Sins (1986, Douglas Hickox) – The Joan Collins Blogathon

This post is a contribution to the Joan Collins blogathon run by Gil at RealWeegieMidgetReviews. Somehow despite her busy Dynasty schedule Collins found time to produce this glossy mini-series set in Paris. I’ve wanted to see Sins for ages, partly because I love these late 70s’/early 80s’ big-budget events and partly because this has a wonderfully eclectic cast. These kind of shows were designed to dominate an evenings viewing back in the day when there was a limited choice of networks available to people, so they’re bold and brash and there’s plenty of high drama. They feel like the natural successors to the woman’s pictures of the 1950s’, a genre that got waylaid by the breakdown of the studio system, and all that melodrama seems to have gone into TV and the prime-time soap opera. Two of my favourites are Bare Essence (1982, Walter Grauman) set in the world of professional perfume-making and A Woman of Substance (1985, Don Sharp), both of which tell underdog stories about young women trying to make it in the world of business despite their backgrounds being against them. Sins tries to tell a similar story but something’s not quite right. The frequent jumps between time-frames are disorientating and some of the narrative choices are quite frankly nuts.

What makes it worthwhile is the cast who all do their best to rise above the material. Sins is notable for being the final onscreen appearance of Gene Kelly. Some of the other names have fallen out of cultural memory as the years have passed. I am ashamed to say I don’t know the work of Jean-Pierre Aumont at all. I almost didn’t recognise Kraken-bait Judi Bowker with short brown hair, Capucine will be used to starring in French farces having appeared in The Pink Panther (1963) and What’s New Pussycat! (1965). Steven Berkoff was action cinema’s go-to psycho in the early 80s’ in films like Octopussy (1983, John Glen), Beverley Hills Cop (1984, Martin Brest), and Rambo: First Blood Part III (George P. Cosmatos), and he brings his own brand of swivel-eyed crop-headed lunacy to his role here, while Lauren Hutton makes for a glamorous love and business rival. And then there’s Sins has Timothy Dalton just a few months before he would be cast as the new James Bond.

Although the production is sold on the Dynasty connection it’s unusual seeing 80s’ era Joan Collins playing against type as some a kind-hearted soul whose strength is being a survivor rather than outmanoeuvring her opponents. Alexis Carrington-Colby-Dexter-Rowan would have wiped the floor with everybody on this show. Collins has brought onboard fellow Dynasty alumni James Farentino to play the best of her lovers, a soldier who goes MIA in Vietnam, and might have had a hand in bringing Neil Dickson onto Dynasty for a short-three episode run towards the end of season 7. This felt like an introduction for a major new character, but this went nowhere, save for a bizarre montage scene where he took Alexis on a date to a burger bar on a motorcycle while a cover of Berlin’s Take My Breath Away played on the soundtrack. I do wonder if Dickson’s character Gavin Maurier was initially intended to be the character played by James Healey in season 8. The mysterious stranger routine and the initial interactions with Alexis are very similar.

Sins takes place over four decades and follows the rise of fashion magazine editor Helene (Joan Collins) from her childhood during WWII, through her time as a fashion model in the 50s’, to her time as a journalist and the eventual launch of her flagship title Woman of Today in the 80s’, as well as a series of disastrous relationships, and the search for her brother Edmund (Timothy Dalton) who has been missing since they were separated during the war. Every decade brings a new powerful adversary who eventually all come together to form a cabal determined to destroy her. There’s sadistic former Nazi officer Von Eiderfeld (Steven Berkoff) who raided Helene’s home and killed her mother for sending messages to the Allied forces. Whiny Count Hubert Du Ville (Neil Dickson), who killed her ex-husband (Gene Kelly), her former boss Marcello (Giancarlo Giannini) seeking revenge for her taking his company and ending his career, and finally love-rival ZZ (Lauren Hutton) who blames Helene for the death of her husband. All of the ingredients are here for a decent mini-series but even with an old pro like Douglas Hickox (Theatre of Blood) directing it doesn’t come together. Sins is based on a novel by Judith Gould, a pseudonym for co-authors Nicholas Peter Bienes and Rhea Gallaher, and there’s two people’s worth of ideas in here. All of the money’s onscreen, Collins has 85 wardrobe changes, there’s lavish parties, fancy locations, but it still feels cheap. I can see now why it was difficult to get hold of for a long time.

Dynasty – The Titans (1985, Irving D. Moore)

This post is part of the Cool Rider Blogathon run by Pale Writer dedicated to the work of Maxwell Caulfield. An actor whose developed a cult following in recent years thanks to a growing appreciation for two films, Empire Records (1995, Alan Moyle), and Grease 2 (1982, Patricia Birch). Neither film was considered a success at the time but over the years both have deservedly undergone a reappraisal. I’ve chosen to write about arguably his most famous role, Miles Colby and the character’s introduction in the first six episodes of Dynasty leading up to the The Titans, the crossover episode which would launch the spin-off show The Colbys.

Dynasty had ended its fifth season in with a massive cliffhanger dubbed The Moldavian Massacre which saw the fate of every character on the show left hanging in the balance after terrorists armed with machine guns put the windows in at Prince Michael’s wedding and left everybody on a pile on the floor. Apparently there were a lot of contracts up at the end of season five and this storyline gave the producers an out should any negotiations prove problematic. The Shapiros proved ruthless when it came to killing off or replacing characters. In the end it turned out there were only two casualties, and all of the main players returned. Though viewers would notice two new faces in the opening credits sequence.

The season six opener Aftermath follows on from the events in Moldavia but it also sets up The Colbys by introducing us to Fallon Mk II (Emma Samms) and Miles Colby (Caulfield). Fallon was last seen in the form of Pamela Sue Martin losing control of her car and heading towards an oncoming truck. Now she’s in Los Angeles having lost her memory. She’s drawn to a photo in a local newspaper of a handsome young polo player but it’s the caption underneath and the name Colby that seems to trigger some meaning. She heads to the stables to see if she can meet Miles and find out if he knows anything about her. Neither Miles or her realise she’s his cousin Jeff Colby’s presumed dead ex-wife he planned to remarry before she went missing.

In the next episode Homecoming Fallon explains her amnesia and she now calls herself Randall because she saw the name on the side of the bus. Over the course of the next few episodes leading up to The Titans they’ll get one scene in each episode furthering their relationship and hinting at her past. She’ll find out she can speak French, or she can ride a horse, or a trip to the ocean triggers a flashback. Miles seems like a nice guy but he’s impulsive, even going as far as proposing marriage to an amnesiac. She wisely turns him down.

Season 5 was when the producers really began to crank up the craziness in the storylines. In its early days Dynasty mostly focused on the feud between blue-collar oil worker Matthew Blaisdel (Bo Hopkins) and oil tycoon Blake Carrington (John Forsythe). Ratings weren’t great and Blaisdel was written out of the show, missing and presumed dead after a car crash in South America. Alexis (Joan Collins) became the show’s main antagonist and the show fully embraced 80s’ excess becoming a tale of the battles of the super-rich in the boardroom and the bedroom. If any working-class people entered this world they did so as a potential threat. Nothing emphasised this more than the amiable and decent Matthew Blaisdel returning at the end of season 7 as a ruthless villain out for blood.

By the time we get to The Titans the other story arcs running include the coup in Moldavia which has led Prince Michael to falsely believe he is now King, failed Hollywood film director Joel Abrigore kidnapping Kristal (Linda Evans) and coaching her double Rita (Evans) to replace her in the Carrington household, Jeff’s search for Fallon leading to his discovery she survived the car crash buy may have perished in a bright red WWI bi-plane flown by her former lover Peter (Helmut Berger), and Blake and Jason Colby (Charlton Heston) at loggerheads over an oil pipeline deal. All will culminate with a gathering held by Blake in honour of both families at his home in Denver.

Miles has no interest in attending the party, preferring instead to focus on helping Fallon. Up until now we’ve seen the kinder side of Miles but a meeting with his twin sister Monica (Tracy Scoggins) gives us some more insight into his character. “Why do you always have to embarrass him?” Miles is the wild child, prone to acting on impulse without really thinking his actions through. Fallon might have picked up on this already because she’s bought a ticket to elsewhere and is about to board a Greyhound bus to Phoenix. Miles gets there in time but misses an important clue. She’s wearing a horrendous pair of ivory tusk earrings, a sure sign she comes from money but Miles is more interested in getting her accompany him to the gathering of the clans in Denver. Without even knowing it he’s taking her home.

Meanwhile in Denver Joel and the exiled Sammy Jo (Heather Locklear) have successfully completed their Pygmalion experiment on Rita by schooling her in every detail of Kristal’s life. “I’m an artist, a filmmaker…” he insists. Now I loved Michael Praed in Robin of Sherwood but he’s lumbered with playing an insufferable prig in Dynasty. Last season Prince Michael spent most of his time belittling his beautiful wife Amanda (Catherine Oxenberg). Now that he thinks he’s a King he’s even worse and he’s driving Amanda into the arms of the show’s resident alpha-male, gravelly-voiced big belt-buckle wearing Dex Dexter (Michael Nader). Dex also happens to be Amanda’s step-father. There’s a lot going on there. As well as cuckolding Prince Michael, Dex also suspects the King of Moldavia is still alive and hatches a rescue mission which will involve sneaking back into the country and disguising Alexis as a nun.

The extended opening credits sequence lists a massive 21 stars and the majority of them are present at the gathering including the Colby matriarchs Constance (Barbara Stanwyck) and Sable (Stephanie Beacham). There’s plenty talk of Miles with most people wondering if he’s even going to show. Jeff is solemnly staring at couples and feeling a bit lost. Monica chides him, warning Jeff not to try anything with Miles new girlfriend when they arrive because “This one could be serious.” Way to kick a man when he’s down Monica. Blake later finds Jeff hiding away in another room staring at a photograph of Fallon. Just as he’s finally ready to let go and accept she’s dead, Miles drives up in his bright red Italian sports car and delivers her to the door. Only Fallon can’t go in. She knows this house and it terrifies her. So they drive away with Jeff running after them. A dynamic that will be repeated and switched around over two seasons of The Colbys.

The Titans is peak Dynasty from an era when it was really operating at the height of its powers. Storylines in later seasons eventually began to repeat themselves and as the show fell in the ratings the budget became smaller and the cast was thinned out. Jeff and Fallon returned to Dynasty after The Colbys ended, bringing Sable and later Monica with them. I was always a bit surprised Miles never made an appearance in the last two series although the show was cancelled during its hiatus so maybe there were plans to eventually bring him back for season 10. Miles does however play a leading role in the mini-series Dynasty: The Reunion (1991), and the rivalry between Jeff and him has only become worse since they discovered they were not cousins but in fact half-brothers. Fallon is now divorcing Jeff and he’s not best pleased to find Miles at the house playing football with his daughters. “Miles Colby doesn’t know how to be civilised. He’s all mouth and temperament. He has a history of bad behaviour.” It’s like Patrick Marber’s Closer with the same couples breaking up and getting back together every few years. As much as I enjoy the new Dynasty (2017-) I do wish they’d done something similar to Dallas and brought back the original cast alongside younger actors. These three would probably still be driving each other crazy and we might have found out if Fallon really was abducted by aliens, because they just dropped that storyline and hoped nobody would notice.

Incidentally here’s some other things Maxwell Caulfield has appeared in that I really like. I mentioned Grease 2 and Empire Records at the beginning of this post and both are terrific, and his hilariously obnoxious washed-up rock star in the latter might be his best work. But he’s also great as a crazed teenager on a killing spree in The Boys Next Door (1985, Penelope Spheeris), another film worthy of critical reappraisal. Haven’t seen it since it came out and I suspect it might not have aged well but Caulfield’s very funny in The Real Blonde (1997, Tom DiCillo). I didn’t much care for what the show Beverley Hills 90210 became, but the feature length pilot directed by Tim Hunter (River’s Edge) is really good and features Caulfield in a supporting role. Any excuse to watch The Rockford Files will do and Caulfield plays an unlikely mob associate in the 1996 TV movie Godfather Knows Best written by The Sopranos creator David Chase. There’s also some decent genre stuff. A pair of Anthony Hickox horror movies, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1989) and Waxwork II (1992), plus enjoying himself in Full Moon’s Oblivion 2 (1996, Sam Irvin) as a top hat and tails wearing alien bounty hunter.

A Mug’s Game – THE STUD (1978, Quentin Masters)

“Darling he’s my masterpiece. I own him. I have turned a common waiter into one of the most fancied men in London.”

This chintzy disco-infused adaptation of Jackie Collins 1969 novel is generally regarded as a joke, but there’s two reasons I feel The Stud is so much better than its reputation suggests. Firstly Joan Collins is essentially auditioning for her role as Alexis in Dynasty, and secondly it’s got a better handle on the British class system than you expect from a film that’s usually categorised alongside 1970s’ sex-comedies or outright sexploitation films. The titular stud however remains every bit as hapless as Robin Askwith’s bed-hopping protagonist in the Confessions of movies. Tony Blake (Oliver Tobias) makes all the wrong moves in a world where he can only ever be an amusement to the rich people he serves in the nightclub or between the sheets, or a problem to be removed from their sight. Oddly it reminded me of Peter Greenaway’s The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) which feels like a more esoteric version of the same theme.

The film opens by panning across a notice board covered with photos and fond messages from women he’s been with. One of them is from Jackie Collins herself, which is very meta inserting herself into the movie and implying she slept with her own creation. Collins followed her big sister Joan into acting but her heart wasn’t in it. She had a few small roles in films and guested on shows like Danger Man and The Saint (pictured below) before turning to writing and publishing her first novel The World is Full of Married Men (1968).

The Stud was published in 1969, right at the end of a decade when popular culture and sports gave talented young working-class people the chance to move up in the world. Collins must have seen a few of these burn out. I’d imagine one of those was George Best judging by her screenplay for Yesterday’s Hero (1979), which follows a washed up striker (Ian McShane) plying his trade in the old 3rd division while drinking himself into oblivion. Tony Blake doesn’t know that’s where he’s headed. He thinks he’s got it made.

The quietly intense Tobias was best known at this point as the lead in Arthur of the Britons (1972), a gritty attempt at telling the story of the historical King Arthur made by HTV which ran for two seasons. He’d also worked in Australia on Luke’s Kingdom, which was partly directed by Peter Weir shortly after his success with The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) and Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975).

Tobias as Arthur of the Britons

The Stud opens with a reversal of a trope common in 70s British cinema. Somebody trying to sneak away from a one-night-stand without waking them, only this time it’s a woman doing the tip-toeing towards the door with her shoes in her hands. The phone rings and spoils her getaway. . He wakes up. “No bye-byes?” Tony’s patter’s pish by the way, one eye-roller after another, but he looks like Oliver Tobias so he everybody cuts him slack. She makes her excuses and tells him she’ll call. He’s happy enough to be used, he’s using them too.

Time has moved on since the novel and the disco generation has arrived. Biddu Orchestra provide the opening track which plays over a montage of Tobias getting ready for work. “Whats his name? what’s his name..Stuuddd..” He picks out a suit from a walk-in wardrobe, divides his mail into two piles then half-volleys the bills out of the door, downs a mouthful of vitamins, chooses a pair of Italian loafers, puts on a fancy watch, picks up his money-clip, grabs a tie, then he’s out the door and into his wee red sports convertible. Finally he uses the privilege afforded to him by being a handsome bastard to dodge a parking ticket.

We’ve seen Tony Blake at play. Now we see him at work albeit briefly, reworking the maitre d’s table-plan for the evening so the right people are on the right table, “Put them back in oblivion where they belong.” Then he’s out the door again when the phone rings, and the staff are all sniggering behind his back because they know the owner Fontaine (Joan Collins) has summoned him for a booty call. When he arrives she’s waiting on the balcony. She is literally placed above him in the frame and by entering this building he is being allowed to ascend to her level.

Fontaine is married to a rich businessman called Benjamin Khaled (Walter Gotell) and The Hobo nightclub and by extension Tony are her playthings. However Khaled doesn’t know Tony is anything but the bright young thing who rose through the ranks from waiting tables to managing the place. So it’s not wise of Tony to have sex with Fontaine in a lift with a CCTV security camera system which is hooked up to Khaled’s apartment.

I’m not even sure they reached the apartment. Tony’s back at the club in no time running the floor, mingling with guests and making sure everybody’s happy. Felicity is there with her boyfriend which is awkward. Disco band The Real Thing are performing onstage and the dance-floor is packed with 20-something’s having a great time. In fact I’m pretty sure that 70s’ dance troupe Legs & Co, a popular staple of late 70s’ and 80s’ light entertainment TV shows, are in there as well.

Then a problem appears in the form of potato-faced Lord Newton (Constantine Gregory) who’s turned up with two of his mates expecting a table despite having no reservation. Tony invokes a rule that single gentlemen cannot enter because it makes couples uncomfortable, a rule that seems pretty flexible because he lets two single gentlemen in while he’s talking to Newton. Something that does not go unnoticed. Lord Newton threatens to cancel his membership but walks it back as a joke when Tony accepts his resignation. Newton has apparently a history with Tony who waited on him when he was younger for little reward. “A waiter never forgets eh?” says his friend as the Lord leaves.

Neither do rich people though and every interaction Tony has in this movie comes back to haunt him. In the gents toilets he tries to convince Thane (Peter Lukas) into providing capital for a new club. They’re interrupted by a Mick Jagger lookalike rock star (played by Mick’s younger brother Chris) snorting coke. When Tony reprimands him he retorts “who ever heard of a seventy-year old rock star?” Which is funny some 41 years later because well, now there’s Mick Jagger. But faux-Mick Jagger hits him with a verbal low blow. “Seventy-year old greeters aren’t much in demand either.” Deep down Tony knows he’s right but his clumsy attempts to machinate a successful exit prove to be destructive.

The music Biddu chooses for each scene complements the film. Some of lyrics feel a little on the nose. When Tony leaves the gents after trying to engineer the deal to leave The Hobo the house band is covering Leo Sayer. “Moonlighting/They’re leaving everything/Moonlighting/They’re losing all their friends.” Then at the end of the night when only the stragglers are left and the disco kids are gone it’s slow dancing to 10cc’s I’m Not in Love. “Just because/ I call you up/don’t think you got it made.” Tony goes home with a playboy centrefold Molly (Minah Bird) but his time with her is ended by a call from Fontaine telling hims she’s coming over. A call she makes to prove to her friend Vanessa (Sue Lloyd) she can have him any time she likes. Molly’s assumes he’s a gigolo. “Hey you do this for a living huh?” Vanessa also has eyes on Tony and asks for Fontaine to bring him to one of their parties in Paris while they’re watching the security camera footage of them together in the lift. Unfortunately for Tony they notice him checking the time mid-tryst and by Collins expression we know he’s done for.

His old mates at an East End snooker club tell him as much. “You’re playing a mugs game Tony.” This from a chancer who makes a living sponging sponging off older women but he’s right. Tony doesn’t own the club, is treated as property by the actual owner, and her husband will find out sooner or later. Especially if he checks the video recorder in his apartment.

Khaled and Fontaine turn up at The Hobo just as Tony has to remove a drunken Lord Newton who had decided to treat the other patrons to a boozy rendition of the St Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V with a pair of underpants on his head before throwing a haymaker at Tony. “You’re nothing but a working-class bum in Gucci shoes.” Afterwards he sits down with Khaled and his family and meets the person who will be the architect of his destruction. It’s not Khaled, or Fontaine, but a far more cunning adversary. Khaled’s teenage daughter Alexandra (Emma Jacobs).

“Funny place wasn’t it?” Says Peter her chinless boyfriend in the car later. Although they were the ones who looked out of place, turning up at a disco club dressed like the ghosts of Victorian children who died of consumption and now haunt a large house in the country. Alexandra’s best pal Maddie (Natalia Ogle) overheard a conversation between Fontaine and Vanessa in the toilets about their plans to Shanghai Tony in Paris. She’s now watching the videotape of the two of them in the lift which Fontaine has inexplicably left in the machine. Alexandra swears revenge on Tony and her stepmother, changes out of her Victorian frock garment, and heads back to the club in more disco friendly garb to seduce Tony who falls for her hard.

In Paris Tony sits down for what he assumes will be a nice civilised meal next to the cream of French society and that he’s finally moving up in the world. Instead he finds out he’s dessert during an absurd swimming pool orgy sequence involving a trapeze (which quite frankly looks rather dangerous). Then when Leonard (Mark Burns) makes a grab for him in the pool Tony ends up fleeing from the building in a gay panic. “I thought I’d trained all that working-class taboo out of you” says Fontaine who like Victor Frankenstein is about to abandon her creation. How will I get home he wonders and Collins says goodbye with “Why don’t you fuck yourself there darling?”

By now we know Alexandra has shopped Tony and Fontaine to her father and Khaled has watched the videotape and called a divorce lawyer. So it’s even more excruciating than the scenes in Paris when he gatecrashes a Christmas party at Alexandra’s mother’s home in the country. A get together attended by a vicar, and old colonel types who react with astonishment when offered a drink he asks for a whisky and coke. “Comme en cheval” says Alexandra to Maddie which translates as “like a horse” but he’s not here to be taken advantage of. This time he’s here to be humiliated and shown his place.

So the golden boy of the clubbing scene finds himself back at home for Christmas sitting in front of the television with his elderly parents. Nobody’s taking his calls and he finds himself down by the docklands with his old snooker buddy who tells him the patrons at The Hobo have heard various rumours about him. That he’s doing the club scene up North, or he’s fled to South America. Meanwhile he still thinks he can get Thane to follow through on his agreement to help him open his own club.

The last scene is like a nightmare. Tony returns to the club for Hogmanay, but this time when he’s surrounded and pawed on the dance floor by the guests it’s framed like a horror film, as if he’s being overwhelmed by zombies. Everybody’s here, his Ghosts of Christmas past. Peter announces his marriage to Alexandra and tells Tony they’ll be holding it here. Felicity grabs him, then Molly, then Vanessa, then Leonard, spinning him round the dance floor until he’s face to face for one final kiss-off from Fontaine. Khaled has sold his share to Thane and he’s now co-owner of The Hobo. Marco has been promoted to manager. “Don’t be here tomorrow will you Tony” she says, Lord Newton dancing like a muppet in the background. Then one final misstep. Trying to attack Thane in the gents and getting a shoeing from security. It’s like a fever dream now. The countdown for the bells begins. 10, 9, 8… and Tony’s running for the exit. 7,6,5, 4, like Orpheus leaving the Underworld but there’s no reason to look back. 3,2,1 and he’s out and breathing in the London air. The doors closing behind him.

In the sequel The Bitch (1979, Gerry O’Hara) Fontaine is now divorced and returns from New York to find Marco has run The Hobo into the ground. Disco has peaked and the dance-floor is empty. Tony is nowhere to be seen but he does get a mention. If I remember correctly somebody says he’s in Huddersfield running a club but that might just be a story the few remaining punters tell to each other. The Stud never quite escaped the British sexploitation tag, but it feels closer in spirit to the TV mini-series and glossy prime-time soap operas we’d get in the 80s’ when everybody was rich and a bastard. Joan Collins would go on to star in arguably the greatest of these, Dynasty. Tobias would seem a perfect fit for shows like that as well but for one reason of not it never happened for him. Still he was very good in the Richard Carpenter scripted show Smuggler and a memorable villain in the same writer’s other hit Dick Turpin.

This post was part of the Rule Britannia Blogathon run by Terence Towles Canote over at Shroud of Thoughts.