What happened to those movies found on "pre-recorded video cassettes and video discs" that contained such features? Elementary my dear Exploitation Fan! They were Banned in the UK on the Video Nasty List. Just reading those words gives me no small or tall, little or large wonder why writer and director Jesus Franco's name appeared on the list so damned many times. This guy seems to have delved into just about every genre and subgenre you can imagine in his career that has lasted 53 years (so far) and more films than you could shake a panaflex at. Yep, he'll do any genre... any genre that will make him money, that is... and be exploitative... and feature a lot of naked women doing a lot of naked things.
This is why when the twain of the British Board of Film Censors and the films of Jess Franco should meet, a whole lot of banning is going on. The fact that this film Des diamants pour l'enfer (known in England as Women Behind Bars) made the Video Nasty List is about as surprising as the fact that Superman IV, Jaws 4 and King Kong Lives all got Razzie nominations. Really, I'm just surprised that his similar film Barbed Wire Dolls didn't make the list... They're basically the same!
So, what makes this one a video nasty? Read those two definitions above. Trust me, there are more, but those two are the clinchers here. A better critic than I once wrote "No matter how much Vaseline you apply to the lens, a nude whipping is still a nude whipping!" Franco, however, doesn't apply any Vaseline to the lens. Nothing, in fact, to obscure the sleaze. Obviously from the title, this is one of Franco's entries into the Women's Prison genre. Here, the thin plot is padded with scenes of bull whips scarring the flesh of beautiful naked women, sex as bribery to a sadistic warden and a scene of torture that re-defines the term "shocking". Specifically, a certain prisoner has her labia wired to an electric shock machine during her nude interrogation (thus breaking yet another of the Rules: "human genital organs or human urinary or excretory functions")
To be fair, though, this doesn't come off as nearly the misogynistic scene it that it could have been. Don't mistake me, I can't imagine the Woman's Christian Temperance Union or the National Organization for Women are going to be awarding ol' Jesus any Feminist Ideal awards or anything. However, I really don't think that in this case Franco and his screenwriter Marius Lesoeur were trying to break the next prohibited item: "techniques likely to be useful in the commission of offences". I really think the only reason that scene was scripted was so that the luscious star of this film, Lina Romay could be directed to bounce, jiggle and writhe around in the chair she's chained to, completely naked, while moaning and breathing hard. That's really all J-Franc seems to be concerned about if his camerawork is any indication. This guy really knows how to place his camera. I haven't seen this much unnecessary focusing on a couple of Boobs since the 2000 presidential election!
This was more fun to watch, though.
The rest of the film is basically the framework for similar scenes. We begin as the large breasted Romay (as large breasted Shirley Fields) murders her boyfriend after he steals an empty safe that was supposed to be filled with diamonds from her other boyfriend. She then turns herself in and goes to a women's prison in Nice. Seriously, folks... can you think of a sweeter place to be interred for life than a place called "Nice"?
But I digress. Although she swears that this was a crime of passion and that he was cheating on her, everyone knows that the murder was related to the diamond heist, and everyone but everyone can't wait to get their hands on Shirley's goodies. Oh, they also want to boggart the diamonds.
That list includes the Warden Carlo de Bries (Ronald Weiss) and his super-hot little lover (also a prisoner) named Martine (Martine Stedil), who, like most of the actresses, spends more screen time naked than not). That list expands when the Insurance Adjuster for the agency underwriting those diamonds gets to investigating Shirley's involvement in the crime. The Adjuster is a guy named Milton Warren (Roger Darton), who serves as the film's narrator and seems to be a nice enough guy until his colleague Bill brings him further into the criminal side of things!
Incidentally Bill was played by Clifford Brown who got the part basically because of his relationship with director Jesus "Jess" Franco. Seeing as how, you know, Clifford Brown actually WAS Jesus "Jess" Franco! Hell, Franco even went by the name of A.M. Frank in his director credit, which makes me wonder if he did all this to collect multiple paychecks! He's far from the only one in this film who uses a pen name. Almost half the actors do (I would have, that's for sure) and even writer Marius Lesoeur (whose last name means "The Sister") was credited here as "Marius LeFrere" (which means "The Brother"... clever).
For its kind of movie, the plot is rather interesting, or could have been if it had been explored more. Instead it serves as a means to string together various scenes of nudity, violence, torture and murder. Everybody wants those diamonds, everybody's got a way to get them... Shirley only needs a way out and she's got them.
In true Franco style often times the nudity is just there because he wanted it to be there, not because it necessarily made any sense to the plot. Look, I'm sure Nice gets hot in the summer, but for all the women to sleep completely naked, then get naked on their breaks, then get naked just any old time. I can't see it happening. But man am I glad I saw it depicted. In case you haven't guessed, yes, Shirley and Martine do have to have Lesbian Sex at least once during the film's run time. And I really wasn't offended by it.
The cinematography here is also a means to focus more on the female form. There is one incredibly obvious moments during one of the sleeping scenes in which the camera pans to each naked woman sleeping above her covers, zooms in on her vagina, pulls back to rise slowly, showing the audience the rest of her, then drops back down to the vagina, then pans over to the next woman's vagina and repeats the same camera choreography with each of the women. Folks, this is trash, this is sleaze, this is exploitation, this is... well, I watched that scene like 15 times.
That, too, is far from isolated, as the women never wear much (even their prison uniforms seem to be merely oversized blue button up shirts with absolutely no undergarments whatsoever). When Shirley is given a dress to wear (which is described as "something decent" by a guard), it's literally cut down to her navel in a swooping V. When her breasts don't accidentally BOING out of them, she literally reaches in and frees them herself. And the Camera never fails to find the nudity to zoom in on in each and every scene. Sure, there are other things to see, but this isn't even subtle. It's a zoom like you wouldn't believe. Is he zooming in on the gun she's holding and her naked breasts just happen to be right next to it? Yeah, right. Good thing she was so good looking!
This all makes sense, though, seeing as how the Cinematographer was also Jess Franco! I have to wonder why Film Editor Raymond Dubois didn't put up a fight though. Actually, no, I don't wonder that. Raymond Dubois... was also Jess Franco. Hell, I can't even decide whether to call him "Jess" or "Jesus" Franco... he went by both interchangeably.
Women Behind Bars isn't a completely terrible film (though calling it "good" would be a stretch worthy of about seventy times seven seventh innings). The story is interesting (though weakly presented) and the scenery is great. Further, if nothing else this isn't one of those mean-spirited nasty nasties (though the whipping scenes can be hard to take). This one is inept, but with enough humor (much of it unintentional) to keep any good critic laughing like mad. One can't help but wonder just what Franco will come up with next, what incongruous character trait will spring up and what implausible excuse for more nudity will arise. Man, a television edit of this film would be, like, maybe four minutes long... with commercial breaks.
Any way you flash it, Women Behind Bars is still not a brilliant movie by any reach of the old imagination-bone. For all its titillating visuals and laugh-at-or-with-it humor, Franco's baby still gets only Two Stars out of Five! It's not surprising that the man known as "Joan Almirall / Rosa Maria Almirall / Rosa María Almirall / Clifford Brawn / Clifford Brown Jr. / Clifford Brown / Juan G. Cabral / Betty Carter / Candy Coster / Terry De Corsia / Rick Deconinck / Raymond Dubois / Chuck Evans / Toni Falt / Dennis Farnon / Jess Franck / J. Franco / Jesse Franco / Jess Franco / Jesús Franco / A.M. Frank / Adolf M. Frank / Anton Martin Frank / Jeff Frank / Jess Frank / Wolfgang Frank / Manfred Gregor / Jack Griffin / Robert Griffin / Lennie Hayden / Frank Hollman / Frank Hollmann / Frarik Hollmann / Rick Deconinck in Italy / B.F. Johnson / J.P. Johnson / James Lee Johnson / James P. Johnson / David J. Khune / David Khune / D. Khunne Jr. / D. Khunne / David J. Khunne / David Khunne / David Kuhne / David Kunne / David Kühne / Lulu Laverne / Lulú Laverne / Franco Manera / J. Franck Manera / J. Frank Manera / Jesus Franco Manera / Jesús Manera / Jeff Manner / Roland Marceignac / A.L. Mariaux / A.L. Marioux / John O'Hara / Preston Quaid / P. Querut / Dan L. Simon / Dan Simon / Jean-Jacques Tarbes / Dave Tough / Pablo Villa / Joan Vincent / Robert Zinnermann / Cole Polly in French version / James Gardner" has gotten so many bad reviews. It's surprising that he's gotten some good ones, including from me (see Vampyros Lesbos... really... see it!). Enjoy him where and how you can, even if for only ironic reasons. I'm not even going to tell you what's funny about the sex scene... but I will tell you that with Jess Franco's hungry camera close-ups, you'll know for sure who shaves what and who doesn't. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go find myself a copy of Barbed Wire Dolls by any means necessary. Then, maybe Orgasmo Perverso or Lillian, the Perverted Virgin or even Sexual Aberrations of a Housewife. And let's not forget Sadomania - Holle der Lust, Naked Super Witches of the Rio Amore (also known as Orgy of the Nymphomaniacs) and Killer Barbys vs. Dracula... Jess Franco films, all! All that from a man who says he doesn't like pornography.
Well, Jess... neither do I.
Neither do I.
You all know I'm lying, right?
See you in the next reel.
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