NEW WORLD PICTURES MONTH: The Big Doll House (1971)

According to Stephanie Rothman, Roger Corman started this film by having James Gordon White write it, but he didn’t like the results. She, her husband Charles S. Swartz and Frances Doel plotted the idea and had Don Spencer write the actual script. Corman wanted her to direct it, but she turned it down. Enter Jack Hill and enter the Philippines, where John Ashley and his partners put up a chunk of the money, leading to this movie getting its unique look.

Collier (Judy Brown, The Manhandlers) is the new girl in prison, there for murdering her old man. That’s Pam Grier singing as we meet the girls on the block: tough lesbian Grear (yeah, Grier), her dominated girl Harrad (Brooke Mills, The Student Teachers), blonde badass Alcott (Roberta Collins, who dominated the screen in Caged HeatDeath Race 2000Wonder Women and Unholy Rollers), Ferina (Gina Stuart) and her cat, and political dissident Bodine (Pat Woodell, a long way from Petticoat Junction). They’re all under the watchful and brutal eye of Miss Dietrich (Christiane Schmitdmer, The Giant Spider Invasion) and head girl in charge Lucian (Kathryn Loder, an out of control lunatic in this; she was the daughter of a theologian and nearly died of undiagnosed diabetes during the filming of the movie; she’s also in Foxy Brown). 

Nearly everything the women in prison genre is known for comes from this movie and the Caged Heat. This also throws in Sid Haig — more movies could use him — and Roberta Collins assaulting a man, snarling “You’ll either get it up or I’ll cut it off!” in a scene that had to titillate as much as it terrified men more than fifty years ago. She also has a movie stealing mud fight with Grier and then you also have Woodell double firing submachine guns and realism be damned, it looks incredible.

When this was cast, Grier was working as the receptionist at the American-International Pictures front desk. Can you imagine coming in for a meeting and Pam Grier is just sitting there? Two years later and she’d be perhaps the biggest non-major studio actress of the 70s. While many of the actresses in this film had to be convinced to do nude scenes, she asked for them. She’d later tell Rolling Stone, “I call it the Brown Nipple Revolution. We weren’t the epitome of sexual attraction for the male audience, in movies, magazines, anything. We were told our brown nipples weren’t attractive. I was trying to break that line of what was acceptable in society.”

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