Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop is a masterpiece of not just an action sci-fi film, but a satiric take on law enforcement and standards for justice in America. While it’s iconic in its own right because of the clever writing and direction by Verhoeven, the Dutch director did have some misunderstandings when it came to English colloquialisms.
When writing the scene where Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith of That 70’s Show) busts into Bob Morton’s (Miguel Ferrer) screenwriter Edward Neumeier simply referred to the escorts in Morton’s apartment as “Bitches”. This led to the iconic line “Bitches leave” in the script.
“Does he look like a bitch?”
Now, while we all know what the word refers to, especially in the age of chronic internet, Verhoeven at the time was not a native English speaker and was unaware of what the word “bitches” meant. Remember this is seven years before Samuel L. Jackson asked the pivotal question in Pulp Fiction, so it’s not like the slang was popularized worldwide yet.
Nevertheless, those in the room knew what the word meant when shooting the scene, which lead to a little shock when Verhoeven started referring to the actresses as “bitches” for the rest of the shoot. According to actors Smith and Ferrer, Verhoeven was obviously not being offensive at the time, but just a little lost in translation.
Smith recounted Verhoeven speaking to the actresses between takes, with the actresses not paying any mind to his use of the word. Verhoeven had been known to refer to actors by their characters while shooting scenes as well, notably having to stop not long into filming because of how insistent Peter Weller became on it.
Improv Leads To Gold
Interestingly enough, the “Bitches Leave” line wasn’t even in the original script. The two actors just thought the exchanges were so incredibly hilarious they had to use them, leading to Kurtwood Smith improvising that singular, memorable line of dialogue. Isn’t localization fun?
Ferrer’s story of Verhoeven calling wrap on the scene and complimenting the Bitches is also surprisingly wholesome? Hey, it’s better than almost killing your actors instead.
It’s not like the scene has aged badly either. The movie is meant to be a little over the top since it’s a futuristic satire, and everyone was aware so it’s played for camp laughs. Age has even made it better, with so many younger generations knowing Kurtwood Smith as Red Foreman from That 70’s Show and That 90’s Show.
The ribbon on the whole scene though, the absolute cherry on top, is when the Bitches leave, with one casually saying “Gee Bobby, bye.” in the most unbothered, monotone voice she can. Consider this woman running past some stranger holding the man, who just paid her for a night of god knows what, at gunpoint. Just another Tuesday in Detroit.
While that line is iconic of course, Robocop as a whole has aged incredibly well. The satire of American justice systems and police is not so satire anymore, quickly moving into real-life territory while still showing it can get worse. That said, it’s also a film full of damn fine action and writing while having some of the most ridiculously brutal scenes possible.
Also, hot take, Robocop 2014 isn’t as bad as people remember. It’s not memorable, sure, but there was a good attempt at an underlying message on drone warfare and private interest in war, it just needed better pacing. I’ll die on this hill.