CANNON MONTH: The Wicked Lady (1983)

Michael Winner.

Oh, Michael Winner.

He called the film “Bonnie and Clyde in the 17th century” and sure, I guess it is, but it’s also filtered through the lens of, you know, Michael Winner.

And Faye Dunaway, the star of this movie agreed, saying “I really feel it will be a fun picture. A period romp, it’s a mixture between Bonnie and Clyde and Tom Jones.” She also claimed that it was “the only film I’ve ever enjoyed making,” but hey, she was coming off Mommie Dearest, a movie that she found “harrowing” and critics destroyed.

Cannon sealed the deal by purchasing a film that Dunaway and her husband — and Winner’s friend — Terry O’Neill had wanted to make, Duet for One, which Cannon would still make with neither involved.

As for Cannon head Menahem Golan, well it all came down to money. “Stars who would never have worked with us before are now happy to sign. We pay them peanuts — but we give them big percentages. Faye, Alan and John were happy to sign for The Wicked Lady because they have 50% of the film. And we have small overheads, so they’ll get their money.”

Caroline (Glynis Barber) is about to be married, so she invites her sister Barbara (Dunaway) to be her maid of honor, but within seconds she’s scooped up Caroline’s man, Sir Ralph Skelton (Denholm Elliott). But money don’t matter tonight. She wants the thrill, so she soon hooks up with a highway robber Jerry Jackson (Alan Bates) and starts alternately having rough sex with him when she isn’t stealing from the very upper crust that she’s part of.

Of course, she also has a whip fight with future Deanna Troi Marina Sirtis that so upset British censors that they demanded it be removed. Winner refused to cut the notorious sequence, gathering luminaries such as Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz and John Schlesinger, as well as author Kingsley Amis to defend his movie. And it worked!

None of these folks had seen Winner personally cutting Sirits’ costume with scissors to ensure the most skin possible.

But hey, it was Winner’s dream to make this movie since he was a kid, as he’d loved the 1945 original but thought it needed more than to be set in a studio. He probably also wanted more woman on woman whip violence.

In the documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, Sirtis would say that she felt that this movie could have been Winner’s grab for respectability, but then he wanted so many nude women in the film.

This is the kind of movie that Sir John Gielgud picked after winning a Best Supporting Oscar for Arthur. That said — it did seem like it had some class. Some. And Winner would shoot it with cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who upset Dunaway at one point because of a camera angle issue. Cardiff got mad and demanded that Winner fire her, but Winner told him that Dunaway was the lead. So he sucked it up and made the movie. I mean, this is the man who shot The Red ShoesThe African QueenGhost Story and directed The Freakmaker. More class? How about a soundtrack by Tony Banks from Genesis? No?

So close to the original that that film’s writer Leslie Arliss is credited as a writer, this all starts over losing a brooch in a bet and turns into a life of crime. And by crime, I mean killing villagers and both poisoning and suffocating Gielgud, who is Rasputin-like in his ability to stay alive. There’s also a public hanging that — spoiler — Jackson survives, only to be murdered moments later by our female antagonist. And then she gets her heart broken.

Dunaway joked about making a sequel — Daughter of Wicked Lady — in which she would be an older and wiser Lady Barbara Skelton, who is raising a wicked daughter.

I’d watch that.

You can watch this on Tubi.

So many facts about this movie we referenced from Austin Trunick’s perfect The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1: 1980-1984. Buy this book.

You can also listen to The Cannon Canon episode about this movie here.

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