A mysterious and elusive criminal named Madame Sin (Bette Davis) manipulates a disgruntled ex-CIA agent (Robert Wagner, The Pink Panther) into assisting her with an elaborate plan to steal a British nuclear-armed submarine.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“Even the diabolical Dr. No would have said yes to Madame Sin” — movie tagline
Picture this: Dr. No’s sister, Madame Sin, wants to avenge her brother’s death by kidnapping CIA’s Felix Leiter! Imagine this scenario and you’ll get a good idea of how this movie works. Madame Sin plays like a cheap sequel to Dr. No. The movie also resembles one of those Fu Manchu movies made by Hammer Films in the 1960s.
Madame Sin was a pilot for a proposed TV series. After it wasn’t picked up by any of the networks, the pilot debuted on TV as an ABC Movie-of-the-Week. The feature-length version of the pilot was released theatrically in Europe.
Produced by Lord Lew Grade (The Muppet Movie and The Dark Crystal) in England (part of the movie was filmed in the beautiful Scottish Highlands), Madame Sin has a few things going for it. Aside from the James Bond and Hammer vibes, the writing by director David Greene (I Start Counting) and Barry Oringer (The Girls in the Office) has a delicious touch of camp and the acting is uniformly good.
Bette Davis seems to be having fun as the Eurasian mastermind. Like an angry wasp, Davis parades through her futuristic nest in chic black gowns (courtesy of legendary costume designer Edith Head, All About Eve), furiously spitting out venomous remarks. Allegedly, Davis’s black wig was an exact copy of the one she wore in the 1939 movie Juarez.
Robert Wagner, who co-produced the film, is good as the spy caught in Madame Sin’s web of terror. Even though they play adversaries in the movie, Wagner and Davis are splendidly in sync, and their scenes together are filled with witty exchanges. The actors were good friends in real life and I think that shows somehow on the screen.
The real surprise was the late Denholm Elliott’s (Raiders of the Lost Ark and A Room with a View) tongue-in-cheek performance as Sin’s right-hand-man. Elliott doesn’t seem to be taking the assignment seriously, and that attitude creates a nice contrast between him and the film’s grim subject matter — Elliott’s evil-charm is irresistible!
The cast also includes Catherine Schell (I will always remember as shape-shifter Maya in the short-lived TV series Space 1999) as Wagner’s girlfriend. British character actors Gordon Jackson (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) and Dudley Sutton (The Leather Boys) play Commander Cavendish and henchman Monk respectively.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
As she got older and good movie offers dried up, Bette Davis made numerous attempts to be part of a weekly series. Madame Sin is probably the best of all the pilots she made during her long career. This isn’t a great movie, but if you like those low-budget, non-horror Hammer films of the 1960s and 1970s, you’ll probably enjoy this modest but fun spy thriller. You can watch it on YouTube. Color, 90 minutes, Rated PG.