Film Review: Switchblade Sisters (1975)

SYNOPSIS:

The Silver Daggers are a gang of young hoods who control an inner-city high school, where they sell drugs and sex to the student body and fight anyone who gets in their way. The Daggers have a ladies’ auxiliary, The Dagger Debs, who rumble just as hard as the men, but one day chief Dagger Deb Lace meets her match in Maggie, a new kid who won’t back down. When a scuffle lands Maggie and the Debs in jail for the night, Maggie comes to Lace’s rescue, and Maggie becomes Lace’s new right-hand woman. However, fellow Deb Patch is jealous of Maggie’s friendship with Lace, and begins spinning a web of deceit to destroy Lace’s trust in the new deb. In the midst of the infighting, the Silver Daggers find their turf challenged by a rival gang who pose as a community action team, and the Debs join forces with a revolutionary political group.

REVIEW:

Switchblade Sisters (1975) was originally released under the title of The Jezebels

For those of you who have not heard of the film, go out and buy it. This is in my top five of best cult films I have ever seen. I’ll never forget the first time I watched it. I was eight years old and spending the night at a friends. She had fallen asleep and left the channel on Showtime. I loved the film even though I was too young to comprehend the majority of what was going on. I spent several years trying to find a title. Thanks to Quentin Tarantino the film was released on dvd years back.

I take extra special care of this incomparable gem. Now on the commentary for the film, fans out there thought Tarantino was stealing the show away from Jack Hill. I don’t know about that but I got the feel that Tarantino was simply stimulated and passionate by his love for the film and wanted to reach all aspects. Jack Hill teaches you a lot of things from this commentary. The film was initially called Jezebels (which I already knew) but when it was finally released with that title it bombed in theaters. They thought it was the title that needed changing. So then they came up with Switch Blade Sisters which works with the film a lot better. However, the film still bombed in theaters. One of the reasons I think why some people have a hard time watching the film is because there are occasions of shear corniness and bad notes.

Jack Hill’s writing style to me seemed to be right on! The dialogue was fun, smart, and quirky. Now what he purposely added on to that was a bad note making it not so perfect. The character Lace had some lines that were hysterical. The teeth clinching way she talks I thought fit her character well. She was a very stylized character. Robbie Lee’s (Lace) mother was featured in the film and this woman was actually scared of her own daughter. One of my favorite lines of the film had to be when the leader of the gang ‘Dominic’ turns on Lace and shows his true colors by saying, “Everything was lousy. YOU were lousy.

This whole gang is lousy!” What a great moment and ending with Robbie Lee’s exaggeration “IF YOU LEAVE IT’S GOING TO BE BAD!” It’s like an over the top operatic fantasy. An alternative universe almost. The idea of teenagers being in street gangs and fighting to the death and all the different kinds of exploitation genres mixed in there really had me entertained. You have a little bit of Black-Exploitation and Women in Prison Exploitation, etc… Then you have the opposing side of teenagers who are not only in a gang but into politics as well. They’re corrupt kids selling drugs to kiddies on the street but giving this persona that they’re doing good deeds. The leaders name is Crabs too. Doesn’t get any better than that. Exploitation is never dull. There are no big stars or production value. You get invested in the characters, the sex, the violence, and the over the top madness that is exploitation.

I preferred their name to be The Dagger Debbs. It just sounds much cooler than the Jezebels……which means The Whores doesn’t it? I only have one con to the film and that’s the ending line that to me was completely atrocious and lame. I always stop the film right before that line. Jack Hill was skeptical about keeping it in……I could of done without it but that’s just me.

There are so many characters here to mention but little time. Lace (Robbie Lee) will always be my favorite. Robbie Lee went onto doing voice overs for the Rainbow Brite show but didn’t have an acting career after 1988. She’s the teeth clinching, jealous, bad girl just trying to win over her man and her gang but then Maggie (Joanne Nail) comes along. Honestly, I hate Maggie.

This is what the film does to you. It starts off as good old fashion fun with gangs then about 20 minutes into the film everything shifts and everyone’s motives become clear. Everything is getting serious from here on out. Maggie comes into the picture, then there’s this whole love triangle. You find yourself getting invested in these characters. I wont spoil the ending but a deep sadness fell over me when it reached it’s climax. It seems like it was the right way for Jack Hill to go but caring for these characters, the outcome had made me so sad. I even felt sad for ‘Patch’ my second favorite character. In the end she has lost everything and wants to belong but is denied and you feel sorry for her. Plus, she lost an eye joining that gang! That love triangle between Lace, Dom, and Maggie son becomes a triangle of friends betraying friends between Lace, Maggie, and Patch. Monica Gayle as Patch was just extraordinary.

What a magnificent performance. Donut was a character I felt sorry for but was also annoyed by her eating habits and her name is Donut. When the cop calls her ‘Cup Cake’ I chuckled for about ten minutes. Lace is always slapping her around and even makes her oink like a pig. The actress was Kitty Bruce who is actually very pretty for a larger girl. She is the daughter of Lenny Bruce and was engaged to Freddy Prinze at one point. Then you have Bunny who aside from Patch is probably the prettiest. Bunny enjoys performing sexual acts in the bathrooms at school so the guys in the gang could have cash but then later turns into this bad ass bitch. Her features are astonishing. Bunny is played by actress Janice Karman who is the voice over for Theodore in the Chipmunks. Man that is fascinating. Bet you never would of guessed. Her boyfriend ‘Hook’ looks like a younger version of Donna’s father in That 70s Show. Wow, an hour after writing that I did research and silly me, it is Don Stark who plays Bob in That 70s Show. It’s unclear what happens to the character when he’s embarrassed and forced out of the gang. You never see him again. His small performance gave me smiles. This film was his second acting performance.

The action sequences are fantastic. The colors of the film are stylish and beautiful. The colors are so rich but it still attains that old feel of the 70s films. The skating scene believe it or not was filmed in only four hours. They had a limit to how long they could access the rink. I love the way it was shot. The movements of the skaters and then the whipping out of the chains twirling them around. Both sides pull out their guns and it because a tragic battle between teenagers with guns in a skating rink hahaha. As funny as it sounds this was a very serious scene. The emotions from what happens to Dom and Lace getting kicked around when you as the viewer knows she’s pregnant. In the end you find out this was all a set up.

One of the gang members on Daggers/Dagger Debbs betrayed the gang. Unfortunately, it didn’t work as well as that person planned. After this battle and Lace gets out of the hospital the girls meet with the all girl black gang and decide to come together and take on these corrupt teenage politicians selling drugs to kids on the street. The full scale battle is fun to watch! Crabs is captured by Maggie and she is going to find out who had turned on them and set everyone up. Lace and Patch arrive by her side and shoot him before he can talk giving away the betrayer in the group.

This makes Maggie suspicious and little do they know they’re about to fight to the death in the climax of the film. This whole time these girls have been fighting side by side for justice and peace on the streets. Soon they will be turning on each other and everything is going to blow up. It’s like Shakespeare. Now for the ending, as I said before I was very sad with the outcome. The music that leads up the the ending fight sequence is this slow guitar, the music is amazing. Then you see Lace getting ready. It’s a classic tragedy. Lace shows her cruelty and puts a cigarette out on Maggie’s belly button. As
cruel as she is I can’t help but be on her side. I wont go onto what happens and spoil it for you but it turns into a great knife fight and the sounds of the knife cutting the skin is amazing. The sound is so loud and powerful. You can even hear them panting and breathing.

The letter scene to me was very dark and invading. I’ve experienced a man reading my letter out loud to everyone and I was 19 so the feeling of that moment had me feeling sad knowing the invasion and embarrassment. Then you go directly to a rape scene that had a lot of controversy. Although it’s controversial I felt there was a connection between Maggie and Dom and that she may of wanted it. Yes she was pushing away but I still sensed a connection. The sad thing about the film is these women turn on each other. They begin to play each other. They don’t realize they’re better off and the men were playing them. It’s remarkable what they were putting up with.

Then they do it, they take the men out and their gang becomes more powerful but with all the jealousy and betrayal within it makes it hard to hold the gang together. Everything falls apart. It’s just so sad. These women don’t realize that they should be there for each other and overcome these things together and be there for one another. Jealousy will drive you mad and eventually it will all fall apart. The moment where Lace is in the hospital after having a miscarriage and Maggie is visiting her is when I knew it was all going to end badly. Lace is sitting there recovering and lying about how happy Dom was about the baby and how they were going to get married. You see Maggie’s face and you can tell by the look on her face what she’s feeling.

She knew Lace was lying about the guy because if he were happy with her he wouldn’t of pursued Maggie. Lace is already aware of the fact that there may be something between Maggie and Dom. Patch steps in as the villain here. None of this drama between the girls would of gotten out of hand if it weren’t for her jealousy towards Maggie stealing her friend Lace. She finally convinces Lace that Maggie is just trying to take over the gang and there was something going on between the two of them. Which results in
the ultimate battle at the climax of the film.

Everything about this film was great even down to the costuming. The invasion, rape, gang wars, women in prison lesbianism that is implied (the warden Momma made me cringe), and the tough black women. These are all great elements here. I agree 100% with Tarantino when he says, “You start out laughing at this movie, but about halfway through you realize that you actually care about these people.” If he can do that with trashy exploitation, Jack Hill is one of the most under appreciated directors of our time. Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures video collection is something for true fans. If you are able to purchase the Johnny Legend release instead, I would suggest you do so. It includes some interesting interviews at the end of the tape with Jack Hill and the two main actresses.

Switchblade Sisters (1976) is now available under the triple pack release of Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Pictures Presents DVD pack

Switchblade Sisters (1976)

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