The Bitch (1979) is a sequel to The Stud (1978), based on novels by Jackie Collins and starring her older sister, actress Joan Collins. I haven't gotten around to The Stud so I can make no comparisons, but The Bitch is fairly fascinating as a portrait of late-‘70s swingin' London, and its dated-campy ideas of glamor and erotica.
Joan Collins (b. 1933) started out in British films in the early ‘50s, quickly rose up through the ranks (at Rank) and attracted the attention of Hollywood director Howard Hawks, who cast her in Land of the Pharaohs (1955). This led to a contract at 20th Century-Fox, where they built her up as something like a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn. By the mid-1960s Collins began appearing on American and later British television shows, most famously "The City on the Edge of Forever," possibly the best episode of the original Star Trek.
By the early ‘70s she was back in Britain, starring in lower-budgeted genre films, especially suspense thrillers and horror movies such as Tales from the Crypt (1972) and I Don't Want to Be Born (1975). Her career seemed hit rock bottom with Empire of the Ants (1977), with Collins battling six-foot rubber monster ants in the wilds of Florida.
Sister Jackie came to Joan's rescue with The Stud, adapting her own 1969 novel, Jackie's second. The movie cost just $600,000 but reportedly made $20 million internationally. Allegedly The Bitch was even more successful, and this led to Collins being cast as Alexis Carrington during the second season of the prime-time soap opera Dynasty. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Stud and The Bitch were gutsy career moves. The British film industry in the ‘70s barely subsisted on racy sex comedies like Confessions of a Window Washer, but those starred younger talent that hadn't established themselves carrying mainstream Hollywood features and guest starring on popular TV shows. She was 46 at the time The Bitch was made, yet appears nude and has multiple sex scenes that were pretty risqué then. Several others in the cast, including sexy Sue Lloyd, also gamely strip for the camera.
Fontaine Khaled (Collins) is a wealthy divorcee and owner of Hobo, a Studio 54-type disco nightclub. On a flight back to London from New York, Italian playboy Nico Cantafora (Antonio Cantafora, billed here as Michael Coby) flirts with Fontaine, slipping into her belongings a stolen diamond Nico intends to have expat American colleague Hal (John Ratzenberger) fence in London.
Nymphomaniac Fontaine, meanwhile, seduces her new chauffeur, Ricky (Peter Wight), then to his disappointment resumes treating him like an employee. Business at Fontaine's disco is down and she's losing money left and right. Nico, meanwhile, falls further and further into debt with a British gangster with maybe the silliest name of all time, Thrush Feather (Ian Hendry, in his penultimate film role).
There's not much in the way of story to The Bitch, what with its frequent interruptions by sex scenes and boogying. David Letterman once joked that Collins next line of perfume should be called "Really Old Spice," and her seduction scenes in The Bitch, especially with Ricky near the beginning, are plainly ludicrous, like something one might have expected camped up with Divine in a John Waters film.
But the movie's late-‘70s idea of wealth, glamor, and disco nightlife holds the viewer's interest, at least for a while. The interiors of Fonatine's ostentatious home are like something out of Playboy magazine of the period: lots of mirrors, stainless steal, and glass - Donald Trump's penthouse apartment minus all the gold leaf. Disco's short-lived mainstream popularity is captured here with some authenticity, including a sequence possibly filmed at a genuine gay nightclub. The soundtrack, crammed with disco standards and new songs by Biddu and Don Black, including the outrageous title tune, likewise exemplify the period well.
Director Gerry O'Hara started out as an assistant to Laurence Olivier (on his film of Richard III) and Carol Reed, but then began making low-budget but often quite good films about British youth, notably That Kind of Girl (1963), The Pleasure Girls (1965), and All the Right Noises, all worthwhile and all available on Blu-ray through the BFI.
Video & Audio
Filmed for 1.85:1 widescreen, The Bitch looks great: bright, strong colors, excellent detail, and a pleasing film grain look - a little too grainy whenever Collins is disrobed, an obvious concession to her middle age. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio (English mono only) is generally good, and English subtitles are offered on this region "A" disc.
Supplements consist of a gossipy, conversational audio commentary between David Del Valle and Nick Redman, and an interview with Gerry O'Hara.
With a title like The Bitch and suggestive ad art of Collins showing off her wares, anyone not expecting trashy exploitation deserves what they get. As entertainment it's pretty dreary but as a time capsule, The Bitch is worth seeing once. Rent It.
Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.