The Big Doll House


1h 33m 1971
The Big Doll House

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
Jan 1971
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 3 Sep 1971
Production Company
New World Pictures
Distribution Company
New World Pictures
Country
Philippines and United States
Location
Manila, Philippines; Manila, Phillipines

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 33m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (DeLuxe)

Synopsis

At a woman's prison in the Philippines, Marni Collier begins her ninety-nine year sentence for killing her husband. After a humiliating body search, she is examined by Dr. Phillips, who is new to the labor camp and admires the lovely women incarcerated there. The sadistic warden, Lucian, puts Marni in a cell with tough prostitute Helen Grear, Karen Alcott, political prisoner Erica Bodine, Ferina and Harrad, a heroin addict. Grear, a lesbian who treats Harrad like her property in return for supplying her with heroin, decides Marni will be her next conquest. That night, Harrad sets Marni's sheets on fire and calls her a spy. The women gang up on her and force her to "confess" by holding her head in the fetid toilet, but when Harrad tries again to burn her, Bodine stops them. The next day, the women's former cellmate, O'Connor, is cremated. Prison supervisor Miss Dietrich leads the service, and afterward, when Karen tells her that she heard O'Connor screaming after Lucian took her into a private room, Dietrich promises to look into it. Later, the women fill Marni in on the details of their lives: a man called Col. Mendoza, a member of the secret police, runs the prison, but no one has ever seen him. Bodine yearns for her revolutionary boyfriend, Rafael, while Harrad is in prison because she killed her own baby. Marni relates how she killed her playboy husband in self-defense after they both slept with the same houseboy. Outside, Leyte, a guard, greets Harry and Fred, mercenary Americans who sell food and supplies to the guards and prisoners. Harry offers to give Grear a letter addressed to her if she will allow him to grope her, but after she allows him to degrade her, she discovers the letter is for Bodine and explodes in impotent rage. Bodine reads that Rafael is in danger and determines to escape. Later, while planting rice, Grear slips away to procure heroin, while Lucian seizes Bodine for hiding contraband mail. She is hung naked in a bamboo cage in the sun, then tortured nearly to death, but refuses to reveal Rafael's whereabouts. While Lucian performs her duties with relish, a masked figure watches from a chair. Bodine is thrown back in the cell, where Karen ministers to her. When Bodine insists they must escape, Karen demurs, stating that life is always better than death. Later, while the women shower, Grear exercises her power over Marni by forcing her to wash her. Marni then approaches Karen, asking to align with her, but Karen rebuffs her. Upon spotting Fred watching her shower, Karen steals a knife from the kitchen and corners Fred in a storeroom, commanding him at knifepoint to have sex with her. However, they are caught by Lucian, who is thrilled by the opportunity to punish Karen. She tortures Karen by electrocution, and is transporting her to another room when Dr. Phillips sees them and directs Karen to be brought to the infirmary. He complains to Dietrich, but when she dismisses his concerns, he asks her on a date. After Karen recovers, she and Bodine plan an escape, deducing that their only hope is to break through the front gate. Knowing they need another comrade, they target Marni, who is chafing under Grear's domination. Karen declares she wants Marni, prompting Grear to challenge her to a fight. Soon after, the women sneak away from their work in the fields for Karen and Grear to face off with each other. After a struggle, Karen pins Grear face down in the mud and Grear is forced to surrender. When Marni joins the escape plan, the rest of the cellmates do as well. Over the next days, Bodine schools the women in how to handle guns and the group finalizes their plan. Grear, who has not been able to find any heroin, worries about Harrad, who is deteriorating as she suffers withdrawal. One day at lunch, Karen begins a food fight. Lucian douses the women with water to contain them, orders the whole population to receive no food for twenty-four hours, and imprisons Bodine, Karen, Marni and Ferina for starting the melee. Later, Grear sneaks into Lucian's office, where she is almost bitten by a wild rattlesnake until Lucian enters and captures it. When Grear, who is actually Lucian's spy, refuses to talk about the food fight, the warden, her drug supplier, refuses to give her any heroin. Desperate, Grear returns to the cell and disrobes in order to entice Harry into helping them, inviting him and Fred to sneak into the cell that night to have sex. Lucian orders Ferina, Bodine, Karen and Marni locked in the "hot box," an enclosed room filled with steam in which prisoners are kept for days. After sending the guards away, Lucian releases Marni. As Harry and Fred arrive with contraband alcohol to get Leyte drunk, Dr. Phillips meets Dietrich for their dinner date while in the cell, Grear ties a piece of wire to Ferina's cat and tosses it out window so it will reach the imprisoned women. Harrad begs her for more heroin, and when Grear hits her in frustration, Harrad, convinced that Grear plans to abandon her, stabs her with a homemade needle. Meanwhile, Lucian tortures Marni by hanging the rattlesnake over her body, and the other women hear Marni's cries for help. Finally, the cat makes its way to the hotbox window, allowing the women to fashion the wire into a trap. While Dr. Phillips tries to convince Dietrich to take the prisoners' complaints seriously, Karen calls to Lucian, who buzzes Dietrich, summoning her. The women snare Lucian around the neck with the wire and take her prisoner, and after retrieving the guns they had hidden, rescue Marni and lock up Lucian with the snake. When the masked figure appears, the women subdue and unmask the figure, who is revealed to be Dietrich. Just then, Dr. Phillips enters, and after the women bind him and Dietrich, they call in the guard, in order to disarm and kill her. Outside, Harry and Fred have intoxicated Leyte and sneak into the women's cell. Seeing Grear's dead body, they flee, leaving Harrad's cell door open. At their truck, they are met by the women, who demand that they drive them and their hostages, Dr. Phillips and Dietrich, out of the prison. While they drive off, Harrad, raving, wanders out and is shot to death by a guard. As Karen forces Harry at gunpoint to ram open the gate, the cat slips out of the truck, and when Ferina tries to catch it, she is shot. Later, in the hills outside the prison, Marni finds Bodine writing a letter to Rafael and realizes that she has been fatally wounded. Meanwhile, Dr. Phillips hears Dietrich declare that the prisoners are "an impure infection that must be wiped out." The supervisor then grabs a gun and waves it at Karen, unaware that the weapon is not loaded. In response, Karen instructs Harry to rape Dietrich, but before he can finish, they are surrounded by the army and ordered to surrender. The wounded Bodine, brandishing two machine guns, opens fire on the soldiers, but is soon killed. As Karen is shot, Marni escapes through the woods and the soldiers descend on the truck. Dr. Phillips then instructs the soldiers to lock up Dietrich, but she insists that he is a delusional schizophrenic, not noticing that the wounded Karen is preparing to light the gasoline pouring out of the truck. In the explosion, Dietrich is killed, while Dr. Phillips rescues Karen. Upon reaching the main road, Marni begins to hitchhike and is thrilled to obtain a ride with a handsome man, until he reveals that he is part of the team searching for her to return her to jail.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
Jan 1971
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 3 Sep 1971
Production Company
New World Pictures
Distribution Company
New World Pictures
Country
Philippines and United States
Location
Manila, Philippines; Manila, Phillipines

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 33m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (DeLuxe)

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Although the onscreen credits include a 1971 copyright statement for New World Pictures, Inc., the film was not registered at the time of its theatrical release. New World Pictures registered the picture for copyright in 1982 under the number PA-145-008. Early August 1970 Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety news items indicated that Roger Corman, head of New World Pictures, would produce and direct The Big Doll House, with James Gordon White writing the screenplay. In October 1970 Daily Variety reported that Lenny Stack had been hired to write the film's score.
       As noted in contemporary news items and reviews, the film was shot on location in Manila. Contemporary and modern sources point out that, despite the nudity and sadistic violence perpetrated against women in The Big Doll House, the fact that the women prisoners took on the kind of active, heroic roles traditionally performed by men marked it as a small step forward for women. According to a modern source, the film enjoyed a box-office success that touched off a trend of women-in-prison films. Judy Brown, Roberta Collins and Pamela Grier also appeared together in the 1971 women's prison film Women in Cages (see below).

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1971

Released in United States 1971