The Scottish Highlands hides a multitude of sins…
Madam 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
In her campy, vampy villainess role, Bette Davis is Madam Sin (1972) in a film of the same name. This film somehow slipped my radar for the last two Bette Davis blogathons. It did happily get my attention this year. This not just for the appearance of Davis, in one of the best of her later roles. He with the support from Robert Wagner, Denholm Elliott, Gordon Jackson and Roy Kinnear. But 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 due to his girlfriend, Barbara’s death. The sad and despondent Lawrence followed through 1970s London by the mysterious Malcolm De Vere (Denholm Elliott). De Vere catching up with Lawrence offers him a paid job for an unnamed client. Lawrence refuses.
Two nuns approach Lawrence. One nun distracts him and the other stuns him with a device which 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 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. And 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 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 seemingly quite oblivious to just how evil their employer is. This 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 persons true thoughts in pictures.
De Vere continues to mansplane 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 employees negative memories by adding positive ones instead.
Madame Sin asks Lawrence to help her in procuring a nuclear Polaris Submarine, by kidnapping his old colleague, Naval Commander Cavendish (Gordon Jackson). This in the hope to use the thought altering machine on Cavendish with him instead rerouting this submarine to her base. Then 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. Sending her with false information a contact in Paris. Showing Barbara’s fate after she reported this information, with her subsequent torture. Lawrence then agrees to help her in her quest. With De Vere stressing his concerns that Lawrence agreed to this plan without brainwashing. With 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 her delivery 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. With her deliciously campy portrayal of this villainess, she makes Joan Collins Alexis (in Dynasty (1981-89)) look relatively harmless. It’s clear Davis is having fun with this role, and your memories of her in her doe eyed youth will be shockingly replaced after watching this film.
The dastardly De Vere played by Denholm Elliott is her partner in crime. Elliott shows a more ruthlessly evil and cunning side as he wickedly mansplanes 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. Both Davis and Elliott stealing the show from Wagner.
Wagner tries his best, but he didn’t always convince as a CIA agent turned civilian. He played his part earnestly as 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 amiably 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 and well worth a look. With you almost experiencing the film as Wagner as a console game 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 make 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 its good pile.
The film also with lovely shots of Scotland 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, as he also produced this film, and 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 / cliff hanger. It’s a crime of regal proportions and a sin, this film wasn’t developed into a TV series.
Weeper Rating: 0 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂/10
Bonus Trailer: No
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 The Ray Bradbury Theatre, Voyage of the Damned and Thriller. Roy Kinnear in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and The Ray Bradbury Theatre. Gordon Jackson in Hart to Hart. Dudley Sutton in Lovejoy and Cockneys vs Zombies.