Women's Prison (1955)

Ida Lupino, Jan Sterling, Cleo Moore, Audrey Totter,
A sadistic prison warden takes out her sexual frustration on her women inmates. While a caring physician tries to improve the jail's brutal atmosphere, a pair of rebellious inmates take matters into their own hands.
  • 6.5 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Crane Wilbur, Jack DeWitt, Writer:
  • Lewis Seiler, Director:
  • Bryan Foy, Producer:

Trailer:

7 / 10

Not "Caged" But Good On Its Own Terms

Ida Lupino gets one of her juiciest roles here. It may not be one of her subtlest but she gets to sink her teeth into it. She is the conniving, heartless, loveless warden of the title institution.

The inmates include blowzy dames from various studios. It's a great cast. We have Jan Sterling, Audrey Totter, and Cleo Moore. Moore is sans Hugo Haas.

It's a trifle hard to believe the plot. A co-ed prison where the women are abused. But though it may not be terribly cogent, it's strong. It's forceful.

Early in the movie Juanita Hall, playing a character named Polly, is introduced. She says she was named after the hospital where she was born: Polyclinic. Hey, I was born there, too. Maybe I should have been named Clint.

Watch this one. It's not campy. It can be taken very seriously. But it's also fun to see all these dolls cracking wise and playing tough.

6 / 10

Some great smaller parts grow large, and Lupino is up against them all...

Women's Prison (1955)

This highlights Ida Lupino, and though her role is central it is small. She plays that hardened, selfish "dame" she pulled off in many of her movies like no one else, in this case a prison warden. Lupino is never campy like Bette Davis, or sultry like many others (even when she wants to be). She's also not idiosyncratic like Gloria Grahame, and this is good and bad. Lupino here and often elsewhere is a stalwart presence--she holds up her end of the bargain in any scene, without stealing the scene.

Her counterpart, even though this is mainly a woman's movie top to bottom, is the doctor played by Howard Duff. But the real stars are the prisoners, an array of women both confident and downtrodden. (Look for Juanita Moore, from "Imitation of Life.") Having these women revolt against Lupino's evilness is what we all want, and it's quite a drama.

There are many times when you will groan or laugh at what the plot gets away with (like the husband who sneaks in to see his wife, or the warden of the men's prison in general), but you'll really love the best parts, the best character actors who are really filled with character, and the fast plot. A good short fun one.

8 / 10

Highly entertaining junk...

This is NOT a film that would ever be mistaken for an episode of "Masterpiece Theater"! In fact, in many ways it's a sensationalistic piece of junk...but also a very well-made and entertaining piece of junk! In the 1950s, there were a ton of women in prison films and this might just rank among the best. Part of the reason for this being better than average is the excellent cast. Ida Lupino is a treat to watch as a sadistic warden who is more screwed up and vile than the inmates! And, among the inmates are such colorful dames as Jan Sterling, Cleo Moore, Audrey Totter and Phyllis Thaxter.

The film begins with a lady (Thaxter) being sent to lady for accidentally killing a child due to her negligent driving. Thaxter is emotionally fragile and the prison doctor is concerned about her. However, the warden is insistent that Thaxter be broken just like the rest of the prisoners and pushes the woman to a mental breakdown. In fact, throughout the film Lupino pushes the prisoners to near-riot and she seems to have people skills that would make Attila the Hun seem like a member of the Peace Corps by comparison! There's a lot more to the film--but I don't want to spoil the suspense.

The bottom line is that the film is highly entertaining by being unapologetically loud and over the top. Sensational but far from subtle--this is a great guilty pleasure.

7 / 10

She's suffering from a guilt complex that's close to madness.

Women's Prison is directed by Lewis Seiler and jointly written by Jack DeWitt and Crane Wilbur. It stars Ida Lupino, Jan Sterling, Cleo Moore, Audrey Totter, Phyliss Thaxter, Howard Duff and Warren Stevens. Music is orchestrated by Mischa Bakaleinikoff and photography by Lester H. White.

Cheap but entertaining piece of prison shlock, Women's Prison gets in and simmers on the heat for an hour and ten minutes until the inevitable explosion for the finale. The standard roll call of prison staples adheres to formula, new fish who clearly doesn't belong, sassy good time gal, sadistic warden, beatings, emotional hell, sexual frustration and of course a riot! There's solid traces of psychological discord in the narrative, not least with Lupino's splendidly vile warden, who, because she can't function with men on the outside world, promptly vents her pent up frustrations on the female inmates. A nice addition to the plot is that it's a co-ed prison, the mens prison is but a bricked wall away from the girls. Cue a neat little thread of a lustful Warren Stevens popping next door for some fun time with his also incarcerated wife.

Problem with the film is its look. Mood is fine but this is one of the nicest, cleanest and airiest prisons seen in film! Isolation and claustrophobia are a key ingredients of a good prison film, but those feelings are missing here, with Lester White's photography hardly utilising the chances on offer. How the film has come to be regarded as a "prison noir" is a mystery, unless the mere presence of Lupino warrants it a place?! The steam press room scenes work well, and the tear gas finale is nicely realised, but mostly this is good because of some neat lady acting performances and the afore mentioned psychological smarts in the story. Also of interest is the play off between Lupino and Duff's kindly prison doctor, which since they were married (an on off marriage that would last for decades), carries with it a bit of spice as they jostle for the sanity of meek Helene Jensen (Thaxter).

Subtle as a sledgehammer but ever so enjoyable, Women's Prison just about deserves its cult classic status. 7/10

7 / 10

Don't Chain Up The Gals Near To The Guys

Ida Lupino and Howard Duff head a cast in a story about a Women's Prison. But these two who were married in real life at the time are hardly romantic leads in this film.

Ida plays the head of a female division of a state prison, the overall warden is Barry Kelley. The message the film is trying to give although the reason for it is pretty exotic is that boys will be boys and that women ought to be in a separate facility altogether. The main plot line of this film is convict Warren Stevens trying to get over to the women's division to see his wife Audrey Totter. Stevens's successful visits which get Totter pregnant get the whole thing crashing around Lupino's head.

It's all been done before, especially by some in this cast. Howard Duff was one of the convicts in Brute Force and there are definite elements of that film carrying over here. More so even than the classic Caged in which Jan Sterling also played the same kind of brassy dame who knows the ropes.

In Caged you'll remember the chief villain was the sadistic guard Harper played by Hope Emerson, the warden was the sympathetic Agnes Moorehead. Here the corruption stinks at the top where Lupino takes out her own unfulfilled life on the inmates. The entire cast performs remarkably well, especially Lupino and Sterling.

As for how it ends, if you've seen another Ida Lupino classic, They Drive By Night than you kind of know what happens to her. Still Women's Prison is worth seeing it again.