Directed By: Jess Franco
Starring: Lina Romay, Martine Stedil, Roger Darton
AKA: The oriignal title of the film was Diamonds to Hell
Trivia: William Berger was originally considered to play the warden
A women in prison flick directed by the late, great Jess Franco? We know what to expect from this 1975 movie, don’t we?
Actually, we don’t.
Surprisingly, Women Behind Bars doesn’t fulfill our expectations, giving us only brief glimpses of exploitative goodness in favor of a convoluted plot about stolen diamonds that, as presented, is not the least bit interesting. In the end, this film doesn’t take advantage of its main setting nearly enough; the story might just as easily have taken place in a country club.
Shirley Fields (Lina Romay) is serving a six-year prison sentence for shooting her boyfriend, a crime she claims was committed in a moment of jealous rage (after learning he had been unfaithful). But most people believe there’s more to it than that, especially since her now-deceased beau had just stolen a fortune in diamonds! In an effort to track down the missing stones, insurance agent Milton Warren (Roger Darton), whose company had insured the diamonds, travels to the south of France to interview Ms. Fields, who is being held in a prison run by the vicious warden Carlo de Bries (Ronald Weiss). Not to be outdone, warden de Bries is also after the priceless stones, and has his girlfriend Martine (Martine Stedil) pose as a prisoner in order to win Shirley’s trust. But Shirley Fields is no fool, and before the movie is over she’ll have gotten the upper hand on more than a few of her adversaries.
Women Behind Bars does offer a few of the scenes you’d expect to find in a ‘70s women in prison movie. Due to the extreme heat, all of the girls sleep in the raw, and following a poorly-staged fight in the yard one prisoner is beaten with a whip. Most shocking of all, though, is the sequence where the warden, trying to get Shirley to reveal where she’s hidden the diamonds, hooks an electroshock machine to her vagina and switches it on. These elements, as well as a clumsy lesbian scene, are all we get. For the remainder of the film, Women Behind Bars focuses on the two parties’ attempt to find the diamonds, and because it’s all presented so haphazardly, we simply don’t give a damn.
Franco obviously intended for Women Behind Bars to be something more than your run-of-the-mill prison nudie film, hoping instead to make a crime thriller with only a smattering of sex. Alas, in the end, he fails to deliver either one.