"Have you ever seen such glitter?" Joan Collins is asked at a party. "Major glitter," she responds. "Sins," the seven-hour CBS mini-series that begins its three-night run tomorrow at 8 p.m. on Channel 9, is major glitter, too. That's the whole idea. That's the only thing that passes for an idea in this preposterous and opulent farce.
Collins, also the producer, plays a rich, successful and of course ravishingly beautiful magazine publisher, Helene Junot, whose life at the top is slightly complicated by the fact that everybody wants to kill her. It seems the dear little thing made an enemy or two on the way up. "Sins" is the story of her survival and her clothing. She wears more than 35 different outfits in the course of the three-night run.
Indeed, "Sins" would be harmless foolish junk if not for a long and unnecessarily violent sequence in Part I. In a flashback to Helene's youth in occupied France, a sadistic Nazi beats and tortures her pregnant mother to death. This is depicted in appalling detail, an insensitively vicious touch for such a bubbly, baubly production.
However, we must face a fact of television life: Sadistic Nazis are the good-luck charms of TV mini-series. It seems just the presence of a nasty Nazi will add two or three Nielsen points to the ratings. This Nazi happens to be played by one of the smoothest villains now working in movies, Steven Berkoff, who played the drug-smuggling art dealer in "Beverly Hills Cop" and the torture-minded Russian in "Rambo: First Blood Part II."
As for la belle Helene, she does have her little problems in life, though one of them is never an empty closet. Raped by Nazis as she attempts to flee France, she spends her postwar days as a servant, which is how she meets Hubert the Pervert (Neil Dickson), a crazy mixed-up kid who will never forgive Helene for spurning him and for ending up in the arms of his no-account count of a father (Jean-Pierre Aumont). Father and son take turns calling each other "bastard" and splashing drinks angrily in each other's direction.
Like father, like son, in this case anyway, because the count is a sickie, too, who, when he does conquer Helene, peels off her dress and slaps her in the face. "Whore! Slut!" he snarls. But Helene escapes his clutches and meets David, also known in this picture as "David, David, oh David!" (James Farentino). "For the first time in my life, I realize what love is and how beautiful it can be," she tells him. Wouldn't you know David O. David becomes one of the first military advisers to be sent to a place called . . . Vietnam!
Naturally since he is the love of Helene's life, he is killed. Or is he? Well, you never know, but you have a pretty good hunch. Helene builds a fashion empire and becomes just fabulously rich, but then she risks everything on a new magazine, Woman of Today, and a number of surly chickens come home to roost. On her dead body, they hope.
"I'll get you for this; I swear I will!" swears Hubert the Pervert. "You'll never be free of me as long as you live!" hisses the Nazi. "I make a vow; Marcello D'Itri will avenge himself for this insult!" scowls Marcello D'Itri (Giancarlo Giannini). And so on. It gets so bad you practically have to take a number and wait your turn to threaten this creature.
Helene has her friends, too: her semicatatonic brother (Timothy Dalton); her frizzy-topped editor (Marisa Berenson); a gay photographer (William Allen Young); and poor old Gene Kelly as a composer who marries Helene but, zut alors, Hubert shows up and throws him over the balcony. Poor Helene!
Later, Helene falls in love with Joseph Bologna as an architect with a heart condition. He asks her, "How'd you learn to do that?" She says, "What?" He says, "Walk into a room and make time stop." It stops for him. Helene is such a bed-full that he keels over on the morning after, which is just enough to tick off his vindictive wife, played by Lauren Hutton. She recruits a hired killer whose ferocious Doberman is instructed to pounce on Helene and bite her face off. Helene, ma petite!
Purely perhaps by accident, or act of God, there is one affecting performance buried within this tumultuous fashion show: Allen Garfield, who plays a heavily indebted banker in love with a wife (Arielle Dombasle) who is a confirmed gemoholic. The banker mysteriously enough never considers murdering Helene as a way of solving his problems. Indeed he takes another route. His is the only character in "Sins" that might vaguely be remembered 15 minutes after the incredibly stupid thing is over.
Written by Laurence Heath and directed by Douglas Hickox, "Sins" has such distinctions as a haunting title tune sung by Carly Simon and, of course, acres of lush scenery, mostly European. Collins seems to be having her usual high time. "What are parties for, except for people to be bitchy?" she asks rhetorically in Part I; that seems to be her philosophy of performance, and "Sins" is her party.
Of course it is seven hours of television without even a wisp of substance. Collins seems to have learned from "Dynasty" producer Aaron Spelling: Assume the audience is a real dope. The tone is set in the very first shot, when the camera pans down the Eiffel Tower, very slowly, down, down, down, until we can see it all, and the magnificent city around it. And then on the screen one word is superimposed. The word is "Paris." The only thing that can come between a viewer and enjoyment of something like "Sins" is an ounce of intelligence.