Sunday Matinee: The Big Doll House

Women in prison movies started becoming be in the late 1960s with films like 99 Women. Naturally Roger Corman’s low budget exploitation film company New World Pictures started making them in the early 1970s starting with The Big Doll House in 1971.

Directed by Jack Hill the movie was shot in the Philippines. Judy Brown stars as Collier a woman sent to prison for the murder of her husband. Once in prison she meets Alcott and Bodine (Roberta Collins and Pat Woodell). She also meets Grear (Pam Grier – in her first big screen role). Gear is a prison bully and lesbian who has her eyes set on Collier after her current girlfriend bores her. Meanwhile the sadistic female guards and warden Miss Dietrich (Christiane Schmidtmer) like to torture the prisoners.
Alcott and Bodine plan to escape but they need more people. They want Collier but Alcott has to fight Grear for her and then gets Grear to come along too. They get a bunch guns take several people hostage and try and make a break for it.

The movie is pure grindhouse sleaze but it’s pretty entertaining. It also weirdly passes the Bechdel test. Roger Corman would put several more women in prison movies over the next several years. Women in Cages was released the same year as The Big Doll House with most of the same cast and sets and The Big Bird Cage was released in 1972 with Jack Hill directing again and Pam Grier in more starring role as a revolutionary trying to break women out of the prison to start a well revolution.