Swamp Women (1955)
A worn and dated exploitation flick today, made on the ultra-cheap but containing enough buxom girls and hungry alligators to keep drive-in audiences happy and awake for that hour just before curfew. This is actually Roger Corman's directorial debut, the first car in his 50-year train of crappy movies. As with all of Corman's movies, Swamp Women (or Swamp Diamonds, as it's also billed as) had a $500 budget and a three-day shooting schedule, but five decades later it still manages to entertain even the most jaded b-movie reviewer (me).
On to the show...
We open in steamy, sweaty New Orleans, where we learn that three years ago a gang of Girls Gone Wild was sent to jail for various and sundry unladylike crimes. Before they were captured, they hid a stash of stolen diamonds deep in the Louisiana bayous. As the girls won't squeal, the cops eventually call in a female UndercoverCop. She'll pose as a fellow prisoner, gain their confidence, and then break them all out. Hopefully then the bad girls will take UndercoverCop with them to get the diamonds, at which point the fuzz will swoop in and arrest them all (and the diamonds will "disappear" in the evidence lockup room...).
UndercoverCop (I wish lady cops would still wear bowties).
The three bad girls are Josie, BlondeGirl, and BrunetteGirl, typical 1950s ruffianettes with potty-mouths and cigarettes rolled up in their sleeves. Josie is the clear leader, if for no other reason than she's inordinately tall (or the other girls are inordinately short, either way). Not sure how historically accurate this is, but female prisoners in 1950's Louisiana apparently were made to dress like June Cleaver-housewives in calf-length dresses and low-heeled pumps (a far cry from the orange jumpsuits and ballpoint-tattoos of today, yet another reason why I was born 85 years too late). [Editor Pam: I think the dress part is historically correct, although I doubt that the Louisiana prison system supplied its female inmates with such well-fitting ones. Judging from the photo, the women had ample access to hairstyling products, too.]
Torpedo bras are also standard issue.
UndercoverCop makes friends quickly, spinning yarns about her criminal past and her love of stabbing. After a time, while the guards "look the other way", the girls break out of prison and steal a car. They then get a boat and some guns and a lot of hair gel and motor deep into the bayou, trusting Josie's keen memory and Heyerdahl-like navigation skills to find the hidden diamonds.
Love those wide fenders (on the car, that wasn't very nice of you).
The boat breaks down on them, however. Just then another boat approaches. In it are handsome rich guy Bob and his waify socialite girlfriend (oh, and some nameless local Creole guide). We saw them a bit before, but I decided not to worry about them at the time, just know that Bob is good-looking and suave, while his girlfriend is a golddigger with huge breasts and a tiny brain (he seems to be tolerating her due to one of those qualities...).
The bad girls need that boat, so they shoot the guide dead and kidnap Bob and his girlfriend. They were just going to kill the hapless couple, but UndercoverCop convinces them to keep them as hostages, she'd hate to have to blow her cover by saving their butts. As Bob is a man, and therefore 478% more dangerous, they tie him up tight, but let his girlfriend wander around unhindered (good girls are powerless against the madness that is outrageous female delinquency!).
The girls discuss the new plan.
The first day on the hot, lazy river is full of stockfootage gators and stockfootage birds, with the girls gasping and pointing off-screen quiet nicely. Myself, I would hate to be in a swamp, too hot and muggy, I despise humidity and its unfortunate effect on my hair. They camp for the night on a dry patch and the girls cut their pants legs off so they "won't look like boys anymore" (not nearly as sexy as you'd think, never tuck your shirt into your cut-off jean shorts, trust me). They also start making moves on hunky Bob, who is clearly enjoying all this attention as his actual girlfriend seems to be a bit tame (perhaps Bob likes the nasty girls, they like to do the weird stuff on the first date).
She needs a cheeseburger.
The next day Bob's mousy girlfriend tries to escape in the boat, but she can't swim and is eaten by an alligator. Keeping up appearances, Bob makes an effort save her, swimming in the deep end of the pool and knife-wrestling with a rubber alligator prop, but she's a goner. No big loss, really, even Bob seems to totally forget about her in minutes in his rush to flirt with the bad girls. UndercoverCop also seems powerless to resist Bob's husky manliness, despite her better judgment.
The next night they camp again and spend even more time squabbling over who gets to fawn over Bob. Tensions get high, nerves get shot, and for a minute it looks like someone's going to get shanked. For his part, Bob just sits there and smirks a lot, occasionally stealing a wink and a kiss from whichever girl happens to be hitting on him at the moment. He seems to be aware that his raw hotness is driving the women crazy and is using it to his advantage. When they're not embarrassing themselves, the girls chat about what they are going to do with the money (running to Mexico is a popular choice). The lame dialogue is "authentic for the time", I assume, though what bothers me is not what they saw but how they say it. Did every woman in 1955 talk like a Batman villain? We also get a quick (but mandatory) skinny dipping scene, even if it seems like they are wearing flesh-colored bathing suits.
As bayous tend to do, this neck of the swamp is suddenly clogged up by lilypads, forcing them to get out and drag the boat through. Actually, I'm just guessing on that, I've no idea whatsoever what a bayou actually does as my total experience with bayous would consist of watching Swamp Women yesterday. Anyway, eventually Josie finds the exact two-foot by two-foot patch of ground deep in the swamp where they hid the diamonds in an old army surplus ammo box. They dig it out, and after Josie shoots the lock off with her pistol from three inches away, they run their grubby manicure-needed criminal fingers through half a million dollars worth of cut diamonds. They already have a fence lined up who will give them 200gs for the diamonds, so that's 50gs per girl (I went to college).
Of course, as you'd expect, once they find the diamonds, the girls realize that splitting it up four ways doesn't give them as much spending cash as splitting it up two ways, or no ways. The girls start to turn on each other quickly, old rivalries simmering to the surface now that real money is involved. The two feisty chicks get into a wicked fistfight, with face-punches and boob-scratching and everything (had to leave some real bruises and contusions). For our viewing pleasure, Josie waits a few extra minutes before breaking it up, giving us a joy rarely seen outside of junior high homerooms or backstage at the Jerry Springer Show. Later, BrunetteGirl tries to get Josie in on her devious plan to kill off the other two girls and split the cash two ways, but Josie isn't having any of that.
Night time comes (filmed in the daytime but with extra crickets added), and BrunetteGirl takes all their guns and the diamonds and sneaks off (they must all be heavy sleepers!). She also takes a reluctant Bob with her as she plans on him making an honest woman out of her. The other girls wake up and are pissed that they were conned. Realizing that BrunetteGirl didn't take the boat, they suspect she's still nearby, waiting in ambush. They track her through the woods and eventually see her up in a tree with her guns ready, looking like an extra from Tarzan.
BrunetteGirl in tree.
Josie has a brilliant plan to make a spear with a stick and her knife (maybe something she learned in prison?). The other two girls circle around to draw off BrunetteGirl's fire (thought they have little to worry about as she shoots from the hip, emptying two guns without hitting anything). BrunetteGirl is further distracted by a stockfootage rattlesnake that is menacing her future-love-slave Bob, allowing Josie to get the spear into her. As she dies, BrunetteGirl shoots the snake (it sure as hell looks like they shot an actual snake!) before falling out of the tree.
Poor snake, he had so much to live for.
All that over, they retrace their route back along the river, but the noose is tightening. The police have been following them for some time now, though they've been ordered to stay out of sight until called by UndercoverCop. I wonder what would have happened if the bad girls had just shot UndercoverCop and dumped her body in the river a long time ago, the police would have found it near impossible to track them in this swamp.
Hey, remember that scene in Moonraker?
Eventually the two remaining bad girls begin to suspect something is fishy with UndercoverCop as she keeps looking around expectantly. They force her hand by telling her to kill Bob with a knife or she's out of the club, but she turns the tables on them and a big fight breaks out. While his hands are still tied behind his back, Bob is able to waterbuffalo BlondeGirl to the ground as UndercoverCop takes on Josie in a wicked punch-and-hair-pull beat-down at the river's edge. While it's always SuperSexyTime whenever two girls in tight shorts fight each other with knives, this one is not as much fun as you'd expect (also, no one ends up topless, for shame). In the end, Josie and BlondeGirl are knocked-out and all is fine and dandy.
"Stab him with this."
The ending sees the police show up while Bob and UndercoverCop slobber on each other. Keep in mind that by this moment Bob has been in the deep bayou for four days without a shower or toothpaste, swum in fetid brackish water, wrestled an alligator, and swapped DNA with three other women. I'm sure he's just yummy by now.
Ohno, he's leaning in!
The closing credits thank the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana by name, though I can't imagine that either had anything to do with this mess. Corman would, of course, go on to become the stuff of legend, so it's nice to see that, even in his first effort, he knew how to entertain.
Written in March 2010 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...