Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1950. Warner Bros.. Screenplay by Virginia Kellogg, Bernard C. Schoenfeld, based on the article Inside Women’s Prison by Virginia Kellogg. Cinematography by Carl E. Guthrie. Produced by Jerry Wald. Music by Max Steiner. Production Design by Charles H. Clarke. Costume Design by Leah Rhodes. Film Editing by Owen Marks. Academy Awards 1950.
Eleanor Parker gets off a paddy wagon, changes into a uniform and is placed in a women’s prison for having abetted her husband in an armed robbery. He was killed in the mess and she was arrested despite insisting that she was forced to take part in the crime, and now finds herself, naive, unprepared and terrified, incarcerated with other women whose crimes range from streetwalking to murder. Fitting in with the other ladies while trying to hold on to hope that she can end her sentence early has its awkward first steps, it quickly becomes clear that what she’ll need to survive more than her fellow inmates is the cruel and sadistic matron (Hope Emerson) in charge of her cell block. The prison’s warden (Agnes Moorehead) is trying to lower the rate of returning customers by emphasizing humane treatment but is constantly butting heads with Emerson, who insists on harsh punishment and whose connections protect her from getting fired. Parker’s elegant, intense performance charts her character’s demise from optimism to hard-bitten cynicism about walking the straight and narrow, taking advantage of every opportunity that Virginia Kellogg’s excellent and, for its time, quite explicit script offers in nervewracking experiences. Directed with taut energy by John Cromwell, this one obviously pales in comparison with more recent films on the subject given that it is not free to be explicit, but it also avoids a great deal of the cheap exploitation that women in prison films have succumbed to in the intervening years. Features an early performance Jan Sterling.