Thursday, April 18, 2013

99 Women (Jess Franco, 1969)

Timing it so that when the new prisoners (a.k.a. "the new fish") are brought in, it's the first thing they see, Rosalba Neri makes sure they get an eyeful of her reclining in her black stay-up stockings. It's obvious that Zoe (Rosalba Neri) knows exactly what she's doing. Fiddling with the tops of her stockings the same way a car mechanic fiddles with an engine, Rosalba Neri has powerful stems, and it's clear from the get-go that she isn't afraid to wield them in a manner that will help her curry favour with others. When incarcerated in a prison located on an island off the coast of Panama, some people use their wits to survive, others use brute force. Well, I got news for you, honey, Rosalba Neri, a.k.a. Prisoner #76, uses her gams. You would be surprised how much one can get done when you own a shapely pair of Italian legs. Who needs cigarettes when you've got legs for miles. If you think it's strange that I've mentioned Rosalba Neri four, wait, make that, five times, even though I have yet to mention the name of the film, you clearly have no idea who you're dealing with. To not open with a bit on Rosalba Neri's stocking-encased legs as they appear in 99 Women, the Jess Franco (R.I.P.) movie that became the blueprint for almost every women in prison flick that followed it, would be an act of pure dishonesty. Staring me square in the face at all times, to not comment on the full-court leg show Rosalba Neri puts on in this film would be a tell tale sign that I have completely lost my mind. And, as you can plainly see, judging by the content of some of the words I've assembled so far, my mind is not even close to being lost. In fact, you could say, my mind is sharper than its ever been. And to think, I have Rosalba Neri, and her scrumptious calves, her smooth thighs, her pert feet, and, not to mention, her sturdy knees, to thank for keeping my mind in tip-top shape. 
After Bruno Nicolai's "The Day I Was Born" has finished being awesome on the soundtrack, and the new prisoners have been processed, Rosalba Neri's Zoe greets Helga, a.k.a. Prisoner #97 (Elisa Montés), who shows up dressed like a Las Vegas showgirl, Natalie Mendoza, a.k.a. Prisoner #98 (Luciana Paluzzi), a heroin addict in a red sweater, and Marie, a.k.a. Prisoner #99 (Maria Rohm), a naive blonde, by taunting them with her sturdy, black stocking-covered legs.   
Her legs dangling seductively from a drab, oversize, blueish work shirt, Rosalba Neri tells them, "Welcome to the club," while boasting a catty smile. Adjusting the makeshift ties that keep her stockings up as the new fish find their bunks, it's obvious that Rosalba Neri enjoys her stockings just as much as I enjoy writing about them.
You have to wonder, though, why does Rosalba Neri get to wear stockings? I mean, Helga enters the prison, which has been nicknamed "The Castle of Death," wearing a pair of showgirl issue fishnet pantyhose, yet you don't see her wearing them after she's been processed. Her legs are just as unadorned as everyone else who is not named Rosalba Neri. Why is that? What is so special about Rosalba Neri? You kidding, right? Oh, I know, she's gorgeous beyond belief. Yeah, but, Thelma Diaz (Mercedes McCambridge), the prison's sappho-aligned superintendent, doesn't seem like she's the kind of person who would allow such rules to be violated. And it's obvious that this prison has a strict dress code.
In fact, violating the dress code is the sort of thing that would land you in one of the prison's infamous "punishment cells."
Are Thelma Diaz and Rosalba Neri's character super-secret lovers? Maybe. The superintendent does seem to go easy on her. No, think about it. Even though Rosalba Neri is caught fighting on several occasions, I don't ever recall seeing her in one of the punishment cells. Good point. But did it ever occur to you that Thelma just wants, like any sane individual, to see Rosalba Neri's wheels sheathed black nylons around the clock?
After all, Rosalba Neri was the hottest stripper in the underground lesbian bar scene. In other words, dykes dig her. Interesting. What's interesting? Nothing. No, c'mon. Tell us. Okay, I couldn't help but notice that you used the past tense when describing Rosalba Neri's time as a stripper. Right. Well, for one thing, she's currently in prison. But even if she wasn't, in prison, that is, I don't think she would doing much stripping at bars that cater to discerning lesbians. You see, we learn, via flashback, that Rosalba Neri worked at as a stripper at an underground lesbian bar. You already mentioned that. Oh, yeah. The woman who hires her, a sophisticated lesbian named Grace, is pissed that Rosalba Neri plans to marry her boyfriend.
Angry that Rosalba Neri is about to waste her hotness, and, not to mention, her first-rate stems, on some heterosexual man with a penis, Grace confronts her with a gun.
As we soon find out, Rosalba Neri is not someone to be trifled with. A struggle ensues, and, after one thing leads to another, the gun goes off, and just like that, Rosalba Neri finds herself in a drab work shirt with the number seventy-six written on it.
The great thing about the Rosalba Neri flashback sequence is that it's quite lengthy (it fleshes her character out more than all the other cast members combined), and it wonderfully showcases her beauty in a non-prison environment. Seriously, if you thought Rosalba Neri looked good in a drab work shirt and black hold-up stockings, you should see the candlelight stripetease number she performs for a small gathering of lesbians; it's out of sight.
If I wasn't convinced that Rosalba Neri was leggy cognizant before the stocking flaunting scene, the scene where she shows Marie her leg in a boastful fashion sealed the deal for me. Recovering from the injuries she suffered in a fight (one that Helga totally started) in the prison's infirmary, Rosabla Neri, who seems to have hurt her left leg during the melee, hovers menacingly over Marie, who is crying in her bed.
Telling her, well, telling her first to, "shut up," Rosalba Neri then says, "You hurt my leg. My beautiful leg." And as she is saying the second part, she extends the damaged gam (revealing the full force of its gammage) and mock gestures towards it like it were a new car waiting to be won on The Price Is Right.
It should go without saying, but Rosalba Neri's ostentatious leg display in the infirmary scene is probably one of the greatest leg moments in film history. And the fact she is still wearing a stocking on her uninjured leg makes it even greater.
Struggle, straddle. Straddle, struggle. Light jazz. Rinse and repeat.
In a veiled attempt to make this look like a legitimate movie review, here's bit about the film's plot: The prison's stern superintendent, Thelma Diaz, is being evaluated by an idealistic woman named Leonie Carroll (Maria Schell), a young up-and-comer in the cut-throat world of women's corrections. Dismayed by Thelma's harsh treatment of the prisoners, Miss Carroll tries to placate her harshness with a softer, more humane approach to incarceration. While these two butt heads with one another over their respective rehabilitation techniques, the island's governor, Governor Santos (Herbert Lom), is mainly concerned with satisfying his carnal lust.
To the surprise of virtually no-one, Miss Carroll's kid gloves approach fails miserably, as Marie, Helga, and Rosalie (Valentina Godoy), a short-haired redhead with a wonderfully round bum, flee into the jungle when no-one is looking. And why was no-one looking, you ask? Ask Miss Carroll. It was her bright idea to take the guards off night watch. In her mind, the prisoners won't want to escape if you treat them with respect. Anyway, I started to lose interest once the film turned into a jungle fugitive flick. I mean, if you're not going to bring Rosalba Neri along, what's the point? Exactly. There isn't one. No Neri, no watchy. It's that simple.
Lacking the graphic violence of its cinematic cousins, such as Bare Behind Bars, Women's Prison Massacre, and Jess Franco's own Barbed Wire Dolls, 99 Women has quality acting (Mercedes McCambridge and Herbert Lom are both excellent) and old school titillation (two words: Rosalba Neri) on its side, as the film trades over the top gore for thrills of a more subtle nature.
Don't be alarmed, though, the film still packs quite the wallop, as they say. It's got a cruel warden, a piggish governor who dresses like a German World War I officer, a naive new girl who doesn't know the ropes, cat fights (no shower fights, or shower scenes, for that matter, but one of the girl brawls is water-based), and one helluva dyke bar flashback. Employing words that are slightly different than the one's I just used, it's got all the ingredients any reasonable person could possibly need to make one delectable women in prison treat.


  1. Someone is in his happy place.

  2. Not only do you know your Franco but you can work magic with words, I am blown away

  3. Thanks. I sometimes wish every film I watched was directed by Jess Franco.