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  Terminal Island Equal Footing
Year: 1973
Director: Stephanie Rothman
Stars: Don Marshall, Phyllis Davis, Ena Hartman, Marta Kristen, Barbara Leigh, Randy Boone, Sean Kenney, Tom Selleck, Roger E. Mosley, Geoffrey Deuel, Ford Clay, Jo Morrow, Clyde Ventura, Frank Christi, James Whitworth, Richard Stahl, Sandy Ward, Albert Cole
Genre: Action, Thriller, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is the near future and California has outlawed the death penalty in favour of something else: banishment from America. Those who commit the ultimate crime of murder are consigned to an island off the state's coast where they are left to fend for themselves for the rest of their lives, and although there are mixed feelings about this situation from the public, some of whom want the death penalty back, others who think it's going too far, the so-called Terminal Island is working out quite well for the authorities, who have nothing to worry about other than occasionally sending the convicts supplies...

This was your basic women in prison movie from the seventies - or was it? For a start, it was not only women on that island, and there were no sadistic guards, and the streak of female empowerment that often ran through such exploitation works was far more overt here. That last aspect was down to the presence of Stephanie Rothman behind the camera and contributing to the screenplay, a director for whom the then-upcoming women's liberation debate informed much of her material. You could watch this example and not pick up on her editorial elements, and treat it as another low budget action flick from this decade, but if you were of a mind to delve deeper, then there was certainly much to mull over here.

It does not begin promisingly for the female characters, four women trapped on this island with about thirty men. After a discussion in a news room by a team of reporters creating a television news item on the encampment, something to fill us in on what is going on in the rest of the movie, we then centre on Carmen (Ena Hartman), a new arrival who is greeted on her first steps onto the beach with the sight of a dead body lying face down on the shore. The next person she meets is alive, however, and he is none other than Magnum P.I. himself, Tom Selleck, playing a disgraced doctor who through a legal loophole was sent there after performing euthanasia on a hopeless case.

Although Hartman looks to be the star here, it was more of an ensemble cast as most of the actors got their chance in the spotlight, including TV talent like Phyllis Davis and Marta Kristen. Selleck's Magnum co-star Roger E. Mosley (he got the gig on the 'tec show after striking up a friendship with Tom on this) is another of the famous faces to be seen here, as he plays a musclebound bad guy, the righthand man to main villain Bobby (Sean Kenney) who is trying his best to rule the community with an iron fist. Not everyone is having that, and a splinter group has broken off and is living rough in the surrounding countryside; they are all men though, as the women are essentially being kept as slaves by Bobby and his scuzzy heavies.

That means Carmen and her cohorts are forced into physical tasks as Bobby builds his dictatorship, as well as sexual favours which we don't see much of, but are left in no doubt are a bad thing. Fortunately, the women are spirited away by the splinter group and a civil war erupts, with each party getting one over on the other - we're on the side of the rebels, naturally, because Rothman made it clear that with that lot men and women operated as equals, with no needless gender bias or power games. There is plenty of two-fisted action going on, and while the director tends to allow the tension to flag a few too many times, the merits of her philosophy add substance to what could have been strictly run of the mill. Exploitation movies were a good way of smuggling in your point scoring against the ills of society, and nowhere was that more apparent in the seventies, so Terminal Island, while not the best of them, was a better example than some. Music by Michael Andres.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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