”File out, you tramps!”
I absolutely love this movie. As host Alan Rode mentioned in his intro, this film tends to get unfairly categorized as “camp,” often lumped in with cheesy brain-dead sexploitation flicks because of it’s subject matter; women in prison. But this is actually a bleak, brutal and hard-hitting film that doesn’t pull any punches. The women are not tarted-up bimbos rolling around in cute little lingerie catfights. They are sweaty, raw-faced and desperate, shot with harsh, unflattering realism. Eleanor Parker is deeply sympathetic and completely believable as a pregnant teenage widow who enters a terrified child and leaves a hardened criminal. And Noir City favorite Hope Emerson is unforgettable as the beefy, sadistic matron.
The scene where she describes a hot date to the inmates, taunting them with her sexy descriptions of what they can never have, is deliciously twisted.
Highly recommended, with the caveat that it does feature kitten death. A brilliant, darkly ironic scene and not at all gratuitous, but soft-hearted animal lovers upset by such things might want to skip it.
Big House USA, on the other hand, was kind of a let down.
A young boy’s kidnapping goes wrong and sends a cold-hearted con man (Ralph Meeker) to the aforementioned Big House, where he shares a cell with Broderick Crawford, William Tallman, Charles Bronson and Lon Chaney Jr. (!!!) Of course, they have a plan to bust out and decide to kidnap the kidnapper in order to get their hands on his hidden ransom money.
Sounds awesome, right? How can this premise possibly go wrong?
By spending way too much screen time on the cops and feds solving the crime, complete with snooze-inducing voice-over, and not nearly enough in the stir.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s about 30 brilliant minutes to this film. Every minute that Broderick Crawford is on camera. Plus, lots of shirtless Charles Bronson.
This is also an amazingly violent film for the time, including (SPOILERS!!!) the on-screen death of the little boy and a scene where the cons burn a dead guy’s face off to hide his identity. But if this were my movie, I would have started with Meeker walking into the prison and stayed with the cons the whole time.
However, this one is definitely worth seeing just for the Broderick Crawford scenes. Plus, it’s a must see for aficionados of Bronson’s pouty nipples, which get more screen time than Felicia Farr.
Tonight, Scene of the Crime, with special guest Normal Lloyd, and Reign of Terror.