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Author Topic: Caged (1950)  (Read 496 times)
titoli
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« on: May 25, 2016, 03:23:24 AM »

Cigar Joe review:

July 25, 2011, 11:43:27 AM

Dir by John Cromwell with Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead, Ellen Corby, Jane Darwell and many others, sort of a very noirish prison drama with an extremely dark ending. For what it was a 7/10

Imdb synopsis:

Frightened 19-year-old Marie Allen gets sent to an Illinois penitentiary for being an accomplice in an armed robbery. A sympathetic warden tries to help, but her efforts are subverted by cruel matron Evelyn Harper. Marie's harsh experiences turn her from doe-eyed innocent to hard-nosed con.

On TCM the other night.

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titoli
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« Reply #1 on: May 25, 2016, 03:52:21 AM »

The only thing that surprised me was the finale: not a "dark ending": on the contrary, the only sunbeam in this heavy melodrama. The girl at last reveals herself for what she is as the movie, deftly, avoids to investigate on the circumstances that led her to prison, giving some contradictory hints (at first she says she tried just to defend her husband when the hold-up got awry, letting us presume she didn't know what he planned to do; then, toward the end of the movie, she admits she knew about the intentions of her husband, though she tried to persuade him not to do it. And still followed him. So she was an accessory, after all). And it also doesn't flashback on her husband, which could have thrown some light on her personality. Yes, there's the melodramatic scene with her mother: that makes me wonder though if she knew who her mother was at all: the whole scene comes as an excuse for adding further melodrama to the whole. Be as it may, it is amazing that the finale comes so unexpected, especially after the lesson by the older inmate, and that it passed the Breen office. But the movie, for the rest, is too long, too predictable (the cat scene, for one) and in most of scenes featuring Hope Emerson will make you laugh. So, only because of the finale, I give it 6/10.
Some further notes. One of the inmates name is "Nina Minnelli"!
I also wonder how many slang expressions passed over the audiences at the time, and, even more, pass over nowadays. I checked the 4-5 of them I didn't get and some aren't to be found on line,   some aren't given a rhyming meaning, and some are probably out of use since decades.

« Last Edit: May 25, 2016, 04:02:22 AM by titoli » Logged

dave jenkins
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« Reply #2 on: May 25, 2016, 11:03:24 AM »

Comparing it to Nella città l'inferno didn't occur to you?

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« Reply #3 on: May 25, 2016, 11:51:02 AM »

Comparing it to Nella città l'inferno didn't occur to you?

I will. Let me watch it first.

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Jessica Rabbit
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« Reply #4 on: June 20, 2017, 04:55:22 PM »

“Pile out, you tramps – It’s the end of the line.”
…snarls the driver of a paddy wagon who’s bringing a load of “new fish” to a women’s prison. Thus begins one of the best prison movies, one that still packs a punch today though it does so without crass language and lesbian sex scenes.
Directed by John Cromwell for WB, Caged can probably be described as the mother of all women-in-prison movies. Carl Guthrie was cinematographer and visually the movie gets the full Noir treatment. Despair is all around. It’s a depressing, gloomy and chilling movie. Prison is a dark and dank place, claustrophobic, overfilled, without hope. Guthrie effectively evokes the horrors of prison life, he beautifully lights the narrow corridors, prison bars, solitary cells and nocturnal terrors that frighten new inmates.

Caged is based upon a real-life exposé by writer Virginia Kellogg who went undercover in several prisons to gather first-hand information about life inside. Kellogg wanted authenticity and an honest portrayal, and she got it too. She witnessed horrific conditions, like cold water baths, hair shearing and beatings.

Unfortunately Caged is so often remembered as a precursor for all later women-behind-bars exploitation flicks. Most of those romp around on the low and sleazy end of the genre spectrum (not that there’s anything wrong with that). To its own detriment, nowadays Caged can be found in WB’s Cult Camp Classic Boxed Set No. 2, together with the unspeakably bad Trog…clearly a colossal blunder on the part of the distributors. How this error in judgment came about is anyone’s guess. Caged is NOT camp, it’s not a cartoon, it’s not a sexploitation schlock fest, but a fine and poignant film. It takes itself and its message seriously. What we get is a very good film written, acted and shot realistically. A message picture with the kind of social commentary WB specialized in, harking back to the 30s.
Caged wasn’t the first women-in-prison movie, but it did have many elements - now considered camp stereotypes - from which practically every future variation on that story took its cue and which quickly descended into parody: innocent behind bars, the sadistic warden, the titillating shower scenes, the riots, the implied lesbianism. These oft-repeated cliches caused the public to assume that any film about women in prison couldn't be taken seriously. But these subject matters can also be the stuff of serious drama and Caged avoids the pitfalls of tropes. Sure, the movie is occasionally melodramatic and insinuating though never exploitative.

Glamour was not permitted on the set. Producer Jerry Wald was adamant in his view that none of the women should wear make-up of any kind at all to give the film the documentary feel he wanted.

The plot is simple: Naive young widow Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker), convicted as an unwilling accomplice to a robbery her husband committed because she was in the car at the time, hardens when she enters prison, where a sadistic warden (Hope Emerson) makes life hell for anyone unwilling or unable to ply her with bribes.

Eleanor Parker’s gives a sympathetic and effective standout performance as a naive, wide-eyed innocent who turns into a hardened savvy criminal through her experiences when she has to realize just how corrupt and brutal prison is. At first she’s like a bewildered trembling deer-in-the-headlight, caught up in something she doesn’t even remotely understand. She holds on to her decency as long as she can, but after she has to give her baby - born in prison - up for adoption because her mother refuses to take care of it, and is denied parole on top of that, she starts to reassess her situation. It’s all downhill from then on. Later she finds a little kitten she wants to keep against prison regulations but it is killed in a riot against warden Harper. As punishment Harper has her hair shorn and puts her in solitary, still a distressing scene to this day. This is the point of no return for Marie. No more goody-two shoes after that. She’s finally learned her lesson. Goodness and playing by the rules will get her nowhere. Once her hair starts to grow back, not only have her looks changed but her mind-set has too. Voice, posture and manner are different. Marie’s transformation is completely believable.
In the end she accepts a recruitment offer from a crime syndicate and starts on her new life of crime.
When she’s finally released, a now toughened wised-up Marie steps out of the prison into a waiting car - to sleazy jazz - and accepts a light (and a hand on her knee) from one of her new male friends. It’s implied she’ll be working as a prostitute.
Time inside hasn’t reformed her. Marie was thrown to the lions and had to fight to survive. She did and comes out a new woman, just not in the way expected.

From the beginning, Caged was in trouble with the PCA. The script had to pass muster with Joseph Breen without its sharp edges of realism and social commentary removed. This wasn’t an easy task. Breen obviously objected to many aspects and issues in the script, like brutality, a shower scene, insinuating dialogue, implied lesbianism. He succeeded in having all mention of drugs omitted. But words like sex, tramp, prostitute and pregnancy stayed. Having Jan Sterling mention outright that she is a prostitute was a major censorship concession in 1950 and an indication that the Code was slowly beginning to lose ground.
Breen also wasn’t happy with the mention of Marie becoming a prostitute in the end. But producer Wald got his wish. It is more than strongly implied.

Despite Parker’s great performance, the most memorable performance though must come from Hope Emerson. She has a field day with her role as truly sadistic malevolent warden Harper with nary a shred of sympathy. She enjoys the pain and suffering she inflicts upon the inmates, she’s evil all through and she likes it. Truly the stuff nightmares are made out of. She runs the prison like a racket. Whoever can bribe her gets a little break. She can get away with it because she has friends in high places and the prison director is powerless against that.
Has there ever been a more repulsive and disgusting character on screen? It sure ain’t subtle but nevertheless very effective.

Also worth noting is Agnes Moorehead is the compassionate and open-minded prison director Benton who believes in reform and reeducation, and really wants to make a difference. She’s the social conscience of the movie, sympathetic to the plight of the inmates and doing much better than the drunken Doc from Brute Force. She has to deal with massive political resistance at every turn though and so is ineffectual in the end.
When she sees Marie leave in the end, her last line to her secretary about Marie’s prison file hits home: “Keep it active. She’ll be back.” Somehow Benton knew it all along, but she keeps on fighting anyway.

The supporting roles are all good, especially Betty Garde is Kitty Stark, head of a shoplifting ring who wants to recruit Marie. She becomes a tragic and heroic figure after punishment from Harper and has one of the most satisfying scenes in the movie. After weeks in solitary, she emerges a broken wreck, dazed and half-mad from her ordeal, but finds strength for one final gesture of defiance, cheered on by Marie.

This is without a doubt a manipulative movie, its message is shouted from the roofs. Again, the inmates are victims of circumstance, even murder is treated lightly, but it’s got its heart in the right place. We can feel the moral outrage.

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Jessica Rabbit
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« Reply #5 on: June 21, 2017, 12:28:18 AM »

http://www.fistful-of-leone.com/forums/index.php?topic=12537.0

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drinkanddestroy
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« Reply #6 on: June 21, 2017, 12:51:22 AM »


yeah, it seems that somebody had neglected to put that link into the Film Noir Index, and that's probably why Jessica made the new thread.

anyway, CJ please move Jessica's review into the earlier thread and link to it in the Noir Index. Thanks  Smiley

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Jessica Rabbit
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« Reply #7 on: June 21, 2017, 07:45:13 AM »

Quote
it seems that somebody had neglected to put that link into the Film Noir Index, and that's probably why Jessica made the new thread.
Indeed. I always look in the Index, but didn't find the other thread. Thanks Joe.

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Jessica Rabbit
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« Reply #8 on: June 21, 2017, 09:49:22 AM »

Indeed. I always look in the Index, but didn't find the other thread. Thanks Joe.

Try a search when you check the list too, so we find these unlinked reviews, thanks.  Wink

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« Reply #9 on: June 21, 2017, 09:57:59 AM »

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The girl at last reveals herself for what she is as the movie, deftly, avoids to investigate on the circumstances that led her to prison, giving some contradictory hints

Titoli, interesting take on Marie's character. So you think she was a liar and hypocrite in the beginning, just playing at being innocent?
It is never really stated exactly how much she was involved in the robbery. I think she was just incredibly naive. I agree I would have liked to see a flashback about her husband. It would have been very revealing. Marie's mother must always have been a completely worthless basket case, is my guess.

« Last Edit: June 21, 2017, 02:50:30 PM by Jessica Rabbit » Logged

Jessica Rabbit
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titoli
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« Reply #10 on: June 21, 2017, 11:48:37 AM »

Titoli, interesting take on Marie's character. So you think she was a liar and hypocrite in the beginning, just playing at being innocent?
It is never really stated exactly how much she was involved in the robbery. I think she was just incredibly naive. I agree I would have like to see a flashback about her husband. It would have been very revealing. Marie's mother must always have been a completely worthless basket case, is my guess.

I should rewatch the movie.

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