Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Caged 1950

The sub sub genre of women’s prison movies have long been fodder for various television shows, exploitation movies, and even Off -Broadway camp musicals and with Caged we have the grandmother of them all. Directed by John Cromwell (the father of the very good contemporary character actor James Cromwell) for Warner Bros. an...d shot in inky black and white on a tight claustrophobic cheap looking set. In this grimy grim tale of injustice and mistreatment Cromwell brings the lovely young actress Eleanor Parker to this prison for a long internment for a crime that did not fit her sentence of 1 to 15 years. Parker who was 28 at the time received an Oscar nomination for best actress that year and plays the nineteen year old naive Marie Allen with ease and believability, you really worry about her. Still shocking after all this time, the film when first released in 1950 must have horrified the cold war audiences what with the sadistic violence, the implicit and explicit lesbianism and the very bleak ending. Situated in this pit of hell are all the various stereotypical types of women we have come to expect to find in this kind of place. There is the prostitute with a heart of gold, the old lady who’s been in prison for most of her life but has a heart of gold, the I’m loosing my mind gal with a heart of gold, the sensitive type who can’t take being locked up any longer with a heart of gold, the tough broads and bull dykes all with hearts of gold, and the mean sadistic guards and matrons without any hearts what so ever. The pot is boiling for sure, and a big part of our prurient interest in watching this film is the fabulous cast of actresses who fill the cells and patrol the corridors. Besides the lovely Ms. Parker some of her cell mates include the great Betty Grade as the aptly named Kitty Stark who on the outside runs a shoplifting racket and is the big shot dame of the joint until Lee Patrick as Elvira Powell a big time Madame and a rival of Kitty’s on the outside gets thrown back in the slammer. The gloves are off, and they both want a piece of Eleanor who they want to work for them when she gets out. Nix nix Parker tells them both, but it is the horrible Evelyn Harper the sadistic prison matron played with hot house relish by the larger than life Hope Emerson (who received an Oscar nomination for her performance) who really wants Eleanor for her own. Over 250 pounds of rolling flesh and built like a brick shit house, Emerson is a frightening presence throughout the film as she rolls down the corridors causing hate and fear in the inmates. Also in the cast is Agnes Moorehead as the kindly director, Ellen Corby, Jan Sterling, Olive Deering, Jane Darwell and Gertrude Hoffman as Millie Lewis the oldest inmate in the cell block who takes no crap from Emerson. A classic of sorts and one of the ten best films of the year


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