Sandra Parker (Lois Nettleton) is the world’s most dedicated parole officer. After one of her parolees is sent back to prison and then dies under mysterious circumstances, Sandra decides to investigate on her own. For Sandra, this means changing her name to Sally Porter and arranging to be sent to prison on a phony charge. For some reason, Sandra/Sally only tells one other person what she’s doing. The plan is for Sandra to spend two weeks undercover and then her friend, fellow parole officer Helen (Penny Fuller), will reveal the truth to the proper authorities and get Sandra sprung from prison. It doesn’t work out that away, as Helen is killed in the line of duty shortly after Sandra finds herself behind bars.
The prison is run by the tyrannical Claire Tyson (Ida Lupino!), a matron who is more interested in exercising power than in rehabilitation. Claire’s main enforcer is a butch prisoner named Dee Dee (Jessica Walter!!). As soon as she enters the prison, Sandra gets on Tyson’s bad side. Sandra asks too many questions and makes the mistake of demanding that her fellow prisoners be treated humanely. Sandra even demands that a prisoner be given aspirin for a migraine, which is the type insubordination that leads to a stay in solitary. (What’s strange is that, in solitary, Sandra ends up sharing a cell with another prisoner which I would think would defeat the purpose of being in solitary.) With Tyson openly plotting to kill her and the only person who knows where she is dead, Sandra has to figure out a way to escape the prison and reveal the truth about what goes on behind bars.
Compared to most women-in-prison films, Women in Chains is pretty tame. This is a women-in-prison film that you could safely watch with grandma. This one was made for early 70s television, so there’s no nudity, no strong language, and even the required prison riot is restrained. The film asks us to believe that Sandra would not only be stupid enough to only let one person know that she was going undercover but also that a parole officer could somehow walk around the prison without running into any prisoners who she previously dealt with. Obviously, the film’s plot is not its strong point but viewers with an appreciation for camp will undoubtedly enjoy the performances of Ida Lupino and Jessica Walter. They rule that cell block with an iron fist and are entertaining to watch.