After watching this film, Judge Brett Cullum can't wait to see Paris Hilton's home movies from her incarceration.
"You won't be punished…unless you deserve it!"
Originally titled Des diamants pour l'enfer for its 1975 French release, Women Behind Bars is claimed by director Jess Franco as one of his favorite women in prison films. It stars Franco's muse, Lina Romay (Barbed Wire Dolls) in a story about a heist gone terribly wrong. Lina's lead character is sentenced to six years of hard time, and the movie chronicles her misadventures in the joint. The whole affair is standard Eurotrash cinema, and plays out like most of the films Franco made with full frontal nudity and sadistic torture scenes. Blue Underground gives this flick royal treatment on DVD, making it a must only for self-proclaimed "Franco-philles." Everyone else will find a simple standard softcore romp through prison, and little else.
Facts of the Case
The story starts off with the theft of diamonds from a Chinese boat which ends with one of the thieves shooting the rest of his gang. He returns home to his nightclub hideout, and his girlfriend (Romay) is waiting for him armed. She shoots him for the loot, and then calls the police and claims it was a "crime of passion." She is sentenced to six years in a women's prison by the sea in the south of France. It's a strange jail where the women wear short black dresses, sleep nude, and are periodically whipped and tortured with electric current shot near the genitals. The warden seems to know about the diamonds, and he's looking to find out where they are. Also looking for the diamonds is a mysterious insurance investigator who provides narration for the film.
Women Behind Bars is a standard Eurotrash exploitation flick, complete with full frontal nudity and torture scenes. It's a "by the book" narrative with a couple of twists in the final reel to keep it moving along. There's nothing about this project that makes me think casual viewers would find it the best introduction to Jess Franco. Neophytes would be better served to start with Vampyros Lesbos or Venus in Furs for a more interesting entry point, but collectors will find this one standard enough fare to enjoy it. There's not nearly enough nudity or torture, but what is here is easy to watch if you're jonesing for a trashy '70s softcore erotica fix. It's predictable, but you won't mind too much once things get rolling. There's nothing that sticks out about this one, and it seems pretty middle of the road.
One problem with the sound options is we only get the monaural English dubbed version. This is something that kills most of the performances, and it seems unnecessary to make the viewer suffer through the uninspired work of English speaking voice over artists who were probably in a rush. Of course a vintage spoiler ridden French trailer on the disc reveals a bad French dub. I'm not sure what the actors were speaking, because they are all of differing nationalities. The location shots were done in the south of France, but it appears French isn't the original track either.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Blue Underground does a nice job presenting this film despite the sound issues. The transfer is a touch dark in places, but I imagine the source print was muddy to start. The film was notorious because it was banned in the United Kingdom for the torture scenes, and here we get to see the film unedited for content (some VHS releases were trimmed). What used to be so scandalous in the punishment scenes and reason for the film to be banned now seems tame. There is an electroshock torture sequence with charge plates attached to a woman's privates, and as shocking as that would sound the way it all comes off is laughable and not at all convincing or sexy. Something like Saw would be far worse to witness and more believable, but Blue Underground gives us the full view. There is a nice seventeen minute conversation with director Jess Franco where he explains how he met the lead actress, and what inspired him to make the movie.
The best reason to check out Women Behind Bars is the film's lead Lina Romay. She's an unusual film icon, more a presence than a great actress. Romay is fun to watch no matter what she's doing because she's blank throughout. She has a steely resolve that is never broken whether she's killing her boyfriend, seducing the warden, or killing a cellmate while they're both naked. She is absolutely reprehensible because nothing matters to her, and that's why she's such a good choice for this kind of film. She's strikingly pretty and absolutely glacial. The blank canvas is her greatest strength, and in a prison movie that's what you need from a character that is hiding the truth about her true intentions.
Other than nice treatment from Blue Underground and a glimpse at Lina Romay, there's not much to recommend this title. It will appeal to fans of Franco, and those who wish to further their collection of his films. The film was shot close to 99 Women with the same cast and crew, but this one was largely improvised. I suppose this one could be seen as a semi-sequel. There is a nice interview provided which provide some insight into Franco and how he works, and Women Behind Bars is entertaining enough to hold your interest once around. I can't imagine the repeat value will be big unless you're into the torture scenes. And if that's the case, you deserve to be punished with a purchase.
Guilty of being Eurotrash sleaze that isn't nearly wild enough, Women Behind Bars is sentenced to six years of electroshock to the genitals.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
• 17 Minute Interview with Director Jess Franco
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