Chain Gang Women/Review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
A lot of pieces fall into the right place for this, Lee Frost's '71 offering. It's not the best work that the Mondo movie maker has ever turned out, my personal favorite of his would have to be 1975's The Black Gestapo, but it is a gritty film that pulls no punches in it's depiction of chain gangs and the men that work on them. The film opens with an aerial view of the chain gang as they are being shipped out to their work camp in Georgia, a shot that seems out of place in the pantheon of grind cinema but, when it comes to putting together a good story on the cheap, Frost ranks higher than most other hack filmmakers. The title, somewhat misleading, refers to the women that become the objects of the chain gang escapees' desires. Our anti-heroes, Weed and Harris (Michael Sterns & Robert Lott), are the only ones left on the run after the gang's mad dash for freedom at the end of the first act. Barely knowing each other, they are forced to put faith in the other man's resourcefulness or ruthlessness, depending on what the occasion calls for.
After laying low for some time they attempt an escape across county lines, abetted by Weed's girlfriend Ann, played somewhat unconvincingly by Linda York. Her lack of emotional investment when Harris acts on his instincts as a free male and rapes her in Weed's absence ends up diminishing the gravity of Harris' offense. Granted, one can't expect to uncover a gem of a character piece when digging through the bottom of the barrel but it never hurts to hope for a spark of Camille Keaton in a woman scorned. The rest of the film focuses on their attempts to get across the county line, aided in the third act by a foe turned friend who seems to succumb to the fastest case of Stockholm syndrome in recorded history after she is kidnapped by the duo and raped by Harris, who doesn't seem to have much else on his mind throughout the film, other than freedom that is.
Frost's cinematography reflects his pedigree as a filmmaker. He effectively guides the audience, shifting focus smoothly in a cluttered frame in some scenes and opening the field of vision to wring tension out of the viewer, sometimes when he may not even be aware that he's doing it. His overuse of quadruple exposure during chase scenes serves no pragmatic purpose aesthetically but it keeps you occupied during otherwise lackluster chase scenes. The script is loaded with clever one-liners that fly under the radar, usually due to delivery but there is some joy to be had in the musings of a group of men mandated to work together despite their wills. A memorable scene shows a bigot pick a fight with the black man he is forced to work in tandem with, illustrating the true "grin & bear it" nature of a life of codependency. Overall, the film moves at a healthy pace, aided by an often surprisingly catchy soundtrack and earns it's place in the oeuvre of one of grind cinema's game changers.
Reviewed by Dr Timberlane