Women's Prison

Dir: Michele Lupo
Star: Ida Lupino, Howard Duff, Phyllis Thaxter, Jan Sterling

While this may have been made half a century ago, apart from the lack of skin, it's surprising how little WIP films have changed. Tick off the essential elements: evil warden (Lupino), whimpering newcomer (Thaxter), kind staff member on the side of the inmates (Duff), and the brassy veteran (Sterling), back inside once more. Adding an extra angle here is the presence of a men's prison just over the wall; inmate Glen Burton is desperate to talk to his wife Joan, and tell her where he hid his loot. Up until the end, this is largely a sideline, with the main thrust being Lupino's brutal treatment of the inmates, especially the new fish and Joan Burton, whose communication with her husband goes beyond information, leading to an unexpected pregnancy. Whoops.

Okay, "brutal" is relative, and compared to the predatory tactics of later wardens (Sybil Danning, Brigitte Nielsen, etc.), Lupino would probably be thought of relatively kindly. She's strict, sure, and her tendency to describe any troublesome inmate as a "borderline psychopath" is questionable, but do these women expect a holiday camp? There's no surprises as the storyline develops. Just like they've done for the past fifty years, the jailbirds are finally pushed too far, and explode against repression - though like "brutal", "explode" is relative, given the kinder, gentler age when this was made. However, the characters are fun, and this gallops along at the pace required by a running time below 80 minutes.

February 2005

Babes (and bozos)
behind bars
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