Sunday, May 18, 2014

Women of Devil's Island, The Female Version of Papillon

Square jawed Guy Madison broke into show business while on leave from the U.S. Navy.  This hunk then appeared in many adventure, romance, and western movies before leaving for Europe to star in films there.  In 1962, he played the mysterious warden in today's film, "Women of Devil's Island." An Italian film, today's feature will remind us of "Papillon" only instead of grizzled and hardened cut-throats as the convicts, we have voluptuous Parisian fashion models (notice the Devil's Island wardrobe in the below picture) in those roles. for me.
The plot:  Martine (Michele Mercier) is sent to Devil's Island for some crime.  As depressed as she is, her one point of solace is that her sister Michelle (Federica Ranchi) is already an inmate there.  Her sister was sentenced to life, but took the identity of an inmate named Jeanette (who died) because this woman's sentence was only four years.  Dressed in evening gowns, the prisoners are condemned to slave labor, which means panning for gold in a shallow river.  The women are constantly beaten by the guards and hung upon the rack to dry in the hot sun.  When the girls feel like they cannot take it anymore, they are allowed to make an appointment to request rest with the acting warden (the Lieutenant).  The Lieutenant's "bargain" is that the prisoner agree to a night of carnal relations with him or his staff, and favor will be bestowed upon the inmate. Unbeknownst to our heroines, the gold they are panning is being purloined by the Lieutenant.  
    The women try to escape, but don't get far.  Michelle distracts the Lieutenant with a night of carnal relations and drink, while the women free themselves from their chains. As they head for a hidden boat, the guards ambush them, killing Michelle, who dies in her sister's arms.  The Lieutenant has his informants among the inmates, apparently.  Enter Guy Madison as Henri, a Captain sent to Devil's Island to replace the evil Lieutenant.  Henri immediately stops all mistreatment of the ladies and falls in love with Martine.  The handsome Brubaker type figure is also a man of mystery.  When he finds the Lieutenant's gold stash, he claims it for himself....but why?  Instead of running Devil's Island, he flees to attempt an escape with the convict he loves, Martine.  The Lieutenant realizes that the Captain may not be who he claims, so he musters the guards to track down his new nemesis, who has absconded with the gold and the shapely prison population.  As Martine and Henri fall deeper in love, explosions, gunfights, and carnage lead to an epic battle which could alter the future of France.
 Part exploitation film.  Part historical drama.  Part swashbuckler epic.  Part social commentary.  Whichever way you choose to view "Women of Devil's Island," the film works.  The acting is pretty good and so is the action.  All the inmates are stunning, and have attitude.  The women are so determined to escape that they are willing to sell themselves on some mainland instead of staying put on this rock.  If you slept through the Mel Gibson/Diane Keaton film, "Mrs. Soffel," "Women of Devil's Island" is the film for you.

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