“Home, sweet home — just like the big cage at the zoo, only you clean it up instead of the keeper.”
A naive young widow (Eleanor Parker) convicted as an accomplice to a petty crime hardens when she enters prison, where a sadistic warden (Hope Emerson) makes life difficult for anyone unwilling or unable to ply her with bribes.
Caged was based upon a real-life exposé by writer Virginia Kellogg, who apparently got herself thrown into jail, Shock Corridor-style, to gather first-hand insights into the milieu. These days, it’s best remembered as the precursor for all later “women-in-prison” exploitation films, and possesses cult status for its latent yet obvious lesbian undertones (with several inmates presented as indubitably ‘butch’). Eleanor Parker gives a sympathetic performance as a naive, poverty-ridden young woman who undergoes a drastic change in personality once she realizes how incurably corrupt the prison system is; her role here hints at the even more impressive performance she would later give as a woman with split personalities in Hugo Haas’s Lizzie (1957). Equally memorable is Hope Emerson as a truly sadistic warden with nary a shred of empathy in her bones; while she was apparently a lovely woman in real life, this remains (for better or for worse) the on-screen role she’s most commonly associated with. Meanwhile, Agnes Moorehead (as the prison’s director) serves as Emerson’s moral counterpoint, wanting the best for “her girls” yet dealing with massive political resistance at every turn. Carl Guthrie’s atmospheric cinematography adds to the film’s potency, effectively evoking the horror-ridden nature of the screenplay, which pulls no punches in its depiction of prison-life as a noxious brew of corruption.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Eleanor Parker as Marie Allen
- Hope Emerson as Evelyn Harper
- Atmospheric cinematography by Carl Guthrie
Yes, as a cult classic, and for its status as the “template” for future women-in-prison exploitation flicks.