Beverly Michaels stars in the film noir WICKED WOMAN

What’s a young woman who doesn’t have a “penny in her jeans,” to do when she blows into town on a Trailways bus with little more than her fine figure to recommend her? Get a job at a saloon, be-friend the alcoholic saloons’ proprietress, seduce her new boss’ bar manager/husband, endure the attentions of a lecherous old man neighbor, and plan a double cross that will take her to Acapulco, of course!

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In the role of Billie Nash, Beverly (Pickup) Michaels is superior. Cold, calculating, determined. Her bad-girl diction, seething contempt, and purposeful display (she has a pulp magazine figure: think Jayne Mansfield) adds grit and gumption to a clever script—a switch-the-roles lowbrow re-write of The Postman Always Rings Twice.

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Holding up his end of the bargain—and sometimes holding up our heroine, is muscle-bound and susceptible Matt Bannister (Richard Egan), a conflicted, easy to coerce bartender. Egan and Michaels are electric onscreen: body-centric performers whose combined visual charisma imbues their larcenous endeavors with genuine heat. Adultery, fraud, and spousal abandonment are a part of the mix. So, too, are red hot tempers and front-and-center libidos: details that might get in the way of their well planned scheme.

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Will troll-like Charlie Borg (Percy Helton), a lonely and lecherous old tailor who is willing to advance Billie some money with the promise of a “date,” see what’s really going on between the two? Or perhaps Dora Bannister (Evelyn Scott), Matt’s perpetually drunk harridan bar-owner wife, sees more through her inebriated haze than she is letting on.

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A tawdry presentation of the machinations of real life—Billie shaving her long shapely legs, bleaching the roots of her platinum blonde hair, and, after a sleepless night, brushing her teeth with a swig of whiskey (!); as well as dialogue created for hoots and hollers: “Runt! Runt! Runt!,” Wicked Woman is aided and abetted by a collection of genuinely bleak-looking sets—Billie’s rented room, Dora’s bar, Charlie’s “studio,”—that are deftly navigated by director Richard (Pillow Talk) Rouse.

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Full-tilt-throttle entertainment played out in the shadow of desperation and the harsh realities, dashed dreams, and contingencies of life make for sensational viewing. “…an unquestionably graphic tome from the confessions-type magazine rack… ” concurred no less than The New York Times. That’s Wicked Woman. It’s also a gem in need of re-discovery.

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Josiah Howard

Josiah Howard is the author of four books including “Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide” (now in a fourth printing). His writing credits include articles for the American Library of Congress, The New York Times and Readers Digest. A veteran of more than one hundred radio broadcasts, Howard also lectures on cinema and is a frequent guest on entertainment news television.

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