The Scottish Highlands hides a multitude of sins…
Madame Sin’s evil quest involves enlisting a one time CIA agent to help her to procure a nuclear Polaris submarine.
Agente segreto al servizio di Madame Sin – Trailer, CG Entertainment and photos © ABC Television
In her campy, vampy villainess role, Bette Davis is Madam Sin (1972). This is a TV pilot movie of the same name. This film somehow (sadly) slipped my radar for the last two Bette Davis blogathons. It did happily get my attention this year. This was not just for the appearance of Davis, in one of the best of her later roles.
Here she camps and vamps it up with the support from Robert Wagner, Denholm Elliott, Gordon Jackson and Roy Kinnear. But I watched it primarily for its setting of the country I still think of as home, with the Scottish Highlands in all its glory.
The film tells of a one time C.I.A. agent, Anthony Lawrence (Robert Wagner) who has recently given up this day job. This is due to his girlfriend, Barbara’s (Catherine Schell) untimely death. The sad and despondent Lawrence is followed through 1970s London by a mysterious Malcolm De Vere (Denholm Elliott). De Vere catches up with Lawrence and offers him a paid job for an unnamed client. Lawrence refuses.
Two nuns then approach Lawrence. One nun distracts him and the other stuns him with a device that emits sonic sounds. He collapses to the ground hearing this noise ringing in his ears. Then the half-conscious Lawrence is bundled into an ambulance and then is taken to a helicopter. Over the film’s opening credits we see he’s taken by chopper to a castle in the Scottish Highlands, with De Vere in tow.
Lawrence comes round, to some 1970s gal shaving his face. He has a new wardrobe, provided by his hostess. On the way to meet his hostess with De Vere, there’s strange trippy harp music heard with a harpist seen on a circular harp. It’s really an odd scene, but somehow it works in this crazy movie. This harpist
luckily disappearing suddenly and is later revealed to be a hologram.
Lawrence then meets his father’s old flame, the enigmatic and ruthless Madame Sin. He’s heard of this woman and her evil doings in his CIA work. Madam Sin gives him a tour of her spacious underground and overground headquarters, with some scientific geniuses working for her.
De Vere revealing with a grin, how she enrolled their help through the help of mind control. The men are seemingly quite oblivious to just how evil their employer is. This is as they churn out weapons and machinery to help her in her quest for world domination. One has created a sonic sound-emitting gun and another has invented a machine that helps her read thoughts, through seeing the person’s true thoughts in pictures.
De Vere continues to mansplain how this machine also can replace thoughts in a person’s brain. This film in the days before the actor who played Dom Cobb, in a kind of similar themed film Inception (2010) was even conceived. Madame Sin extols how wonderful mind control is, telling how she changed an employee’s negative memories by adding positive ones instead.
Madame Sin asks Lawrence to help her in procuring a nuclear Polaris Submarine. She has a plan to kidnap his old colleague, Naval Commander Cavendish (Gordon Jackson). Then to use the thought altering machine on Cavendish with him instead rerouting this submarine to her base and selling this submarine to sell onto revolutionaries.
Madame Sin gets Lawrence on her side by telling how the C.I.A. set up his girlfriend, Barbara. The CIA sent Barbara and some false information to a contact in Paris. After she reported this information, Barbara was tortured.
Lawrence then agrees to help her in her quest. De Vere stresses his concerns that Lawrence agreed to this plan, and without brainwashing. De Vere stressing how emotions can change. Madame Sin plays her Trump card, as Barbara – seemingly alive – appears from the shadows…
The casting couldn’t have been better. Davis camps up her enigmatic role wonderfully with some great lines. Davis purrs like a cat when she talks of her old love, Lawrence’s father and she cackles like a witch as her plan comes to fruition. Her make up quite garish, and her lavish wardrobe consisting of flowing black dresses with matching turbans is fantastically over the top.
Her deliciously campy portrayal of this villainess, she makes Joan Collins Alexis (in Dynasty (1981-89)) look relatively harmless. It’s clear Davis was having fun with this role, and your memories of her in her doe-eyed youth will be shockingly replaced after watching this film’s villainess.
The dastardly De Vere was played by Denholm Elliott as her partner in crime. Elliott shows a more ruthlessly evil and cunning side as he wickedly mansplains everything and anything. He too is relishing his role, with a glint in his eye as he tells all. This acting pair are a fantastic double act and they complement each other brilliantly. With him at times seemingly more evil than she is.
Davis and Elliott steal the show without a doubt from Wagner. Wagner tried his best, but he didn’t always convince me as a CIA agent turned civilian. He played his part earnestly as an innocent pawn in Madame Sin’s plan. You were able to identify with him, with you following his involvement in this story from the start. It was nice to see him playing the good guy turned bad.
Gordon Jackson plays a small but pivotal role and plays it amicably and naturally. Look out for Roy Kinnear, who also has a wee comic part, and he even dons a brilliant Scottish accent. Also keep your eyes peeled for Burt Kwouk, Dudley Sutton and Catherine Schell.
The film is a hoot throughout and well worth a look. With you almost experiencing the film as Wagner, with this as a console game. This as you accompany him as the crazy plot progresses and you can even hear those sound effects he does. The film also has you experience and see some scenes as Lawrence would – so don’t adjust your set – which makes it more eerie and chilling than other thrillers of this time.
But I’d heartily recommend you stick with this film no matter how silly it gets. The final scenes are fantastically unexpected. I’d easily add this film to the so bad it’s good pile. The film also has some lovely shots of Scotland which made me a wee bit homesick.
With many scenes filmed at the island of Mull, with other films filmed here including Entrapment (1999), Balamory (2002-05) and Kidnapped (1971). I loved the story, despite its outlandish plot. it was fun and engaging from the start and kept up the momentum through all the twists and turns.
I must admire Wagner, who also produced this film, for bringing this film idea to the small and big screen. This film was televised as a TV Movie in the States, and a cinema release in the UK. This TV film was also surprisingly like The Return of the Worlds Greatest Detective (1976), an unsold TV pilot. One thing is clear from the final scenes, it’s got one helluva ending/cliffhanger. But all in all, it’s a crime of regal proportions and a sin that this film wasn’t developed into a TV series.
Weeper Rating: 0 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂/10
This film was added to In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood‘s The Fourth Annual Bette Davis Blogathon. Other films with this cast include Bette Davis in Burnt Offerings, Hotel, Death on the Nile, and Murder with Mirrors. Robert Wagner in The Towering Inferno and Hart to Hart. Denholm Elliott in Alfie, Quest for Love, A Room with a View and Voyage of the Damned. Roy Kinnear in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Gordon Jackson in The Medusa Touch and Hart to Hart. Dudley Sutton in Those Glory, Glory Days, Lovejoy and Cockneys Vs Zombies.