetrack, some very shady dealings by Fontaine, and of course the obligatory swimming-pool orgy (although it’s not as good as the exceptionally memorable almost Fellini-esque swimming-pool orgy in The Stud). There’s lots of nudity, and lots of sex. Joan Collins doesn’t take her clothes off quite as often as as she did in The Stud, but she’s still fairly frequently naked.

The movie tries very hard to recapture the classic kitschy 70s decadence of the first film, but it doesn’t quite make it.

The main problem is that Joan Collins’s character has been toned down a little. She’s not quite the mega-bitch of The Stud. She’s still a very definite bitch, but it’s not quite Joan Collins in full flight. At times she even (God forbid) shows flashes of human emotions.

Ian Hendry is the pick of the supporting cast, hamming it up quite outrageously as the English gangster Thrush Feather (yes it is a silly name for a gangster).

Apart from the toning down of Fontaine, the movie just generally doesn’t have the style of the earlier film. Gerry O’Hara’s direction isn’t as good as Quentin Masters’ and the script (again based on a novel by Joan’s sister Jackie Collins) doesn’t have the same punch.

It’s still a must-see film for fans of campy trash cinema. It is after all a Joan Collins film. But not quite the sublime masterpiece of trash that The Stud was.

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