We have been hornswoggled. We have been bamboozled. Hoodwinked. Swindled. Tricked, and defrauded. A movie with a title such as Chain Gang Women has obligations to be met. There needs to be women. On a chain gang. And there should be, at minimum, two nude shower scenes. A film with a title like this owes its audience genuine exploitative sleaze. This flick is that, to be sure, but to an inadequate extent. Nor does that change the fact that viewers are the victims of shameless misdirection in the pursuit of drive-in dollars. I shall explain.
From the filmmaking team of Lee Frost and Wes Bishop, no strangers to Shitty Movie Sundays, Chain Gang Women features exactly two women, neither of which are in a chain gang, and who don’t even show up in this dog until 41 minutes of its 85-minute running time has elapsed. The only saving grace for fans of sleaze is that one of the women is Barbara Mills, who spent most of her career in Hollywood appearing in softcore porn flicks (she appeared in twelve in 1971, the year of this film’s release). We’re talking the types of movies that modern porn has snuffed out, back when purveyors of smut would make actual movies, with plots and everything, and only turned up the juice during sex scenes. At some point, pornographers decided to leave things like plot and character development behind, much like a selfish lover and foreplay.
But, no matter! Delving into the bizarre world of pre-VHS adult movies is a subject for another day.
This film follows the trials and tribulations Harris and Weed (Robert Lott and Michael Stearns), two prisoners on a Georgia chain gang who escape and are on the run. Weed is the dominant of the two, dragging a reluctant Harris, who only had six months left on his sentence, along under punishment of death should he refuse.
Their first stop is to the house of Harris’s girlfriend, Ann (Linda York). York’s career was similar to Mills’, but lacking the broad scope. That means that we viewers finally, after enduring something of a prison sentence of our own, get to see some gratuitous nudity. Then the tables get turned on us, morally speaking, as the flick gets rape-y. Weed doesn’t much care for Harris and Ann’s fidelity to each other, or for Ann’s willingness as a lover.
In the film’s final act, Weed and Harris continue their run from the law by taking an old farmer (Ralph Campbell), and his nubile wife (Mills) hostage. There doesn’t seem to be much of a point to this beyond creating an opportunity to show Mills naked. Not too long after that is accomplished, the film comes to an abrupt end, freeing the audience from the clutches of a rank movie experience.
There was much promise to that falsehood of a title. Jonathan Demme, a mere three years after this flick was released, showed the heights a ‘women in prison’ flick could attain with Caged Heat. He made a film that is both a joy, and an embarrassment, to watch. Chain Gang Women is just trash. It has moments of shitty movie glee sprinkled around here and there, but it’s mostly a slog to get through. Funny enough, the liveliest bits of the film take place during the chain gang scenes. There was a much more watchable shitty movie to be found there, but Frost and Bishop decided to con potential viewers rather than be honest about what kind of film they made. Too bad.
Luckily for Frost and Bishop, I will rank this flick solely on its watchability, and not on any sales trickery. Still, Chain Gang Women falls well into the bottom half of the Watchability Index, landing at #236, displacing the dreadful Phantom from Space. I watched it, so you don’t have to.