Oh, issue pictures. If handled right, they can be very good. If handled wrong, you get a matron stabbed to death with a fork. The government doesn't want to give Crusading Warden Ruth Benton (Agnes Moorhead) enough money to run a clean, safe prison that prepares its inmates for rehabilitation. No psychiatrists. No classes. A filthy infirmary. No doctor on call--the warden must call doctor after doctor in the middle of the night in order to get one to attend to a premature birth. And the doctor wouldn't even have been needed if there had been access to prenatal care. What's more, cruel, corrupt Matron Evelyn Harper (Hope Emerson) is a political appointee. Her friends in high places won't let Warden Benton fire her, even though it would really be better for all concerned--well, all except Harper, of course! Harper also has a large, cushy room in the prison. She's perfectly willing to be bought. She won't necessarily stay bought, though.
Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker) helped her husband knock over a gas station. Their take was forty dollars. Her husband was killed by the attendant. She got one to fifteen for being an accomplice. And so she goes to Unnamed Penitentiary. Warden Benton is kind to her and tries to make her transition to prison life easy, especially since the intake physical shows that she is pregnant. Unfortunately, she ends up in the "care" of Matron Harper, who clearly has designs on her that Marie pretty much fails to notice. Marie is dumped in a ward full of prostitutes, shoplifters, and murderesses. She starts out essentially innocent, as she has never been in trouble before. She is scared to death, especially over what will happen to her baby.
There is a very strong implication that, if Warden Benton's reforms were passed through, everything would be sunshine and light for Marie. For one thing, Marie must give her baby up for adoption, because her stepfather won't let her mother take it. I don't know if the warden's reforms would let her keep it. In fact, I rather doubt that they would. But the medical care she received would have ensured that the baby was healthier, at least, and probably not born premature. The infirmary nurse (an uncredited Eileen Stevens) has helped any number of women give birth, but she is not equipped to handle this. Marie would get the psychological care she needed to deal with her new situation, and there would be classes to prepare her for life on the outside. In fact, there seems to be no system in place to help any of the women when they get out, yet they are expected to have somewhere to go and a job to go to before they can be paroled.
This was actually nominated for three Oscars--two for acting! Eleanor Parker's over-the-top Marie lost to Judy Holliday's sweet, ditzy Billie Dawn, itself an upset over nominees from both [i]All About Eve[/i] and [i]Sunset Boulevard[/i]. Hope Emerson (who lifted Spencer Tracy--whose 109th birthday was yesterday--in [i]Adam's Rib[/i]) lost to Josephine Hull ([i]Harvey[/i]'s Veta Louise Simmons), who also beat two women from [i]All About Eve[/i] and one from [i]Sunset Boulevard[/i]. Comedic upsets all 'round, then. (Though it and [i]Adam's Rib[/i] lost to [i]Sunset Boulevard[/i], so there's that.) Actually, if you go through the Academy's database for the year, there was some pretty good stuff. Surely there must have been two other women who did better acting that year!
Bluntly, the film feels more aimed at prurient interests than actually making any social changes. It's true that Warden Benton's reforms would in time be made. Of course, fewer women are incarcerated, and fewer of those women are violent offenders, so the benefits may help female inmates more than male. However, it feels less crusading than capitalizing. We want to see the prison riot, for all it's pretty tame--or at least, that's what the filmmakers seemed to be counting on.