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Jerry Gross
William Watson, Julie Ange, RK Charles
Writing Credits:
Jerry Gross

Three young people are framed, arrested, and thrown into prison by corrupt Southern police.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English DTS Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 95 min.
Price: $24.95
Release Date: 4/19/2022

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Jennifer Churchill
• ďItís All in the TitleĒ Featurette
• Booklet


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Girl on a Chain Gang [Blu-Ray] (1966)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 19, 2022)

Given its title, one might assume 1966ís Girl on a Chain Gang will offer a pure exploitation flick. However, the movie instead attempts to present social commentary Ė with a healthy dollop of sleaze, that is.

When pals Ted Branch (Ron Segal), Jean Rollins (Julie Ange) and Audie Dixon (???) travels through the American south, cops pull over their car. Local authorities feel threatened by this trio, as they comprise a white man, a Black man and a white woman.

Eager to misuse their power, the police officers arrest and jail the three northerners. This sends the unfairly accused travelers into desperate straits to regain their freedom.

On the surface, Gang comes with promise, mainly because it confronts hot-button issues of the day. Similar police harassment impacted civil rights activists who passed through Mississippi in 1964, and those events inspired Gang.

One major shift in the adaptation of fact to fiction involves the gender makeup of the trio. The actual folks were all men, so Gang alters matters to include a female.

And thereís your exploitation tilt! Though the first act of Gang plays matters pretty straight, it then heads into the tawdrier territory implied by the title.

Sort of. Gang canít quite make up its mind what tale it wants to tell, so it mixes more high-minded concepts with elements that lean toward action/thriller.

This means Gang doesnít satisfy in either regard. It feels neither like a hard-hitting exposť of bigotry and the misuse of power nor a gleefully sleazy exploitation flick.

Writer/director Jerry Gross eventually gained success as a producer on 1971ís seminal Sweet Sweetbackís Baadasssss Song. Previously a distributor, Gang became his debut before he embarked on a career that embraced drive-in fare.

Gross seems conflicted here, as he canít decide where to send Gang. As noted, the title pushes for that ďgrindhouseĒ conceit, and every once in a while, the movie embraces those trends.

However, most of the movie concentrates on the police schemes. It feels like a good half of the movie simply shows Sheriff Sonny Lew Wymer (William Watson) as he plots ways to pull off his plan.

This turns painfully boring. Even at a mere 95 minutes, Gang comes across as padded, for Gross extends these scenes of Wymerís shenanigans well past the point of exhaustion.

Every once in a while, the flick tries to spice up matters with the sleaze that anyone who watches a movie called Girl On a Chain Gang wants. However, those efforts feel half-hearted and pass too quickly to make a dent.

When Jean finally joins the titular chain gang about 15 minutes before the end, the film suddenly snaps to attention and embraces its lurid notions. Ange poses in provocative ways with her braless torso as revealed as the eraís censorship would allow, and other material kicks into the gear we always expected.

This defines too little, too late, though. All that sluggish exposition in the first 80 minutes renders these stabs impotent.

A generally amateurish feel doesnít help Gang. Clearly shot for about 27 cents, the movie never becomes an embarrassment in terms of performances and production values.

That said, the film also fails to find much quality to display. Acting feels passable and no better, and the movie lacks a real sense of cinematic vitality, as it stays static and flat in terms of editing and photography.

Buried beneath the tedium, a good story exists here. Unfortunately, no one involved with Gang possessed the talent to make that quality project.

Footnote: I didnít name the actor who played Audie because he goes uncredited in the film and I couldnít find his identity. Those behind this Blu-rayís extras couldnít name the performer either.

Why did Audie go anonymous? That also remains a mystery. Perhaps this acts as some social commentary to make Audie an everyman who represents the suffering of Blacks.

However, I suspect thatís a stretch that gives those behind this film too much credit. There is almost certainly a more prosaic explanation for this actorís lack of credit but the truth remains unknown.

The Disc Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C/ Bonus C

Girl On a Chain Gang appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While the image generally looked good, it suffered from too many inconsistencies to get a high grade.

Actually, my main complaint stemmed from print flaws, as they created a lot of concerns. Thin vertical lines cropped up frequently during the movie, and these turned into a consistent distraction.

I didnít see specks or marks, but frames occasionally went absent. These meant odd jumps at times.

That seemed like a shame, as the rest of the presentation worked well. With only minor exceptions, sharpness satisfied, as the movie boasted pretty positive delineation.

The primary anomalies came from 1:17:39 to 1:20:33, as the film turned strangely blurry over that span. Otherwise I thought we got nice accuracy.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering appeared, and I saw no edge haloes. Grain appeared pretty natural.

Blacks felt dark and tight, while shadows appeared fairly smooth. Without the frame jumps and all those thin lines, this would become a strong image, but due to all those print flaws, it ended up as a ďC-ď.

Gang came with a wholly mediocre DTS monaural soundtrack. Speech tended to seem somewhat distant and bland, without great naturalism, though the lines remained fully intelligible.

Music showed more oomph, but this also meant a shrill quality at times. Effects followed suit, as they tended to be lackluster and occasionally a little distorted.

For its age, the track was acceptable but it never became better than meh. I also docked points due to the absence of a lossless option.

A few extras appear, and we get an audio commentary from film historian Jennifer Churchill. She brings a running, screen-specific look at story/characters, cast and crew, and genre related domains.

When I see Churchillís name attached to a commentary, my expectations decline dramatically. While Iím sure sheís a lovely person, Iíve not enjoyed her discussions, as theyíve been superficial and forgettable.

Does Churchill alter this pattern with Gang? No, and that means we get another banal chat.

Churchill rarely brings any real insights or introspection to the table. She mainly offers material we could get from IMDB, and even those notes sometimes lack accuracy.

For instance, Churchill mentions 1932ís I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang and claims it took home multiple Oscars, including Best Picture. No Ė while it earned three nominations, it won zero, with Cavalcade as Best Picture.

If Churchill canít even get easily obtained information like that correct, why should we trust anything else she says? Throw in irrelevant personal notes and a lot of dead air and you get another weak Churchill commentary.

A featurette called Itís All in the Title runs 13 minutes, 16 seconds and provides an audio essay from film historian Chris Poggiali. He gives us a look at the life and career of writer/director/producer Jerry Gross.

Poggiali also gets into aspects of Gang. We get a fairly tight little overview here.

The package ends with a booklet that offers photos and an essay from film historian Lisa Petrucci. It concludes the set on a positive note.

Despite the lurid title, Girl On a Chain Gang presents a largely slow and dull experience. The movie teeters between drive-in exploitation fare and serious drama without consistency. The Blu-ray offers erratic picture and audio as well as a few bonus materials. This winds up as an unsatisfying cinematic experience.

Viewer Film Ratings: 1 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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