Beautiful secret agent Lavinia Kean (Cornelia Sharpe) specialises in infiltrating criminal gangs, often by seducing their male ringleaders. After busting a mafia operation in Rome, international authorities call on her to cosy up to playboy billionaire wine merchant Count Cesare Magnasco (Omar Sharif), who seems up to no good. Aided by frankly camp sidekick-cum-masseuse Lacey (William Traylor) and handsome Italian agent Rudolf Caserta (Fabio Testi), Lavinia discovers Magnasco and his friend Owen Hooper (Robert Lansing) have hatched a dastardly scheme to destroy the world's fuel resources with a poison that converts oil into sludge.
A feminist James Bond seems such an obvious idea yet strangely few filmmakers managed to make much out of the concept. Aside from the surreal misfire of Joseph Losey's comic book-inspired Modesty Blaise (1966), neither Stephanie Powers on television as The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. nor Raquel Welch in Fathom (1967) set a high bar for independent women and though Jennifer Garner and Piper Perabo were undoubtedly kick-butt goddesses on Alias and Covert Affairs the tone of their respective shows was one of angst-ridden action rather than devil-may-care intrigue in the vein of the early Bond films. By comparison, S+H+E: Security Hazards Expert strikes a definite Bondian tone right down to the poster art with Lavinia in a provocative pose pairing the familiar tuxedo with fetching short-shorts, an outfit she sadly only dons for the closing scene though sporadic light nudity and a skintight catsuit deliver some compensation. Sorry, what was I saying about feminism?
Conceived and scripted by Richard Maibaum, the writer behind many of the best Bond movies, S+H+E was a joint Italian-American venture (hence the inclusion of spaghetti action idol Fabio Testi and Italian commandos riding to the rescue at the climax) produced by Marty Bregman as a vehicle for his wife Cornelia Sharpe. It is quite a departure from his grittier fare with frequent collaborator Al Pacino including Serpico (1973) wherein Sharpe played the girlfriend of the titular iconoclastic cop. Save for a ripe disco score by Michael Kamen, S+H+E comes across like a movie out of its time. Campy humour and cheesy dialogue create a retro-Sixties feel that is quite charming, even though pedestrian direction from television veteran Robert Lewis leaves this looking stolidly televisual in spite of what was evidently a substantial budget.
It is stilted in parts with an uncertain tone neither an out-and-out spy spoof nor necessarily serious. While there are gadgets, globe-trotting action and stunt sequences in abundance, the plot is marred by a notable lack of danger. One never senses Lavinia Kean is in any kind of peril. Squabbling villains Magnasco and Hooper aren't much of a threat while the inclusion of a hulking Russian lesbian hench-woman (Isabella Rye) is just silly. Top-billed Omar Sharif runs through the same suave master criminal routine he perfected long ago in The Burglars (1971) while a stern-faced Anita Ekberg spits venom as Dr. Else Biebling, a mad scientist who sends out a poisonous remote-controlled golden bug against love rival Lavinia.
The film undoubtedly gives lovely Cornelia Sharpe ample chance to shine, donning disguises and different accents or doling out campy one-liners worthy of Mae West. She is tough and sexy and much like James Bond proves less than reticent in pursuit of the opposite sex. In fact Lavinia goes downright ga-ga for handsome hunks which while undeniably kitsch marks a refreshing break from the misogyny of most male super-spies. Although Italian aide mentions several times he would like Lavinia to settle down and make bambinos, happily the conclusion makes it clear she still has a taste for adventure. Judging from the muted response, audiences weren't quite as enthusiastic, though the film remains an likeable curio.