The Eternal Return of Angie Dickinson


If you enjoyed Kerry Howley's sex-zoning piece, if you're a scholar of the changing (and unchanging) semiotics of gender roles, if you have a jones for Skinemax erotic thrillers featuring Peta Wilson and Julian Sands, or even if you're just an Earl Holliman fan, you'll enjoy the trailer for the Lifetime movie Human Trafficking, starring Mira Sorvino. The movie looks like a pretty standard (if well cast) issue-of-the-week piece, with Sorvino playing a tough, no-nonsense federal cop on the trail of sleazy white slavers. But it wins me over by featuring the very chestnuttiest of lady-cop chestnuts: A minute and a half into the four-minute preview, Best Supporting Actress Sorvino is already going undercover as a sexy mail-order bride, and is promptly getting smacked around by a couple of heavies.

Experts will recognize that Sorvino is just following in the stiletto-heeled footsteps of Sergeant Pepper Martin, the tough, no-nonsense L.A. cop played by Angie Dickinson in the classic series Police Woman. That show won fame and controversy by having Dickinson go undercover each week in order to catch various crooks and scumbags. Needless to say, cases in which Pepper would have to play an accountant at a shady firm or a Nobel-winning physicist targeted by foreign agents were few and far between; episodes in which Pepper had to get down and dirty as a hooker, a stripper, or an erotic masseuse, on the other hand, happened, well, just about every week. Dickinson, who had already established a pretty creditable career receiving open-hand beatings from the likes of Lee Marvin and Ronald Reagan, was always game, and always ready for a few bitch-slaps per episode. Of course, it was all in the service of justice, until those lousy feminists started going on and on with their exploitation this and promoting violence against women that, forcing the producers to tone it down (which explains why Police Woman's first season is, by nearly unanimous acclaim, its best).

In the plus ça change department, what's striking is not that these kind of exploitation tropes are still in use but that they've been drained of whatever brio and unselfconscious fun made them enjoyable in the first place. Sorvino is full of high sentence about what an important and necessary film this is, and she's probably got enough clout left to pull a Charlize Theron—playing an exploitation part but self-righteously refusing to do anything that might result in enjoyment for the audience. Yet again we see Samuel Johnson was wrong when he said that no man is a hypocrite in his pleasures.


"Female Cop Goes Undercover In Strip Club"

Joe Bob Briggs salutes Mom and Dad, the original movie that sneaked solid-gold perversity in under a tent of good-for-you uplift.