A key innovation of Doll House which comes with its Philippine location -- the screenplay was reportedly set originally in the U.S. -- is the offstage presence of a revolution. Whether subsequent films were set in the Philippines or in Central America, the looming revolution becomes a constant, anchored to the prison by a convict being either a leader or a key sympathizer, i.e. the male leader's lover. Whether or not revolutionaries instigate a breakout, the inevitable breakout inevitably has a revolutionary context. Is the revolution the great hope of female empowerment or overall social justice, the armageddon the entire decade seemed to anticipate, or is it exploitation in its most ironically cynical form? All of the above is the most likely answer. However insincerely, films like these perpetuated the idea of a revolution as a day of reckoning and revenge, even while bursting the bubble in patented Seventies fashion. In this film we never really encounter the revolution, and freedom for anyone proves short-lived, but the potential for revolution has at least been reasserted.
For all the "liberated" modernity of Doll House, and the nudity and violence made possible by the fall of the Production Code, it actually feels old-fashioned in some ways. Visually, as I suggested, Hill and cinematographer Fred Conde tap into the lurid iconography of the men's-adventure mags that succeeded the old pulps in the 1950s, not to mention the extremes of the under-the-counter "shudder pulps" of the previous generation. This film is full of campy yet uncompromisedly intense imagery of torture and other forms of pulchritude under stress, and the dread gaze of the secret masked master.
Hill and Spencer also revive the hard-boiled attitude of 1930s movies. None of the women in prison are innocents. Our point-of-view character, Collier (Judy Brown) killed her husband after becoming his rival for the sexual favors of their houseboy. If anything, Grier is closer to an innocent: though a prostitute, she was jailed because the government feared that her bureaucratic john may have told her too many secrets. But she ends up the least likable tenant of our lead cell, a bully and sexual predator who plays double games with everyone. Bodine, the revolutionary (Pat Woodell) may be the most purely sympathetic character, but she also has about the least personality of the lead cellmates, and politics play little role in the story. The downbeat ending has little of the tragic or despairing quality of typical Seventies cinema, and more of an ironic shrug worthy of a silent comedy.
Here's an R-rated trailer, with vocals by Pam Grier, from Dailymotion.
The Big Doll House - Jack Hill by Blame2Workshop