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Blue Underground presents
Women Behind Bars (1975)

"If only she had a family, a mother or father, someone we could threaten to murder if she didn't talk."
- Milton Warren (Roger Darton)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: August 29, 2007

Stars: Lina Romay, Martine Stedil
Other Stars: Nathalie Chape, Roger Darton, Ronald Weiss, Jess Franco
Director: Jess Franco

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, violence, torture, sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:20m:33s
Release Date: August 28, 2007
UPC: 827058112598
Genre: cult

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- D+A-C C+

DVD Review

Jess Franco was a major player in the Women in Prison movie fad of the 1970s, having started off that cycle with Barbed Wire Dolls and 99 Women. His third entry in the series, Women Behind Bars, doesn't quite hold up in comparison, thanks to a somewhat ragged story that doesn't hang together and a disappointing lack of exploitation elements. Call it the worst of both worlds.

Shirley Fields (Lina Romay) is sent to prison for six years for murdering her boyfriend, Perry Mendoza. Insurance investigator Milton Warren (Roger Darton) has reason to believe that Perry was involved in a heist of a cache of uncut diamonds shortly before his death and does what he can to get the information out of Shirley, but she denies any knowledge of the whereabouts of the diamonds. But because this is a prison in a Jess Franco film, it is complete with sadistic matrons, a warden, Col. Carlo De Bries (Ronald Weiss) who enjoys having his way with the prisoners, and gratuitous torture. So when Shirley is given the opportunity to make an escape, she doesn't hesitate, but learns to her chagrin that the escape is being handled by a thug named Bill (Franco) hired by Warren, and that still more torture and mayhem lies ahead.

Unfortunately the movie feels only half-baked. Part of this is due to Franco working through improvisation rather than a script, but the result is that there just isn't enough incident on hand to fill the running time. There's altogether too much of Warren talking about the insurance business, and long languid looks at the landscape of the south of France. Some of that's fine, but the extent it's used here makes it feel like padding. Worse, the sexploitation fans will be disappointed by the level of sex and torture on display. While there's a fair amount of nudity, there's no sex at all until over half an hour in, and not even a lesbian romp until it's halfway through. And how can you make a WIP movie without a single shower scene? The prison tortures are few, with a short whipping followed up by the big set piece: electrodes attached to Romay's genitalia. But even Franco seems bored by the proceedings; during one dialogue sequence the camera wanders away from the speakers and zooms in on Romay's pubic area instead. Can't say I blame him.

Once again, Romay is required to carry a movie for Franco, but she's getting better by this point. While never an actress of much range, she does at least manage to convey a sense of spoiled eroticism, especially in a sequence in which she's attempting to seduce the warden. The supporting cast is serviceable, with Martine Stedil (billed as Martine Steed) doing fine work as the warden's mistress, Martine, who is used to get Shirley's confidence. She at least plays the role with some intelligence and charm, rather than offering bland line readings like the rest of the cast.

There's not a lot of visual ingenuity on display either, though a pedestrian tunnel borrowed for the prison entrance makes for some reasonably striking visuals. A second example is a shot of Shirley lying in her bunk, sharing a cigarette with the offscreen Martine, with the clear shadow of Martine's breast outlined on the concrete wall above Shirley's head. This is one of the pictures in which Franco gets too enamored of the zoom function on his lens, and the results can often be headache-inducing. The WIP genre isn't everyone's cup of tea, and this certainly isn't one of the better entries in the genre on nearly any front, though it is obviously a must for Lina Romay fans. The IMDB lists this picture as having a 75-minute running time, so this is likely be the most complete version available, running over five minutes longer.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: D+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Blue Underground works miracles again with its anamorphic widescreen presentation of a low budget exploitation movie. There's hardly a speckle visible, and no serious damage of any kind. Edge enhancement is also not present in any significant amount, though a little aliasing is occasionally visible on pans of the landscape. The color palette is fairly limited, so there's not a lot of opportunity for vivid color; most of the prison interiors are shot in a greenish light that is modestly disturbing and effective.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The sole audio track is regrettably an English dub that makes no effort to match lip movements. That said, it's reasonably clean and without significant noise or hiss, for what that's worth. Range is limited, and Daniel White's score seems a bit clipped at times. It's a decent representation for what it is, but probably not the optimal audio track.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:48m:57s

Extras Review: The best extra is a 17-minute interview with Franco, as he holds forth on the genre, the influence of Prison Without Bars (1938), and his love for erotisme but disdain for pornography (never mind that he spent much of the 1980s filming porn). He discusses the improvisatory nature of the film, which he regards as one of his best WIP pictures and answers charges that this movie was made up of trims from Barbed Wire Dolls, offering a plausible technical response as to why this is impossible. Franco's often a good interview, and he obviously loves talking about movies. There's also a French trailer under the name Prison de femmes.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

An overly loose and incoherent WIP movie that doesn't generate much exploitation interest either. Blue Underground's transfer is quite good, though, and the interview with Franco is the best part of the DVD.


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