The Big Doll House  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Big Doll House is a 1971 women in prison film starring Pam Grier, Judy Brown, Roberta Collins, Brooke Mills, and Pat Woodell. The film follows six female inmates throughout daily life in a gritty, unidentified supra-tropical prison. A sequel to the film, titled The Big Bird Cage, was released in 1972.

Plot synopsis

The film opens when Collier (Brown) enters a prison for killing her husband. She is introduced to the pulchritudinous companions of her cell, in for crimes ranging from political insurgency to heroin addiction. The women proceed to trade tiffs between one another, which leads to their torture by the head guard and a mysterious cloaked figure. As it turns out, the supervisor is a sadist. This inequity leads Alcott and Bodine (Collins & Woodell) to plan an escape. Breaking from a solitary confinement sauna of sorts, they wield guns, attitude, and a vacillating feminist/ submissive sexuality to free themselves. Finally, they are ambushed in the woods, the sadistic warden and the supervisor are killed, and the women are either vanquished or returned to prison.

Further information

This was the second film made by B movie giant Roger Corman for his company New World Pictures. It was shot in the Philippines for budgetary reasons, allowing for what Corman calls a 'bigger feeling'. The tag line "Their bodies were caged, but not their desires. They would do anything for a man. Or to him." encapsulates the rather contradictory air expressed by the inmates as they yearn for freedom of multiple kinds; sexual, political, and perhaps ideological - while simultaneously acting as agent provocateur. As a drive in of the first order, it retains an energetic over an intellectual bent, and thus avoids serious consideration of or accuracy in portraying the actual situation of female American prisoners, instead fulfilling the genre characteristics of Hollywood's women in prison films. Director Jack Hill later made Coffy, a blaxploitation film with Grier which is based on personal vendetta. Big Doll House grossed $10,000,000 in theaters.


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