Friday, January 8, 2010

★★★ WOMEN IN CHAINS (Made for TV)

a.k.a. Terror in Block C

Thanks in most part to Roger Corman the early 70's were the golden age of women in prison films. Paramount Television and Star Trek producer Edward K. Milkis tried to quench America's thirst with this ABC Movie of the week that originally aired on January 25th, 1972.

Pioneering female filmmaker Ida Lupino reprises her matron role from 1955's Women's Prison, this time as the evil Claire Tyson. An old spinster who refuses promotion, Ms. Tyson runs a cell block with an iron fist. Inmates who cross her wind up dispatched.
After a mysterious inmate suicide, parole officer Sandra Parker (Lois Nettleton) goes undercover to investigate. Assuming a new identity with a criminal record, Sandra becomes trapped on the inside when the only coworker who knows her whereabouts is murdered on the outside. Sandra's meddlesome questions about inmate abuse get the attention of Tyson who targets her for elimination.

Sure, the plot has some goofy gaps in logic, the editing is overly dramatic and the characters are one dimensional but that's part of Women in Chains campy charm. It succeeds in exploiting every possible angle allowed by censors within a prime time melodrama. A delousing, mess hall catfight and one spectacular riot are all surprisingly well handled by television director Bernard L. Kowalski. As a modern update of gritty 50's Prison dramas, the production hits the right notes thanks to Ida Lupino's campy over the top performance. Originally the producers offered the role to another W.I.P. veteran, Eleanor Parker from Caged who rejected the part. I'm glad she did.
Jessica Walter who you might recognize from Clint Eastwood's Play Misty for Me (1971) or more recently Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development is also memorable as sultry queen bee Dee Dee. If you want to see more of Ida Lupino, just check the listings on TCM which often has her work in heavy rotation. I highly recommend the 1953 film noir, Hitch-Hiker which she wrote, produced and directed.
Women in Chains isn't commercially available on VHS or DVD but I was able to stream it for free at:


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