Normally, I select one character to spotlight in the Bad Girls We Love posts, but this time I’m throwing all the love at one legendary actress who has made a career out of playing the bad girls we love: Dame Joan Collins, or Joan Fucking Collins, as her fans affectionately call her. Or maybe that’s just me, but I’ve been calling her that for so long I’m hoping it’s at least caught on with my classier readers.
Astute followers of this blog will recall that Joan’s character Joanne Clayton from the 1972 Tales From the Crypt horror anthology was lavished with praise here last December. Well, one can never lavish enough praise on Dame Joan, who has played enough bad girls to fill an entire series of posts all on her own. Hell, I would rename it The Joan Collins Endowed Chair of Bad Girls We Love Series if it wasn’t so wordy.
Let’s take a little survey of some of Joan’s finest bad girl roles. While no where near comprehensive, it’ll serve as a nice primer on some of Joan’s most deliciously devious performances. I’m looking mostly at her late 1960s-1980s performances, which is really the sweet spot for Joan’s best bad girl performances. It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: no one plays deliciously devious women quite like Joan. No one makes it look sexier either, which is part of why we love her morally challenged characters. Who wouldn’t want one of Joan’s femme fatales to toy with them like a cat teases a mouse before devouring it? This is Joan Fucking Collins’s world, after all. We’re just living in it.
The Siren, Batman (1966-68)
To describe viewing the camp classic 1960s Batman television series in reruns as a preschooler in the late 1970s as seminal would still be an understatement. It really served as a gateway drug to a lot of my interests as a child—and beyond. Superheroes, comic books, camp, and of course bad girls. The show was positively bursting with playfully sinister lady villains—none more memorable than Julie Newmar’s purrrfect Catwoman—plus most of the male villains always supplemented their henchmen crews with a requisite gun moll. The show was lousy with bad girls, I tell ya, including the future Queen of Bad Girls herself.
Joan Collins was about a dozen years into her acting career when she appeared in consecutive season three episodes of Batman as the criminal chanteuse Lorelei Circe, aka the Siren. Lorelei possessed “the ability to mesmerize any man to do her bidding by pitching a high note two octaves above High C with her voice.” It’s not much of a stretch to imagine Joan as a sorceress with the power to hypnotize men to do her bidding, is it? We call this perfect casting. And I can attest to her powers being true, too! As a boy, I sat completely gobsmacked in front of the TV, not only because of Joan’s lovely and ridiculously sexy voice, but also thanks to her truly stunning beauty. Watching her elegantly glide through the show’s pop art set designs in a shimmering silver minidress and Amazonian style boots was mesmerizing. This would’ve been the first time I ever laid eyes or ears on Dame Joan and it was a formative moment. Honestly, her performance as the Siren is probably a big reason the Bad Girls series even exists.
Joanne Clayton, Tales from the Crypt (1972)
As mentioned above, I covered this one in detail last year and you can read it here. Suffice it to say, Joan’s segment of the Amicus horror anthology film (“…And All Through the House”) is a truly nasty little morality tale in the EC Comics tradition. It just works so well that it’s basically a perfect (very) short film. Joan is in almost every frame of the running time and she’s utterly magnificent. It’s an annual holiday season watch for me and, frankly, should be for you too. Here it is, for your demented holiday viewing pleasure:
Marilyn Fryser, Empire of the Ants (1977)
In the seventies and into the early eighties, animals and insects were running wild. attacking people all over the globe, or at least it seemed that way if you watched a lot of movies or read a lot of books. The massive success of Jaws (1975) propelled this sub-genre of horror into high gear for a few years, as everyone and their brother tried to cash in on the craze. These books and movies were everywhere. Even Dame Joan couldn’t escape the seventies without appearing in a movie with gigantic killer ants. In Empire of the Ants, loosely adapted from the H. G. Wells story of the same name, Joan plays an unscrupulous con artist out to swindle gullible investors in a fake housing development scheme. Marilyn is refined, glamorous, and deliciously haughty, like many of Joan’s bad girls, and part of the charm here is watching her slum it with the people she was trying to scam, as everyone fights to survive the sudden onslaught of homicidal ants. After all, it’s no picnic!
Brigitte, Poliziotto senza paura, aka Magnum Cop, aka Fearless, aka Fatal Charm (1978)
As exotic dancer Brigitte in the Italian crime flick Poliziotto senza paura (1978), known elsewhere in the world as Magnum Cop, Fearless, or Fatal Charm, among many other titles, Joan doesn’t disappoint. Our introduction to Brigitte (sadly, not until more than a half hour into the movie) is watching her shake her moneymaker onstage at the strip club where she works. This role is really built around Joan’s sizzling sex appeal. As usual she looks strikingly beautiful in a series of stunning outfits. The convoluted plot (typical of Italo-crime films of the 1970s) is just decipherable enough to gather that Brigitte is complicit in some illegal activity.
When she’s caught by star Maurizio Merli, as the movie’s private investigator/ladies man protagonist, things get a little kinky. At gun point, he forces her to strip off her clothes. Normally she only does that for money, but a gun aimed her way will suffice too, so Brigitte complies. Then the PI taunts her by running the barrel of his gun along her exposed flesh, while she appears to be both terrified and turned on by the entire affair. It’s quite a moment for Joan fans. I really can’t recommend the movie enough, mostly for Joan, but also because it’s batshit crazy, with some seriously atrocious vocal dubbing to put it right over the top.
Fontaine Khaled, The Stud (1978) and The Bitch (1979)
When your bestselling novelist sister gives you the rights to option two of her books into films, and both feature one of the juiciest roles of your career, you jump at the chance. That’s what Joan did once she secured financing for adaptations of Jackie Collins’ The Stud and The Bitch. Released in 1978 and 1979, respectively, these films allowed her to truly shine as one of the sexiest bad girls she’s ever played. At the start of The Stud, Fontaine Khaled is married to a wealthy Arab businessman whose money fuels Fontaine’s hedonistic lifestyle in London. In her day, Fontaine would’ve been referred to as a “nymphomaniac” who enjoys treating her young male lovers like playthings. Today we just call her a woman who knows what she wants and takes it.
Across two racy films—the pool orgy scene in The Stud is fairly legendary—Joan seems to be having a blast as the carnal creature Fontaine. When she isn’t disco dancing in glamorous dresses, she’s seducing men in bed, or in the back of limousines, in her skimpiest, sauciest lingerie. And that’s when she’s not naked and doing the deed with various men in various locations. Joan was 45 and 46 when she made these two films, which only adds to her fabulousness as Fontaine for all of us forty-somethings.
Groovy soundtracks, gorgeous wardrobes, and sumptuous designs are enough to overcome fairly flimsy narratives in both films. Ultimately though, it’s Joan Fucking Collins that makes these films cult classics. As showcases for Dame Joan (and her body), they don’t disappoint.
Alexis Colby, Dynasty (198-1989)
Fresh off her back-to-back scorching hot turns as the sex bomb Fontaine Khaled, in 1981 Joan landed her career-defining role in Dynasty at age 48. Alexis Colby is a role Joan was born to play, and for a decade she did just that, helping to make Dynasty one of the most popular and successful nighttime soaps of all time.
Dynasty made Joan a global sensation as the scheming, ruthless Alexis, forever a thorn in the sides of her ex-husband Blake Carrington (John Forsythe) and his current wife Krystle (Linda Evans). Joan tackled the role with her usual tenacity, delivering every snarky quip with zeal. The entire show influenced eighties fashion, but no character looked more glamorous than Alexis. Her constant rivalry with the statuesque blonde Krystle was the show’s main draw. Joan has mentioned she and Evans never got along that well off camera, which probably only made their onscreen verbal sparring and all the rolling around, punching, and hair pulling they did during their epic cat fights more realistic.
Dynasty is the pop culture reference most everyone under a certain age will make whenever Joan Collins’s name is mentioned. Alexis was a perfect fit for her acting strengths and definitely cemented the public perception that she was one of the ultimate onscreen bad girls. As we’ve seen though, she had already established her credentials in that department, and continued to do so after Dynasty ended.
In 2001, at age 68, Joan returned to the London stage with the farcical comedy Over the Moon. While she wasn’t exactly playing “bad” she did snap on garters and thigh high stockings just like Fontaine Khaled and, I might add, looked every bit as hot in them as she did 22 years earlier. In a mostly negative review from The Guardian, Lyn Gardner wrote, “You have to admire Collins’s determination to grow old disgracefully and refusal to act her age, but here she barely bothers to act at all, letting her famous legs do all the work.” Ha! Somewhere, Fontaine, Alexis, and the rest had a chuckle over that backhanded compliment. I’m sure Dame Joan Collins herself did, too. She’s 89 now, and it’s still her world. We’re just living in it.