It’s the mother of all women-behind-bars movies - specifically, the mother who had her children taken away/
The subject may bore some and give others unseemly enthusiasms. The WBB genre is usually full of campy pulpy melodrama, and while I like pulp I hate camp. I’m not fond of prison movies, either. I wonder if they ever made a movie in which all the inmates were guilty, miserable, unrepentant thugs, the administration was well-meaning, and the guards merely bored with these coarse, violent, one-dimensional fools. Even if they did there’d a character named Pop, or Doc, or some such honorific, and he’d be small and wise and sympathetic. Can’t be helped. It’s the nature of the genre.
So why watch this one? It’s different. Here’s the story: slightly guilty young woman enters prison, and has apparently been sobbing since her conviction.
She was in the car while her husband help up a store. The jury, which perhaps heard more about the case than the screenwriter, put her away for one to ten. Upon admission, she's given advice by the Wardeness:
Things are grim when Agnes Moorhead is the only sympathetic character you have on your side. (Or so I thought at first, but she turned out to be a Decent Crusading Progressive.)
The same cannot be said for the Gals:
The leader of the pack, the one who looks like Joe E. Brown, utters a great line when she spies our heroine: peep the new fish. Or pipe, I can’t tell. Either works.
Lording over them all, it’s the standard-issue Cruel Matron, who runs the joint through graft and favoritism. A real sweetheart:
But look at that shot. That’s the reason to watch it. The plot is basic - every prison movie, with dames - and the acting ranges from ordinary to preposterous. The direction and photography are quite fine, and it’s not one of those murky prints that makes everything look like it’s shot through the lint filter of an industrial clothes drier. Why, you see every cheerful detail:
I’ve lightened these shots somewhat, but you get the sense of the palette; ranges from grey to grey, with a million shades of grey in between. The shots never quite capture the claustrophobia the heroine experiences, but they excel at underlining the loneliness of the joint.
That's the infirmary - or, as the inmates call it, Lysol Lane.
Lysol must have loved that.
Ah, but what of the shower scene?
There it is, and that’s all there is. They probably shot that one for the trailer. It’s a chaste film, and the sole allusion to the Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name is so clouded with allusions the woman might as well be talking about continental drift. Even the mean warden is stripped of any of those inclinations with an early shot:
Sensational? At the time, perhaps. But it looks almost quaint now - no drugs, no gangs, no tats, no TV, no harsh lighting.
About as likely as early parole to Free Side.