10 October 2005 | phillindholm
A Slammer Spectacular!
Women's prison films have always had an appreciative audience. Perhaps the first noteworthy one was "Caged" which starred Eleanor Parker. Released in 1950, it garnered good reviews and great box office. It also led to numerous inferior imitations, such as "Women's Prison" (1955) which at least featured a scenery-chewing performance from Ida Lupino as the wicked warden--(a role she would repeat, more or less, in the 1972 TV movie "Women In Chains".) There was also 1962's "House Of Women" which starred Shirley Knight. The seventies ushered in such examples as the Roger Corman/New World productions of "Women in Cages" and "The Big Doll House". Then came Jonathan Demme's take on the subject "Caged Heat", after which the genre was pretty much left to porno producers. But in 1982, one of the best films on the subject was released. "The Concrete Jungle" was produced on a low budget and a quick shooting schedule (but, then, weren't most films in this genre?) and managed to deliver a gritty and tense story of one relatively innocent girl's battle to survive a hellish female penitentiary.
When her slimy boyfriend Danny (Peter Brown) uses his unsuspecting girlfriend Elizabeth (Tracy Bregman) to carry a stash of cocaine in her skis, she is nabbed by airport security. After a speedy trial, she is sent to the Correctional Institution for Women in California. There she learns quickly that she must toughen up if she hopes to leave there in one piece. She also eventually finds that the warden (Jill St John) is not only cruel and unsympathetic, but in cahoots with an inmate Cat (Barbara Luna) the prison's Queen Bee, who is her partner in a prison drug and prostitution racket. When Elizabeth witnesses a murder committed by Cat and her henchwomen, she spurns her attentions and becomes her enemy. Meanwhile, Deputy Director Shelly Meyers (Nita Talbot), aware of the drug and prostitution business run by the warden and Cat, also suspects that Elizabeth has knowledge that could help her convict the villains, and she begins to press her for information. This does not bode well for Elizabeth, for by now, the warden is also suspicious and seeks to destroy the girl before she can talk.
Lurid, (and undeniably sleazy at times), "The Concrete Jungle" is nevertheless a fully satisfying melodrama, and one which tells a convincing story. The supporting cast is full of exploitation-film regulars, each of whom does a good job. Bregman is fine as the heroine, St John is a chilling warden, and Luna gets the role of her life as the vicious Cat who makes life hell for those who oppose her. Especially noteworthy is Talbot as the crusading penal official. "Jungle's" Producer, Billy Fine, would try to top the box office success of this one with "Chained Heat" the following year, but that film (and most of those that followed it) were really unintentional parodies of the genre.