The Big Doll House (Jack Hill / U.S.-Philippines, 1971):
(Bamboo Dolls House; Women's Penitentiary)

The governing force is the gutty freedom of the American International exploitation-artisan, described once by Quentin Tarantino as the ability to direct Battle of Algiers as long as it took place inside a women's prison. Jack Hill's brisk style is established in Judy Brown's truck ride to a peculiarly Teutonic, Third World penitentiary, where female convicts work in sugar cane fields (or, when a catfight is in order, mud) and dissenters are stashed in bamboo cages. Her cellmates include tough-gal Roberta Collins, political prisoner Pat Woodell, lush snitch Pam Grier, and dazed junkie Brooke Mills, who does hair-twirling interpretative dance when she gets her fix; all of them wear the prison's uniform, orange tunics that barely cover the tops of their thighs. The hothouse atmosphere avails itself of Cromwell's Caged, Stalag 17 and, when guys are around, Shock Corridor's nympho ward -- Collins catches Jerry Franks peeping during shower time and is within moments awaiting him with a shiv ("Get it up or I'll cut it off!"), Sid Haig feels the force of Grier's cooch through the bars, it's "like a vise." While the heroines appropriate the violence of repressed masculinity into their survival, the villains have their identities ruled by it: Sadistic head guard Kathryn Lodern keeps a torture chamber stocked with cobras, Christiane Schmidtmer as the warden vacillates between concerned principal and masked commandant on top of a barbed-wire throne. An uproarious product of the Corman factory, filmed by Hill with a luxuriant eye for the Philippines, an appreciation for offhand poesy ("Don't let your alligator mouth override your humming-bird ass"), and a rather Sirkian direction of actresses. With Gina Stuart, and Jack Davis.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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