One of TV’s best B grade trashers has got to be 1972’s Women in Chains with Ida Lupino as dyke Tyson, the prison matron terrorizing Lois Nettleton while putting the make on the fresh arrivals. Lois is a reporter who enters prison undercover to find out why a young, basically innocent prisoner was killed—and by you know who. It rips off from the classics like Eleanor Parker’s Caged, Women in Cages, and, of course, Women’s Prison, with Lupino a super lording over one-noters like Jan Sterling and Audrey Totter. Directed by Bernard Kowalski, Women in Chains isn’t the intentional riot that is Reform School Girls, with that wacko Pat Ast, but it does in 74 minutes what Australia’s Prisoner: Cell Block H tried to do as a limited series. It’s an effective “comic” suspenser that gives Lupino her best role since 1943’s The Hard Way, for which she won the N.Y. Critics award as best actress, and the 1972 Junior Bonner, for which she received excellent notices, a few runner-up citations among critics’ annual prizes and a deep thanks from director Sam Peckinpah who, back in 1957, was discovered by Lupino to be sleeping behind her property and put him to work on the series Mr. Adams and Eve. It’s difficult to argue that she isn’t more indulgently Tyson than any other character she ever played. Bloated in face, topped with a hideous lez mop, ready to punch her charges with a bully club or shove it into any orifice, she has a ball browbeating the entire prison. When she’s giving her “sweet cakes” the you-better-do-it-my-way advice, the repulsive intimidation is consummate raunch; when her stoolies Jessica Walter and Barbara Luna whisper that “Tyson” could do this to you or “Tyson” might do that, the name becomes synonymous with nightmares of incarceration. Once calling herself the “poor man’s Bette Davis,” Lupino, born in England, considered her acting career a failure—an appraisal not shared by movie lovers—but she would become one of the first women stars to become a director-writer-producer. (The Directors Guild once listed her as Irving Lupino.) Primarily a director of episodic TV, her biggest commercial movie success as director was 1966’s The Trouble with Angels, starring Rosalind Russell and Hayley Mills. Lupino married three times: to actor Louis Hayward, to Columbia executive Collier Young, and to actor Howard Duff, with whom she starred for a season on Mr. Adams and Eve. She’d later divorce Duff, who, as one of Hollywood’s most prolific and appreciated lovers, had simultaneous affairs with Lena Horne and Ava Gardner.
Text COPYRIGHT © 2005 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.