Caged (1950)

“Home, sweet home — just like the big cage at the zoo, only you clean it up instead of the keeper.”

Synopsis:
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.

Genres:

Review:
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

Must See?
Yes, as a cult classic, and for its status as the “template” for future women-in-prison exploitation flicks.

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One Response to “Caged (1950)”

  1. A definite must. Arguably the best movie ever about women behind bars. Holds up well to repeat viewings.

    I doubt that ‘Caged’ will ever lose any of its punch. 60+ years on, it’s still every bit as powerful as it must have been when released. Over the years, films about women in prison (and there are tons of them) gradually became nothing more than camp or ‘cartoons’. Often, as such, they can be quite amusing.

    But there’s nothing camp about ‘Caged’. Not even the lesbian stuff (how did *that* get through the censors?!). Not even some of the well-placed dialogue: i.e., “She’s a cute trick.” (How did *that* get through the censors?!). It’s not so much that ‘Caged’ takes itself seriously. It’s just written, acted and shot realistically. One can only imagine screenwriter Kellogg biting her tongue until she got out from under her cover.

    Watching this film, it’s just easy to buy into it. It’s just that simple.

    Ambitious ffs would be well-advised to watch Parker in ‘Caged’ and ‘Lizzie’ back-to-back. It would make for quite an interesting double-bill, to say the least. Parker (living a quiet life in retirement today!) was always an underrated actress. She may have had an uneven career but she seemed to work constantly, even if eventually on tv for the most part. She never seemed to be particularly bothered by preserving an ‘image’ as an actress. Case in point: she followed up her respectful role in ‘The Sound of Music’ by then playing bonkers roles in both ‘The Oscar’ and ‘An American Dream’ – both of those films may be stinkers (though I personally recommend them both) but one does not forget Parker in either of them.

    But I digress…

    ‘Caged’ is a keeper – as it were. I probably watch it about once a year. Just good solid stuff. ’nuff said.

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