This 1974 R-rated girls-in-prison movie is director Jonathan Demme's debut as a director and he is also credited as the writer. This is the same Demme that made many mainstream films, like 1991's Silence of the Lambs (for which he received the Best Director Oscar), and 1993's Philadelphia. The movie stars Erica Gavin (formerly an exotic dancer whose first film was the X-rated Vixen and whose last film she acted in was Caged Heat; she plays Jackie Wilson), Barbara Steele (Caged Heat marked the return of Steele after a five year absence; as Warden McQueen, though she is listed as Superintendent McQueen), Juanita Brown (as Maggie), Roberta Collins (as Belle), Ella Reid (as Pandora), Warren Miller (Doctor Randolph) and Rainbeaux Smith (as Lavelle). This movie is in the "Roger Corman Classics" product line. Corman's company distributed this film, though it did not finance it.
The DVD contains the movie, special features and preview attractions. The special features are an interview with Roger Corman, an "Original Trailer" of Caged Heat, and a "Cast and Crew" information section (three cast, the director, and Roger Corman). The "Preview Attractions" section contains trailers for "Candy Stripe Nurses," "Big Bad Mama II," "The Big Doll House," and "Crazy Mama."
The movie is about a prison in Conorville where a new-inmate (Erica Gavin as Jackie Wilson) joins an unruly prison population managed by wheel-chair bound Warden (or Superintendent) McQueen (Barbara Steele).
The movie opens with the main star of the show, Jackie Wilson, being arrested, tried and sentenced to prison (term of 10-40 years). Then the action moves to the prison just prior to Jackie's arrival. We see an attractive blonde inmate dreaming of her man coming by the prison and fondling her. Then its morning and we learn that strangely enough, the women in this prison do not wear prison uniforms, but whatever street clothes they want to wear (though they occasionally wear uniforms). As the opening montage of prison life scrolls across the screen, one of the scenes outdoors has a blonde woman leaning against a fence, and written on a wall behind her is a sign in big bold block letters that says "No Laughing." This certainly is a rather slow moving movie, at least at the beginning.
While these women in street clothes stand around prison, new arrivals arrive, including Jackie Wilson. The new arrivals are brought to an area that appears to be along a hallway where a doctor is sitting. Three of the new female prisoners are brought before a male doctor, who tells them to strip, right there in the hallway. The women strip and the doctor pulls on some gloves, one of the female guards begins to look very happy, and the scene ends before any actual "inspections."
Jackie then joins the prison population. The women stand around barely clothed (inside) playing games, reading, participating in plays, etc. Sometimes they get to see the outside world when they are sent off to work on farms (where two try to break out of prison). Not all is well in prison, as some of the harder inmates tend to pick on the others (including one scene where a woman searches for her cigarettes, goes into another cell and ribs the shirt off a blonde (a lot less of this type of activity than might expect). The Warden is no better, and might even be a little insane. If she doesn't like something an inmate is doing, she throws them naked into isolation cells (like when she didn't like one actor's performance in a play (or maybe that had something to do with the actress having a picture of her boyfriend with her)).
The woman are bored, somewhat terrorized by other inmates (including some inmate fights), occasionally have the Warden throw them naked into solitary confinement, and occasionally are attacked by the male doctor who shocks them, and sometimes likes using his drugs on the inmates (one shown), and then taking advantage of them. They also tend to have some very strange dreams. The normal prison shower scenes occur (interesting little scene where the women line up nude waiting for the shower, then the star is yelled at by another woman while in the shower, but no "fun" in the shower). There is also some corrective physical therapy that involves electric shock therapy and unnecessary surgery that I don't tend to see in these types of movies. There is also the normal attempted prison break (though these guards seem to be more competent than some I've seen), and there actually are more attempted prison breaks than I normally see (and the guards definitely remember what their guns are for). Two of the women escape and the fact that the inmates were wearing street clothes in prison certainly helped their escape. They wander around in the outside world, robbing a bank, etc. A lot of Jackie's trouble stems from her own stupid actions and her fellow inmates stupid actions (actually, there seems to be a lot of stupid people in this movie).
Overall, the movie is a strange little prison and prison escape film. The film's plot is full of holes, and a little odd. The acting is varied, at times not that bad, sometimes wooden, sometimes good, and some of the women can't act. The setting is a prison, a rather gritty pealing dirty little female prison, and the outside world (including a farm, and a strange little place where men and women wrestle in private rooms in their underwear). The prisoners tend to be attractive, though some are not. While the guards tend to be unattractive, though some are attractive. By comparison, this film is a better film than the Pam Grier "Woman in Cages" movie that is also in the Roger Corman Classics product line-up. As a mainstream film, this film has too much nudity and plot holes, as an "adult" film, this has too little "action." (~4.12)