19 November, 2023


Directed by Jess Franco (credited to Rick DeConninck). Cast: Lina Romay (Shirley Fields), Roger Darton (Milton Warren), Martine Stedil, Ronald Weiss, Ramon Ardid(Perry Mendoza), Denis Torre, Jess Franco (Bill, a hitman). aka: UNA SECONDINA IN UNA CARCERE FEMMINILE (Italian version). --Perry Mendoza, a smalltime hood, orders a raid on the yacht of millionaire Rufus Hackerman. His men escape with a cache of diamonds. Mendoza eliminates his associates and keeps the diamonds for himself. When he returns to his club, girlfriend Shirley Fields (Romay) summarily executes him and immediately turns herself in to the police.
This is a legendary Franco title, not so much for what it is, but for how it supposedlycame into being. While shooting FRAUENGEFANGNIS (BARBED WIRE DOLLS) for Swiss producer Erwin C. Dietrich's Elite Film, Franco decided to clandestinely shoot another WIP film simultaneously utilizing some of the same cast members and sets. The story was that he simply shot the alternate film as slightly different takes, using short ends and leftovers of the film he had been allotted. He then cut it together and sold it to Italian producers to whom he owed money behind Dietrich's back. What actually happened was Franco shot a totally different film, using some cast members from FRAUENGEFANGNIS, which was a considerable success for Dietrich. When the producer discovered Franco's subterfuge he managed to forgive him, while deciding to keep a closer eye on the wayward director during future shoots. However, both films have totally different stories and characters. Also there are no alternate takes or short ends or footage from BARBED WIRE DOLLS. The main location was down the coast from the fort where FRAUENGEFANGNIS was shot. A small town on the Southern coast of France where people who can't afford Nice congregate. A number of exposition scenes are set in the low rent Hotel De Gregorio, which was obviously a convenient production center for this termite Women-in-Prison affair.
WOMEN BEHIND BARS is as amusing as the tale behind its production. A kinder, gentler version of Franco's previous WIP formulae; it's a breezy parody of Euro grade Z crime films. The opening raid on the Chinese junk by masked gunmen is indicative of what is to come-- a wild montage of fitful zoom shots of the bandits running in and out of compact cars, down stone steps onto a beach where a hastily staged shootout occurs. Everything looks like it was filmed in single takes, and probably was. The prison sequences mostly consist of sado-sexual encounters between Lina Romay (looking trim and tricky here), the catlike Martine Stedil, and the oafish Ronald Weiss (the philosophical warden who ends up getting shot by Franco himself, appearing as a nervous hitman). There are all kinds of odd visual details here which continue to register after viewing, like an oversized telephone in Weiss'office, or the electric torture device used on Romay, which looks like a soundboard hijacked from the editing studio. Roger Darton turns in a droll performance as Milton Warren, a corrupt insurance investigator sent to get back the diamonds. His dry narration gives the rather predicatable storyline a much needed ironic spin.
My favorite sequence is a minimalist prison break which begins with Romay teasing Weiss to distraction, then marching him out past his heavily armed guards with his own gun pointed at his head. It's a sexual variation on the classic breakout scenes from the old Warners prison dramas. Daniel J White's elegant, modulated piano and organ score (which was recycled for some 1980's Franco productions) keeps the action percolating, providing atmosphere and versimultitude to a venture which seems mostly have been shot in a hotel room and a prison cafeteria set. Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable trifle which may actually make you want to rush off and check in at the Hotel Don Gregorio. Note that prolific English language dubber and Rome based dubbing director Richard McNamara voices the hit man played by Jess Franco. McNamara was also responsible for the English language dub of Franco's 1971 DRACULA PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN> Reviewed by Robert Monell (New Version: 2023)

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