Known for such women in prison nasties as Barbed Wire Dolls and Love Camp, Jess Franco has been pumping out films steadily since the late 1950s and at this point in his long and storied career has over two hundred films under his belt. While the content and premise of Women Behind Bars might make it seem like an ideal project for Franco, sadly it's not nearly as remarkable as the sensational title would lead us to believe.
A gang of thugs lead by a man named Perry pull off a diamond heist aboard a fancy yacht and make it away with the loot. Once they're free and clear, Perry wastes the men who helped him pull off the robbery hoping to keep the diamonds for himself. Imagine Perry's surprise when his girlfriend, Shirley (Lina Romay), finds out that he's been screwing around on him and freaks out and kills him! Shirley is sent off to a woman's prison to server out her sentence but soon finds herself in a bit of a pickle. Though Shirley killed Perry not out of greed but out of jealousy, many believe she murdered him to keep the diamonds for herself. As such, there are those who want that information - an insurance investigator named Milton Warren (Roger Darton) and the warden of the prison (Ronald Weiss) - and who will do whatever they deem necessary to Shirley in order to make her talk. The only hope Shirley has is a private investigator named Bill (Jess Franco) who has been hired by the owner of the yacht to get back the gems but Bill is under orders to kill the woman as soon as he frees her and has her lead him to the treasure.
Shot in France with a nifty cast of Franco regulars, Women Behind Bars looks nice even if the director's over reliance on the zoom lens is in full swing throughout the picture. The locations are pretty and the cinematography, while not particularly remarkable, is at least competent and somewhat stylish in spots.
While the locations are pretty enough, believable they are not. The prison which Shirley is sent to after the murder is really just a big fancy house surrounded by a cyclone fence and only two guards seem to have been assigned to securing it. From the looks of things, it would take someone in average physical condition all of about two minutes to break out of the joint! Seeing as the bulk of the picture plays out here, this winds up being a pretty significant strike against the picture.
Unfortunately, the film itself is quite dull. Yes, there is the notorious scene where poor Lina has her girl parts electrocuted and there is some softcore girl on girl coupling as well as a whole lot of nudity but not a whole lot happens in the film. It's too dull to be a good film and it doesn't offer enough exploitative thrills to work very well as a trash movie and as such it sort of fizzles out. That's not to say that the picture is completely without worth, however. The electroshock theme does leave a lasting impression and Lina is smoking hot throughout the film. Additionally, Franco is fun as the private investigator and his many fans will enjoy seeing him in a prominent action her role here. Unfortunately, that's just not enough to make this one essential, at least for the casual viewer - the Franco completists will likely find much more of worth here than anyone else.
Blue Underground's 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks nice and sharp on this new DVD. Color reproduction looks quite good and aside from a bit of mild grain in some scenes there aren't really any visible defects on the picture. Mpeg compression is never a problem and there are only a few scenes where some mild edge enhancement is present. Foreground and background detail looks nice and clear while flesh tones look lifelike and accurate.
The sole audio track on this disc is an English language Dolby Digital Mono mix and for the most part, it's fine. Some scenes sound a bit flat and the dubbing at times is a bit hokey but you won't have any problems following the dialogue. The score is mixed in nicely as are the sound effects and there are no problems with hiss or distortion at all. It would have been nice to see some of the alternate languages that exist for the film included (the German release from X-Rated Kult contained English, French and German audio tracks) but at least the quality of the English dub here is decent.
The main supplement on this disc is an interesting seventeen-minute on camera video interview with Jess Franco entitled Back Behind Bars in which the director talks about the making of the film and tells some interesting stories about its production history. Cigarette in plain view the entire time, Franco talks about his penchant for the zoom lens, his thoughts on pornography, and more. Some interesting footage of the French locations used for the film as it appears today is also included. Though Franco speaks in English, his accent is thick - Blue Underground have included optional English subtitles for this interview.
Additionally, Blue Underground has also supplied a French language theatrical trailer for the film (presented in anamorphic widescreen with optional English subtitles), some animated menus and chapter stops. The DVD keepcase is housed inside a slipcase and an insert containing the Blue Underground DVD catalogue can also be found inside the packaging.
Die-hard Franco fans and women in prison film completists are definitely going to want this one even if Women Behind Bars is far from the best film in the director's vast filmography. Blue Underground's presentation looks and sounds great and the interview with Franco is a nice bonus. Not an essential release but one that comes recommended for fans of the genre and the director (who will certainly enjoy the interview) and who know what to expect from this type of picture. Everyone else will want to rent it or skip it all together.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.