Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


WOMEN'S PRISON (1955). Director: Lewis Seiler.

"They never get things right in prison pictures."

Convicted of vehicular manslaughter after accidentally killing a child, neurotic Helene (Phyllis Thaxter of The Sign of the Ram) is sent to a women's prison adjacent to a men's penitentiary. Her fellow inmates include Joan (Audrey Totter of The Saxon Charm), whose husband manages to cross over to see [and impregnate] her, returnee Brenda (Jan Sterling of Johnny Belinda), Mae (Cleo Moore of One Girl's Confession), and Dottie (Vivian Marshall) who does pretty bad impressions of Bette Davis and others but does a fairly good job of imitating Ida Lupino, who just happens to play the neurotic and slightly evil Amelia van Zandt, a prison official who lords it over the women's compound. All hell breaks loose when van Zandt is told she better find out how Joan's husband, Glen (Warren Stevens) managed to get in to see her [we never find out] and she begins slapping around the pregnant woman, raising the inmates' ire and leading to a fairly exciting climax. Women's Prison is the kind of junk movie that pretends to have some kind of social conscience while parading superficial platitudes and one-dimensional characters who have little basis in reality. Ida Lupino, with her mostly arch overplaying, does the best she can with terrible material; her real-life husband, Howard Duff (Dante), comes off much better and is quite good as the compassionate prison psychiatrist who thinks van Zandt is a psychopath. Thaxter is fine, but except for scenes when she's victimized gets little chance to etch a real character, and Ross Elliott is also good in his brief turn as her husband. Sterling and Totter aren't bad and Cleo Moore is Cleo Moore. The big trouble with this picture is that it isn't even very entertaining.

Verdict: A pretty bad "Bad Girls" picture. **.

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