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Not quite outrageous enough, but still

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Not quite outrageous enough, but still ...

Cheap production values, a women's prison where it's apparently too hot to sleep with clothes on, a sadistic warden, tender lesbian lovemaking, cruel punishment scenes, my favorite moping actress, the ever dependable and enormously cute Lina Romay, is in the lead and as usual she's only truly happy if she's allowed to completely expose herself a lot. Sound familiar? Could the director of this family friendly fare by any chance be sleaze-meister and camp champ Jess Franco? It certainly can and it most definitely is and in this one he starts out the fun with a bang by having three hooded men enter a yacht and steal a cache filled with uncut diamonds. During the getaway one of the thieves decides that three is two too many and then kills his accomplices before heading home to his girlfriend Shirley (Romay).

Thinking he's safe and home free he opens up the cache, only to realize that it's completely empty, but this unexpected surprise is nothing compared to what happens next: Shirley points a gun at him and shoots him point blank whereupon she calls the police and confesses the murder. Claiming it was a crime of passion and that her boyfriend had been betraying her for a long time she's then taken to a female incarceration facility (with a frighteningly low security considering that most of the prisoners are murderers and hardened criminals) where she soon makes friends with one of the other inmates, Martine (natural beauty Martine Stedil). This girl openly admits to sleeping with the warden in return for cigarette privileges, but what she's not let Shirley in on is that the warden has also talked her into doing him a particular favor.

It turns out he doesn't quite believe in the story about the empty cache and trusts that if Martine is able to get really close to Shirley she'll confide in her and eventually reveal the whereabouts of the missing diamonds. Things don't exactly turn out this way and after a while the warden's impatience gets the better of him and he finally decides to submit his stubborn victim to some more elaborate means of persuasion - by applying electro shocks directly to her 'private parts' (giving Franco a golden opportunity for some of his beloved gratuitous close-up crotch shots). But there're other parties who share the suspicion that Shirley knows more about the diamonds than she's letting on: The insurance agent Milton Warren (Roger Darton) and the smarmy gangster Bill (Jess Franco himself), and they're rather desperate to get to the valuable information before the warden.

Very unexpectedly for a WIP flick - and for a Franco film in particular - the first skin scene doesn't appear until some 20 minutes into the feature, and even then the remaining nudity is rather infrequent. Frauengefängnis 3 surprisingly plays a lot like a regular pulp thriller with an actual plot, and while this is certainly refreshing and praiseworthy the increasing lack of credibility as the story unfolds severely harms the overall impression of the movie. Especially the denouement (though somewhat surprising) is far-fetched and contrived, and even though I hate to say it, a bit more excessiveness (à la Barbed Wire Dolls) could perhaps have made a bit up for this unfortunate drawback - but fear not, there are still a few interesting (i.e. revealing) camera angles as well as voyeuristic and lengthy full-frontal action up to Franco's usual explicit standards.

And in this department Romay and Stedil deliver the goods and leave little to the imagination (however, those who'd like to see them go yet a step or two further are advised to seek out Doriana Gray, an infinitely more erotic and extremely steamy showcase). Neither is given that much to work with here in terms of character development but within the B-movie exploitation parameters they deliver decent enough performances, and as mentioned both are uninhibited and extremely pleasing to look at (with make-up intact throughout, amazingly), something which so far - to the best of my knowledge - has never detracted from the viewing experience for fans of guilty pleasures. As for the technical issues, Franco's had some luck in the past with the Cinemascope format (just watch the lush locations in the dreamlike Eugenie ... with Marie Liljedahl to see how to use a wide canvas to maximum effect), but in this case it doesn't do the movie many favors.

The 2.35:1 aspect ratio is often used to give a film a glossier, more expensive look but here it doesn't manage to cover up the fact that this effort has been made on a very low budget and the cheap production designs ultimately don't benefit that much from Franco's choice of format. This is not to say that the cinematography isn't competent, - generally it's very decent, but some compositions appear too cramped for their own good and would most likely have fared better had they been shot with a regular widescreen lens like the majority of Franco's other films that I've seen. Though flawed, Frauengefängnis 3 is still a better movie story-wise than, say, Sadomania and the aforementioned Barbed Wire Dolls - but I miss a bit more of their whacked-out outrageousness which could (perhaps) have put it more than just a notch ahead.

Film: 4/10

René Pedersen, June 24th, 2006

Picture: 8/10

One of the first things that struck me when the film started was the amazingly bold color reproduction as well as the perfect rendition of skin tones, maintaining a warm, natural look throughout. Equally impressive are the well balanced contrasts which add a lot of depth to the picture, brightness also looks great and sharpness is first rate, ensuring an exceptionally high level of detail for almost the entire duration. A minor drawback, though, is that the picture sometimes is a bit jittery. But aside from a few occasional scratches here and there print damage is minimal, grain is negligible and there were no noticeable signs of compression artifacts or edge enhancement. This transfer is positively one of the best I've seen to date from X-rated Kult DVD besides Die Nonnen von Clichy. The image is presented in an anamorphically enhanced 2.37:1 aspect ratio.

N.B. Around the 7.15 minute mark the picture started pixelating before it froze completely and then my DVD player eventually stopped. I've tried playing the DVD on my PC as well, but there the picture just froze while the sound disappeared for a period of 8-10 seconds whereupon playback was resumed. This isn't saying that the same things will happen on every other DVD-player, though, but I felt it was only right to mention it in case others should encounter the same problems.

Sound: 6/10

You have the choice of listening to either a French, German or English language soundtrack, but due to the lack of subtitles on this release I went with the latter for this test. The 2.0 mono mix is a very decent, though unspectacular affair, - sound is a bit thin, occasionally scratchy during the louder moments and lacks dynamic, but music comes through clear and dialogue is always intelligible. Now and then there's some slight crackling and a faint hissing was present throughout, but neither proved distracting in the least.

Extras: 4/10

First up is the German trailer for Frauengefängnis 3 (1.42 min.) followed by the original French opening (1.29 min. - presented full frame) which features the movie's French title Prison de Femmes during the credit sequence. A picture gallery consisting of press material, add campaigns, poster and video artwork, publicity shots (including a spectacular head shot of Romay) and stills from the movie (some of them alternative shots of existing scenes) is presented as a montage and runs 5.10 minutes. Next up is yet another image gallery (presented as a video clip running 9.50 min.), but since it merely contains stills taken directly from the movie, it severely fails to generate much interest. The most peculiar extra on this DVD has to be the next feature (24.43 min.) called 'Jess Franco auf dem heissen Stuhl' ('Jess Franco in the hot seat'). The people at X-rated Kult DVD have invited Jess Franco to watch a video, but they haven't told him they're going to show him one of his own films, Frauengefängnis 3. At first he doesn't recognize the film at all, but as it slowly comes back to him he starts to reminisce and talk fondly about where specific scenes were shot. But the tone suddenly changes when Franco is asked if he in fact ever used scenes from Frauengefängnis (Barbed Wire Dolls, 1975) in another film called Frauengefängnis 2 (which Franco supposedly never directed), aka. Women Behind Bars (197?), which is also one of the alternative titles for the film on this DVD, Frauengefängnis 3! You definitely need to keep a cool head watching this feature in order to keep track, but it's certainly interesting to see if Franco is capable of telling each film apart, seeing that his resume to this day totals at least 180 movies and that the movies he's being asked about were all made some 30 years ago, shot at the same locations and starring virtually the same actors and actresses. To round out this quaint little package is the trailer for another (new?) Franco film called Angel of Death 2 - The Prison Island Massacre (1.50 min) which looks like a nudity-packed, blood-spurting, S/M-oriented, torture loving exploitation extravaganza. You've got to hand it to Mr. Franco, - he's over 75 years old and he still churns out trashy WIP movies like this, but since I'm into neither intimate piercing nor shaved ladies (and furthermore, the ones in this flick look like skanks) I think I'll pass this one up.

Final thoughts:

Frauengefängnis 3 is a lyrical, lighthearted, romantic comedy targeted at the average Christian nuclear family ... no, obviously not. Franco completists and WIP devotees (in fact, aren't they just about the same people?) know exactly what they're going to get and will naturally want to add this to their collection - and the quality of the transfer is not going to disappoint. With regards to all other audiences, well, - they're probably not even reading this in the first place.

Frauengefängnis 3 (1975)
France / Belgium
Running time: 77 min

Director: Jesus Franco
Cast: Lina Romay, Martine Stedil, Roger Darton, Ronald Weiss, Denis Torre

Company: X-rated Kult DVD
Region: 2 (PAL)
Aspect ratio: 2.37:1 (16:9)
DD 2.0 Mono: French
DD 2.0 Mono: German
DD 2.0 Mono: English


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