DVD Release Date: Aug.
= Highest Rating
the interview featurette on Blue Underground's new DVD, Jess
Franco hails Women Behind Bars
as his personal favorite of the many WIP (Women in Prison) movies
he directed over the years. For the life of me I can't understand
why. It's not a good film, nor is it entertainingly cheesy.
Euro-sleaze aficionados aren't going to see anything they haven't
seen a couple of hundred times before. Other than some nice
location shooting in the south of France (subbing for an unnamed
Central American country) the production is conspicuously impoverished-looking.
The performances, for the most part, range from wooden to just
plain awful, while the story a melding of heist melodrama
and standard WIP conventions (no shower scene, though!) isn't
especially interesting. For lack of a better term, Women
Behind Bars is just... blah.
film at least features Franco muse Lina Romay (Doriana
Wire Dolls) in the central role, back when she was still
the svelte young hottie. She plays Shirley Fields, a woman sentenced
to six years in prison for the killing of her boyfriend Perry
Mendoza. Shirley claims she caught Mendoza cheating on her and
in the heat of the moment accidentally shot him to death. The
truth is quite a different story. Mendoza was the leader of
a criminal gang that stormed aboard a millionaire's yacht and
made off with a fortune in uncut diamonds. During the getaway
he turned on his comrades and murdered them so as to avoid having
to split the take. Shirley, who was in on the scheme, then did
the same to him. (No honor among thieves, as the saying goes.)
She alone knows where the gems are hidden.
The police, unable
to pin the heist on the dead boyfriend, have to take Shirley's
word for what happened. She freely admits to killing Mendoza
in a jealous rage but claims to know nothing about any missing
diamonds. On the day she's transported to the prison to begin
serving her sentence, insurance investigator Milton Warren (Roger
Darton) arrives in town, keen to talk with her. Sent to get
a lead on the diamonds by the company that insured them, Warren
firmly believes that she killed Mendoza to keep the loot for
herself. But the brief interview he's able to arrange with Shirley
produces nothing since she sticks doggedly to her original story.
The insurance dick
isn't the only person interested in her. The prison's urbane
but sinister warden, Colonel de Bries (Ronald Weiss), is aware
of Shirley's case and he, too, suspects her complicity in the
robbery. He wants the diamonds, of course, but adding the sultry
brunette to his roster of sexual playthings is an additional
incentive. To this end he employs his main squeeze among the
inmates, Martine (Martine Stedil), to gain Shirley's confidence
by any means necessary. Meanwhile, on the outside, a ruthless
troubleshooter named Bill (Franco himself, billed as "Clifford
Brown") plots a way for Shirley to escape. Hired by the
millionaire who was robbed, Bill wants her out so she can lead
him to the diamonds, after which she is to be killed...
Behind Bars actually has a plot to work with Franco seems
completely disinterested in it
tension and suspense are virtually nil. Strangely, he doesn't
really ramp up the sleaze factor either. There's the de rigeur
lesbian sex scene and plenty of nudity to be sure (the inmates
all just happen to sleep buck naked on top of the blankets),
but not near as much as found in Franco's other '70s WIP pics.
The sadism that goes hand-in-glove with the genre is limited
to just two scenes: the protracted whipping of a tangential
character (one of Shirley's cellmates) and Romay's torture by
Gestapo-style electroshock to the genitalia. These are effectively
even if the latter does go on a bit too long
but won't be enough to satiate anyone looking to this film expressly
for sexploitative grindhouse excess.
If you have a problem
with Franco's penchant for zoom shots then this movie definitely
isn't for you
it might send you into fits of apoplexy. It also suffers noticeably
from a malnourished budget, a familiar problem the inventive
Franco was usually able to work around or even occasionally
turn to his advantage. Not so in this case. Since Women
Behind Bars does not fall into the realm of so-bad-it's-good
cheese (no rubber monsters, toy spaceships, goofy dialog or
spastic fight scenes/dance numbers to laugh at), it merely looks
tacky and poorly improvised. The location used as the prison,
for example, isn't believable for a minute; the perimeter wall
is just a chain link fence with sheet metal clamped onto it.
(With all of two guards patrolling the place.) Yet another
woe is the dreadful, mostly inappropriate score by frequent
Franco composer Daniel White. It seems to belong in another
Since the majority
of his work is an acquired taste, the phrase "for completists
only" applies to many of Jess Franco's nearly 200 films.
Women Behind Bars fits squarely
into that category. Admirers of the sexy Romay, or people who
just like to watch naked chicks smoking, will probably get the
most out of the experience.
to be expected, Blue Underground delivers a clean and colorful
anamorphic transfer of the film (in its original 2.35 AR) complimented
by a satisfactory (dubbed) English mono audio track unsullied
by static, distortion or dropouts. Generally one can't ask for
much better in regard to super-obscure European titles; from its
very inception BU has been a consistent leader in this field.
consist of the subtitled French theatrical trailer and yet another
excellent interview featurette with the iconoclastic Franco. In
the 17-minute Back Behind Bars, the elderly director
omnipresent cigarette in hand proves that his memory remains
sharp and his opinions even sharper. He discusses not only Women
Behind Bars but WIP films in general (referencing some
of his notable contributions to the genre), his first meeting
with Lina Romay, and his thoughts on hardcore pornography vs.
softcore eroticism. He also defends his frequent use of the zoom
lens and dispels the rumor that Women Behind
Bars is partially composed of trims from Barbed
Wire Dolls (also made in 1975, for Swiss producer Erwin
C. Dietrich). Subtitles are helpfully provided even though Franco
speaks in English (his accent is very thick); clips from the film
plus "then and now" location comparisons are woven throughout.