Monday, 26 December 2011

I watch movies so you don't have to #5 - 99 Women (1969) Warning: SPOILERS!

99 WOMEN (1969)
Directed by: Jess Franco
Starring: Maria Schell, Mercedes McCambridge, Maria Rohm, Rosalba Neri

Even if I've seen a fair amount of Jess Franco's films, I have barely scratched the surface on his almost ridiculously long filmography. It's always difficult to pick one...there’s just so much to choose from and from what I’ve read, there are alot of terrible ones. Since 1959, Franco has directed close to 200 films, many of which (pretty much everything post-1983) are meant to be barely watchable. But, amongst all the shit, there are also many films held in high regard amongst cult/exploitation cinema fans. 99 Women is one of those.

The film start off with three women arriving at The Castle of Death, a women’s prison where they’re about to start lengthy sentences. If the name of the place wasn’t bad enough, the music tells us it’s not going to be a leisurely stay. As soon as the superintendent appears, some seriously dramatic music starts playing. BAD LADY ALERT!

The three girls are stripped of their identities and assigned numbers 97 to 99. See, 99 Women. Although we only really get to meet a handful of inmates, the title of the movie refers to the total number of prisoners in the castle.

Baddie superintendent on the left...laying down the rules...

“From now on you have no name, only a number. You have no future, only the past, You have no hope, only regret. You have no friends, only me.”

Cheery start, huh?

These prison cells aren’t your normal concrete boxes. Instead this is more of a cave with bars...which is nice for a change...for the viewer, that is...

At first there seems to be a bit of camaraderie between the inmates, but if I’ve learnt anything from previous Women-In-Prison movies, it’s that there’s always an evil experienced one, used to getting her way. Who’s it going to be this time? Chances are it’s gonna be number 76, Zoei (played by the gorgeous Rosalba Neri)

And as expected, there’s a sleazy Governor involved...

We learn early on that he likes to have his wicked ways with some of the prisoners. He certainly seems intrigued by the news of a new blonde arrival, number 99 (Marie to you and me).

That night, Natalie is very sick. Not yet familiar with the do’s and don’ts of the prison, Marie screams for a doctor. The Superintendent is having none of it.

“We need a doctor badly, mam”
“The result of insolence is seven days in the punishment cells”
“But the girl in the next cell, she needs help”
“The result of repeated insolence is fourteen days in the punishment cells”

Natalie is already dead when the doctor finally arrives. He questions the recent three deaths and the repeated delays in calling for assistance, to which the superintendant coldly replies:

“you’re a doctor, what could you have done? They were dead. All of them, dead when we found them.”

Marie and Zoei are confined together after a fight breaks out.

“Shut up! Why are you crying? You and that bitch of a friend have hurt me. Look at my leg! My beautiful leg!”

The Governor pays them a visit...wonder what he has in mind?

“Love and hate are never very far apart. And sometimes they go together.”

“It’s hot in here. Let’s make ourselves comfortable.”

Zoei knows the score. She’s obviously been here before. She tears the clothes of Marie.

Word is out that there’s something dodgy going on at the castle. An inspector is sent over by the Ministry of Justice to assess the situation. The Superintendent is not too pleased about her working methods being questioned.

Zoei (76) and Marie (99) start warming to each other a bit. We get to know how Zoei ended up on the island.

She used to be a dancer in a club and soon learned that taking your clothes off is part of any job and always makes things easier.

Her lover wanted to take her away from the club, but the female boss refused to let her go. During a fight Zoei accidentally killed her boss and was found guilty of murder.

Anyway...back to prison...

Apparently this is what hard labour does to your finger nails.

The new inspector takes a bit of a shine to Marie and starts taking an interest in her case and her treatment. But, can she be trusted? Marie is willing to take a chance...for now anyway.

We also learn that Diego, boyfriend of redhead prisoner Rosalie and prisoner in the male prison on the other side of the island, is planning an escape.

Meanwhile, tensions are growing between the Superintendent and the new inspector.

“More trust in your prisoners, Miss Diaz, could mean fewer punishments and make this a happier place.”
“The purpose of a punishment for crimes. This is not meant to be a happy place!”
“In that case your efforts here can be considered extremely successful.”

The girls start discussing escape plans, to coincide with the escape over at the male prison. As part of a more lenient approach by the new inspector, night warden duties have been cancelled...something which should make the whole thing easier to pull off.

“It will be tough if we make it. If we fail, it will be worse”

Zoei is not really to be trusted, so is not part of the escape plans. Instead, she spends alot of time showing off her legs.

Night time! Prison break! And it’s the classic bedlinen rope technique! Hooray!

They run through the jungle...

...kill a snake...

...and find a lake.

Here they bump into one of the male escapees, Ricardo. We learn that Diego, Rosalie’s boyfriend, was shot by guards during the escape. Distraught, she finds some solace in Ricardo, who promised the dying Diego to look after and love her.

The love scene that follows is actually surprisingly tender and well-handled, but this is one of Franco’s main skills. When at his best, he has a natural gift for being charming and seedy, disturbing and beautiful at the same time.

It looks like Marie could do with a cuddle herself.

The four continue their trek through the jungle, but the problem just keeps stacking up. Ricardo is shot by male escapees, who instead of feeling sympathy for our gang and working together, are more interested in female flesh. Rosalie is attacked and left for dead.

Our remaining two ladies struggle on. They manage to get to the fishing village, but their joy is short-lived.

The Governor and the Superintendent are waiting for them with heavily armed guards and it’s back to prison, where things are about to get BAD.

The inspector gives up. She has failed in even gaining the trust of the prisoners...and the Governor and the Superintendent has no interest in changing their ways.

“I seem to be a victim of a disease that doesn’t flourish behind prison walls. I suffer from an excess of humanity.”

She leaves...

Hmm. So, it ends on a bit of a downer. Our girls are left with the baddies.

99 WOMEN is better than many WiP movies. Even if there is a fair amount of female flesh on show, it’s not excessive. The love scenes are surprisingly tender and in general it is a very well-crafted film. The photography is gorgeous and the film is a pleasure to watch. The violence is not really exploited either and is usually hinted at rather than being too graphic.

Saying that, I watched the Director's cut. There is also an XXX-rated version out there, that apparently adds several xxx scenes into the mixture. Like so often is the case, these scenes are supposed to sit pretty awkwardly with the rest of the film.

So, that's one more Franco film ticked off to list...and it's good one...just 190 or so to go.

No comments:

Post a Comment