Director: Jack Hill
Starring: Robbie Lee, Joanne Nail, Monica Gayle
* * * 1/2
The son of a Disney and Warner Bros. designer who (like many of his time period) initially got his start as a Roger Corman apprentice, Jack Hill went on to become one of the great exploitation auteurs of the 70s, having done such cult classics as 'Spider Baby' (you haven't lived until you've heard Lon Chaney sing the title tune), 'The Big Bird Cage' and the Pam Grier classics 'Coffy' and Foxy Brown'. 'Switchblade Sisters' (originally titled The Jezebels) may just be his wildest and most purely enjoyable film.
Full review after the jump.
Based loosely (VERY loosely) on Othello, 'Switchblade Sisters' begins at an inner city High School which is run by a gang called The Daggers. There they sell drugs and women to any interested (and there is much interest) while beating and terrorizing any that dare stand in their way. The Daggers' women have formed their own gang called The Dagger Debs who are at least as tough as their male counterparts. One day, their leader Lace gets into a fight with Maggie, a new girl who will not be intimidated. When the girl gang lands in jail as a result, Maggie comes to Lace's rescue and from that point, joins the group as Lace's new right hand woman. This does not sit well with Lace's old right hand woman, Patch (so named because she wears an eye patch, you see) who sets about scheming to discredit the upstart in the eyes of the leader.
Though the plot description may sound like merely a typical 70s style JD pic (which it essentially is during it's first third), Hill decides to go absolutely apeshit with the material. There is a gun fight at a roller rink for starters, but the piece de resistance is an all out war in the streets which involves machine guns and tanks (!). The way, way over the top material is played absolutely straight as though this sort of thing were common place, elevating the film to a truly delirious level.
But the thing that perhaps stands out the most are The Debs themselves. None of them are good actresses, but somehow through the melodramatic proceedings, you come to genuinely care about them. As the ultimately ousted leader Lace, Robbie Lee (teeth nashing her way through nearly every scene) lends a feeling of fatility to the role. Lee's perky appearance and youngish voice (she would go on to do voice overs in cartoons) would seem at odds with portraying the tough and emotionally unstable character, yet she makes it work. Likewise Joanne Nail tries hard as the heroic and betrayed Maggie. The standout here may be Monica Gayle as the scheming Patch. It's the juiciest role and one that Quentin Tarantino modeled Daryl Hannah's Elle Driver character after. Aslo in the cast is Kitty Bruce (daughter of Lenny Bruce) as Doughnut, a sympathetic hanger on type who only wishes to be accepted. She may have actually displayed the best acting chops amongst the ladies.
Switchblade Sisters (there's MUCH going on plotwise that I haven't touched upon) is one of the great exploitation pics of the '70s (meaning it's one of the great exploitation pics, period).