Blue Movie Blackmail

Blue Movie Blackmail is known by a variety of names, the original being Si può essere più bastardi dell’ispettore Cliff? My Italian is nonexistent and Google Translate isn’t exactly helpful (“It may be more bastards Inspector Cliff?”), but I think the general gist of the name is something like ‘Is anyone more of a bastard than Inspector Cliff?’ When eventually looped into English (in a few cases by the Anglo cast themselves) it was released in the USA as the somewhat baffling Mafia Junction and in Britain as the rather more accurate Blue Movie Blackmail. It does also have the distinction of being shot mostly in London, so I may be able to relate some interesting titbits as a resident of these parts.

The protagonist and apparent bastard is, unsurprisingly, Inspector Cliff, played by Italian cannibal movie stalwart Ivan Rassimov. Cliff is an American narcotics agent, working undercover as an enforcer for international drug-dealer type Marco (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart). Despite his official status, it becomes clear fairly quickly that Cliff isn’t above taking out people on either side of the law if it suits his own agenda. While Golly Gee, Inspector Cliff Sure is a Bastard, Isn’t He? is clear that the criminal underworld contains many a bastard, Cliff is definitely number one with a bullet in the bastard charts.

In Beirut, Cliff kills one of Marco’s connections who unwisely meets with rival drug dealer Mamma the Turk (British acting legend Patricia Hayes). Mamma manages to escape, so Cliff is dispatched to London and await instructions. Here Marco has an escort service run by weaselly underling Morell (Ettore Manni, billed as Red Carter). This operation cunningly uses hidden cameras to capture senior diplomats in flagrante, and the star of the show is Morell’s girl Joann (Stephanie Beacham, Dracula A.D. 1972). Joann, helpfully, also has a thing on the side with Cliff. What a bastard.

Joann’s latest conquest is the US Ambassador, Lanson, who after much head-scratching and ‘what has he been in?’ pondering I realised was Cec Linder, a.k.a. Felix Leiter from Goldfinger. I wonder if Linder, fresh from the most popular of all the Bond films, ever thought he’d be stripped down to furry shorts and rabbit ears suggestively feeding Stephanie Beacham a carrot? Hey, it’s a living. Anyway, the ambassador is suitably horrified at the thought of his leporidae-related fetish coming out, and agrees to help Morell get a statue full of drugs through customs. If he’s anything like me, Lanson is probably also impressed by the excellent and highly mobile camera work achieved by Morell’s operative despite him hiding behind a wall.

Rewatching the footage from another crazy 70s orgy, Morell recognises Mama’s number one enforcer Gamble (Luciano Catenacci). Gamble picks that precise moment to appear in Morell’s office demanding a share of the business, which will also involve cutting Marco out of the drug trade, or something. After attempting to strong-arm Joann into being an informer on Morell’s goings-on, Gamble falls foul of Cliff and his goons disguised as cops, and is dispatched in a hail of bullets. Cliff throws his boss off the scent by claiming he has no idea what happened to Gamble, a tame approach given that he’d already shot one of his own handlers. Despite not being entirely trusted (note fresh-faced Blake’s Seven star Gareth Thomas as a cop who’s been told to tail him), Cliff convinces Lanson to have the drug-statue sent not to Marco’s guys in Chicago, but to Mamma’s operation in New York.

Mamma meanwhile is nonplussed at Gamble’s disappearance, and joins some of her many children in London. It’s amusing that the writers of what is technically a ‘foreign’ movie seem to enjoy broad racial stereotypes as much as the English-speaking world. Thus Mamma’s ‘Turkish’ sons have an annoying tendency to hoot, yell and burst into song at the drop of a hat while sporting a selection of long hippie hair and awful hats. Anyway, Mamma’s clan are soon putting the squeeze on Morell, killing his cameraman and kidnapping Joann.

Cliff responds by picking up one of the Turks, Eva (Verna Harvey), while she’s out shopping in a see-through blouse. My wife grew up in the area where the film was shot, but doesn’t recall if sexy half-naked Turkish girls ever frequented her local convenience store. Trading Eva for Joann, Cliff is able to arrange a face-to-face with Mamma. For a large fee, he’ll supply the drug-statue to Mamma while safe in the knowledge Marco will put the blame on Morell. Then, behind Mamma’s back, Cliff tells his bosses where the shipment will arrive. When some of Mamma’s sons are intercepted by Marco, the whole caboodle are gunned down by machine-gun toting NYPD. Mamma is enraged and storms Morell’s office, guns blazing (and I’m thrilled to live in a world where one can see lovely, matronly Patricia Hayes gunning somebody down while swearing like a trooper). Cliff, the double-dealing bastard that he is, shows up to perform the final coup de grace on Mamma, and thus is conveniently able to convince his boss that Morell did it. All that remains is to flee the country with Mamma’s money and Joann, though given just how many people Cliff has pissed off, it might not be entirely plain sailing…

Blue Movie Blackmail comes courtesy of Massimo Dallamano, a noted cinematographer-turned-director who had been shooting films since the 40s, including A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. As director he had previously helmed highly-regarded exploitation films like What Have You Done to Solange? and Venus In Furs. Dallamano was also responsible for the interesting but downright weird modern-day Wilde adaptation Dorian Grey, a film that teamed Richard Todd, Herbert Lom and Helmut Berger with some of the ugliest paisley shirts known to man. While Blue Movie Blackmail may not be among Dallamano’s best-remembered work, he does keep the silly plot moving along at a fair clip and makes good use of the international setting. I can’t find any confirmation but I suspect the film was shot in one of London’s smaller studios like Twickenham or Isleworth, given that a lot of the location work is done nearby. Hardcore Dallamano fans at a loose end in London may wish to ride the Piccadilly line from Ravenscourt Park to Heathrow like in the movie, or take a wander up the Thames near Richmond, where Mamma’s houseboat is moored. In fact, do the latter anyway; it’s a beautiful place and has many fine pubs that will happily sell you incredibly expensive beer.

I’ve already mentioned what a curious mix the cast is, but most of them are reliable hands and deliver better performances than the film probably deserves. Rassimov is enjoyably sneery as Cliff, not batting an eyelid as he blows away, well, pretty much everyone. Patricia Hayes maintains the long tradition of British actors who give it their all in ‘lesser’ material, and steals most of the scenes she’s in. Beacham, as the comparative newcomer with the most heavy lifting to do, is great. Having said that she’d already been around in the trenches of TV for some time, and appeared opposite the ever-expanding Marlon Brando in Michael Winner’s The Nightcomers. Joann is probably the most interesting character here, for which Beacham deserves much of the credit. Plus she has a fetching wardrobe of silky blouses with nothing underneath, and that’s when she’s not actively naked.

Since goofy 70s horror films are like catnip to me, I find this to be the high point of Beacham’s career. She was always entertaining – and at the peak of loveliness – in Hammer’s Dracula A.D. 1972, Amicus’ And Now the Screaming Starts! and Pete Walker’s Schizo. She’d later return to genre properties with turns in Norman J. Warren’s nasty Alien knock-off Inseminoid, an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and a season of SeaQuest DSV. But it was in more ‘normal’ TV that Beacham found mainstream fame, and that’s essentially the only reason Blue Movie Blackmail is remember at all.

The film got a new lease of life (and one which probably saved it from vanishing into complete obscurity) in the 1980s, thanks to an enterprising distributor. The mammoth success of TV soap Dynasty prompted a video release of 70s softcore smut flick The Bitch to exploit the popularity of the show’s, well, bitch, Joan Collins. Despite being utterly terrible, the VHS of The Bitch was a big seller. Beacham was soon starring as Collins’ opposite number in Dynasty spinoff The Colbys, and was popular enough to join the original show when The Colbys was cancelled after one season. At which point the owners of Blue Movie Blackmail dusted off a ratty old print, stuck a new title card on the front and dumped it out as Super Bitch. The lovely new British DVD release from Arrow Films even goes under the same title, though it has a nice reversible sleeve with the Italian poster on it if you prefer.

What’s ironic is Mafia Junction/Blue Movie Blackmail/Super Bitch/My Stars, That Cliff is a Right Bastard and No Mistake is much more entertaining than The Bitch. It’s by no means perfect, but is a solid slice of 70s exploitation with a decent smattering of splattery violence and naked flesh, most of it courtesy of the rather delectable Beacham. The theme tune by psychotronic legend Riz Ortolani is a thing of outrageous funkery. Plus if you want to see Felix Leiter from Goldfinger hopping around naked in bunny ears – and who among us can say they don’t? – this is the film for you.

Release Year: 1973 | Country: Italy/UK | Starring: Ivan Rassimov, Stephanie Beacham, Patricia Hayes, Verna Harvey, Ettore Manni, Luciano Catenacci, Cec Linder, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart | Screenplay: Massimo Dallamano, Sandy MacRae | Director: Massimo Dallamano | Cinematography: Jack Hildyard | Music: Riz Ortolani | Alternate Titles: Mafia Junction, Super Bitch