The Big Doll House (1971)

Yep, it’s a movie about beautiful, scantily-clad women stuck behind bars in a place run by sadists and supplied by two horny dudes who really need to find a better line of work. Not for their sake, for the prisoners.

Collier is thrown into a prison in an unnamed tropical country for murder, where she ends up sharing a cell with Grear, Alcott, Bodine, Ferina, and Harrad. They all have sad stories, and Harrad is possibly the saddest as an heroin addict arrested for infanticide who serves as Grear’s play thing. While the new prison physician, Dr. Philips, is sympathetic, the warden, Miss Dietrich, and her head guard Lucian are way too into sadism and BDSM to make this a comfortable experience for anyone. The women eventually plan an escape by utilizing two local men who sell produce to the prison, Harry and Fred. While the plan is to link up with Bodine’s revolutionary boyfriend, they just don’t make it that far, and by the end, there’s a lot of gunfire, some explosions, most everyone is dead, and everything ends on a near downer.

Women in prison films are one of the ultimate exploitation categories, but while this one definitely has its highlights, it also has a bunch of strong, intelligent women proving that they’re capable of concocting and executing a break from prison. The only person who gets raped in the film happens to be a man, forced at the end of a knife to put out after having spent much of the movie joking about how he’d like it to happen. When it does, he suddenly isn’t so into the idea. You get an interesting juxtaposition between the strength and spirit of the characters but also their occasional yearning for men. They drift between powerful of their own accord and powerless at the hands of the evil head guard or in the grimy hands of Harry who gets paid in gropes. Then again, this is also a movie with a mud wrestling scene between Pam Grier and Roberta Collins, so let’s not go tooting the horn that it’s a perfect picture. Though I do love Pam Grier.

Yeah, that’s right, the queen of Blaxploitation cinema is here, along with a cast that includes other B-movie greats such as Sid Haig, Christiane Schmidtmer, and the aforementioned Collins. Hey, what did you expect from a 1970s film produced by Roger Corman? It truly was a golden age. The movie was also filmed in the Philippines, which quickly became one of the destinations for low budget movie making of the action or exploitation variety.

Of course, it ends with a massive shootout and Harry being ordered to rape Miss Dietrich as a “payment” for being taken hostage and using his truck to aid the escape. While he eventually goes for it, he also tries to initially back out until Alcott pretty much forces him. In a movie that is a way more focused on action than character exploration, it’s interesting how the men generally come off as big talkers who turn to cowardice when told to put up or shut up. Conversely, the male Dr. Philips is also the only true voice of reason in the prison and openly discusses reform. He’s not an action hero kind of guy, but he tries to serve as a voice of reason that no one listens to.

Still…yeah, it’s straight up exploitation. Enjoy a NSFW trailer:

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