AUTHOR’S NOTE: This James Bond-influenced made for TV movie/pilot features Bette Davis and is totally worth watching. We originally posted it on December 4, 2018 and have edited it in this post and added new links so that you can stream it for free.
Originally broadcast on January 15, 1972, this film emerged at the tail end of the superspy craze to present a truly insane idea for a weekly series that was never to be: Bette Davis as a villainous vixen who commands an army beneath the Scottish highlands to do her bidding. Imagine if Dr. Evil were the lead in his own show and you have a vague idea of how completely bonkers this movie is.
Arming her men with sonic weaponry and possessing the ability to implant memories that make people do whatever she wants, what the titular vaguely Asian spider lady wants is to get her very own nuclear submarine.
Helping and hindering her in this plan is Anthony Lawrence (Robert Wagner), whose father was a past lover/adversary of Madame Sin. She’s helped by Malcolm De Vere (Denholm Elliot) and a huge army of sycophants, including numerous women who dress like nuns.
If it seems like I am describing a dream I had that is my best film idea ever, this is close. Imagine if Bette Davis were a villainess on The Avengers, but one that — spoiler warning — wipes out every single person who faces her and even dares to imagine kicking the British Royal Family out of Buckingham Palace.
While intended to be an ABC in the U.S. and ITC in the U.K. co-production, this film sadly wasn’t picked up. It’d be hard to see this level of quality continued week in, week out, such as shooting everything at Pinewood Studios.
Madame Sin was directed by David Greene, who was also behind the film version of Godspell and big TV event movies like Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man. One of its writers, Barry Shear, was the director of Wild in the Streets.
Ah the 1970’s, when spy movies like this would just show up as Movies of the Week and then disappear into the ether, only to remain in our subconsciousness or perhaps a replay on the CBS Late Movie.