Cast & Crew
Among the new arrivals at the Women's State Prison is nineteen-year-old Marie Allen, who has been sentenced as an accessory in a gas station robbery during which her husband was killed. Marie's physical examination reveals that she is pregnant, and so Ruth Benton, the warden, assigns her to work as a checker in the laundry. When Evelyn Harper, the matron of Marie's cell block, who exchanges favors for money, learns that Marie has no money, she reassigns her to cleaning the cells. Marie is befriended by toughened convicts Smoochie, Kitty Stark and Claire, who reveal that, like Marie, most of the women are in prison because of men. As her pregnancy advances, Marie becomes ill. Although she will still be in jail when the baby is born, Marie hopes that her mother and stepfather will care for the child until she is paroled. Kitty suggests that Marie join her shoplifting racket when she gets out, explaining that even if she is paroled, she will be forced to stay in jail until she is offered a job. Marie, however, turns the offer down. One of the convicts then has a psychotic breakdown, and when June, another convict, is denied parole, she hangs herself. After Marie goes into early labor, the volunteer doctor expresses his disgust at prison conditions, and Benton makes a proposal to the medical board that her budget be increased. Benton is aware of Harper's sadistic treatment of the women, but her efforts to have the matron fired are always stymied by Harper's political friends. Similarly, her demands for teachers and a psychologist are denied by the prison board. After Marie's mother refuses to take her baby, he is put up for adoption, and as Marie's parole hearing nears, Kitty renews her job offer. Despite Benton's favorable recommendation, Marie's parole is denied. Meanwhile, Elvira Powell, an enemy of Kitty's, is sent to prison. Her wealth easily buys Harper's favoritism, and she is made comfortable. Elvira tries to befriend Marie and recruit her for a call girl ring, but Marie remains loyal to Kitty. One day, while Kitty tries to train a convict in shoplifting techniques, a more hardened Marie demonstrates how easy it is to fool a spotter. Elvira then suggests that Harper inform Benton that Kitty is recruiting women for her shoplifting ring. Kitty is placed in solitary confinement and beaten. After Marie finds a lost kitten, Harper's efforts to remove it lead to a riot. As punishment, Benton rescinds all privileges for the woman and sentences Marie to solitary confinement. Without Benton's knowledge, Harper shaves Marie's head, and Benton again tries to have Harper removed from her position. Harper's friends see that her efforts backfire, and Benton is asked to resign. After Marie returns from the hospital, Kitty kills Harper with a fork. Determined to leave prison at any cost, Marie asks Elvira for help and obtains parole. Despite her efforts, Benton has been unable to reform her prisoners, and after Marie leaves, instructs her secretary to keep her file active, because "she'll be back."
G. W. Berntsen
Charles H. Clarke
Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Best Supporting Actress
Best Writing, Screenplay
Warner Bros. pioneered social consciousness dramas in the 1930s, and made one of the decade's best prison movies, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932). That film was such an indictment of the prison system that it had led to prison reform in six states. In 1949, Warners producer Jerry Wald wanted to do the same for women's prisons, and sent former newspaper reporter and "idea person" Virginia Kellogg to do research. Kellogg had written a novel that became a Kay Francis film, Mary Stevens M.D. (1933), about a doctor who bears a child out of wedlock. She had also written well-researched original stories that were the basis for T-Men (1947), about treasury agents, and White Heat (1949), starring James Cagney as a psychotic gangster. Kellogg spent months doing research for Caged at prisons around the country, and was even briefly incarcerated in one of them. She not only came up with the story and co-authored the screenplay for Caged, she also wrote a magazine article about her findings, detailing the inhumane conditions that created hardened criminals and encouraged recidivism. Kellogg's extensive research is evident in the script, which is peppered with authentic prison slang of the era, and attention to the details of prison life, such as the caste system, and the tedium of daily life. Kellogg and Bernard C. Schoenfeld received an Oscar® nomination for Caged's story and screenplay. After Caged, Kellogg wrote stories for two films that were never made, one about the first female vice cop in Los Angeles, and the other about women veterans in a mental hospital.
Veteran director John Cromwell had proved his versatility with such recent films as the romantic fantasy The Enchanted Cottage (1945), and the film noir Dead Reckoning (1947). He had also made a much earlier women-in-prison film, Ann Vickers (1933), with Irene Dunne playing a social worker and prison reformer. In Caged, his skill with actors is evident, as he draws excellent performances from the large, almost all-female ensemble. Both Parker and Emerson were nominated for Oscars®, and Parker won the best actress award at the Venice Film Festival for her stunning, multifaceted portrayal of Marie.
Parker recalled that Emerson was "just the opposite of the woman she played in Caged. She was a sweet, gentle lady who played the piano for us between scenes and was very worried about her sick mother." Because of her size, Emerson was often typecast as a villain, but her size was also used for comic effect, as when she played a circus strongwoman in Adam's Rib (1949).
Given the censorship restrictions of the era, there is no overt lesbianism in Caged, but it's certainly implied. Although the vicious, hulking prison matron is shown primping for a date with a man, Hope Emerson plays her as a prototypical "bull dyke," with a taste for S & M. And the "vice queen" (i.e., madam), played by Hope Patrick, casts a more than professional eye on the inmates, referring to Parker's character as a "cute trick." Again typical of the era, even these coded references to homosexuality are of the "deviate" variety. As Vito Russo noted in his study of gay images in film, The Celluloid Closet (1980), "lesbianism appears here as a product of an outlaw social structure."
Critics were turned off by the film's sensationalism, but were impressed by the direction and performances. The Newsweek critic wrote, "Caged has a tendency to spell out all the emotions - especially sentiment - in large, block capital letters. But John Cromwell's direction has some unblinkingly realistic moments." And the New York Times reviewer added, "John Cromwell manages now and again to bring individual scenes to throbbing life....Miss Parker gives a creditable and expressive performance."
Director: John Cromwell
Producer: Jerry Wald
Screenplay: Virginia Kellogg, Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Cinematography: Carl Guthrie
Editor: Owen Marks
Art Direction: Charles H. Clarke
Music: Max Steiner
Principal Cast: Eleanor Parker (Marie Allen), Agnes Moorehead (Ruth Benton), Ellen Corby (Emma), Hope Emerson (Evelyn Harper), Betty Garde (Kitty Stark), Jan Sterling (Smoochie), Lee Patrick (Elvira Powell), Olive Deering (June).
by Margarita Landazuri
Cult Camp Classics 2: Women in Peril on DVD featuring Films by Joan Crawford, Lana Turner & Eleanor Parker
Warners wisely open their three-disc set with a much earlier movie in a different exploitation specialty, the Women In Prison or WIP film. As the latter two late-sixties offerings are truly terrible, the earlier film serves to compensate -- It functions beautifully as a drama and could easily be a top title in a Film Noir collection.
Caged is so good that it doesn't need the 'camp' label, which at first makes its placement in this set seem an error. After all, the picture garnered three Oscar nominations. If some of it now seems funny, the effect is no different than watching Double Indemnity with a modern audience. They may laugh at the hardboiled dialogue, but when it's over they applaud out of pure respect. Caged is frequently compared with Olivia de Havilland's celebrated turn in The Snake Pit but has a much harder edge. It's the logical offspring of Warners' 'social injustice' pictures of the Depression years. Young Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker) is railroaded into a 5 to 15-year stretch by the same kind of rotten luck that befell Paul Muni in the great I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang.
Caged is the now familiar WIP story of the innocent transformed into a hardened dame by a cruel penal system. Eleanor Parker's performance grabs us from the start when rough guards drag her terrified Marie from a prison wagon at the gates of the Big House. John Cromwell's sensitive direction contrasts Marie's innate decency with the nasty prison world, where all inmates are presumed sluts. Marie cringes at insults from the staff: "You tramps!" The caring superintendent Ruth Benton (Agnes Moorehead) is too busy staving off rotten politicians that want to cut her budget and return the prison to stone-age brutality. Worse, the official directly in charge of the inmates is the floor warden Evelyn Harper (Hope Emerson), a brutish monster interested only in inmates that can pay for special privileges. Harper bullies and mistreats all the convicts, who are terrified of her.
The honest look at sordid prison reality is unexpected for a film of this vintage. The first cellmate Marie meets is the addled Emma Barber (Ellen Corby), a funny little fool who finally cracked up and shot her abusive husband. Another deranged woman drifts about in a state of psychotic denial, like Blanche Dubois. The toughest woman in the block is an ancient lifer willing to clobber anybody who gives her a hard time -- even Harper gives her a wide berth.
The term 'CP' is defined openly as 'Common Prostitute.' Sleepy-eyed Smoochie (Jan Sterling) philosophically claims that all the girls are here because they got hooked up with the wrong kind of men. Tough Kitty Stark (Betty Garde) ran a shoplifting ring; she's an obvious 'tough dyke'- styled lesbian. The connected inmates immediately want to know if Marie will join the racket. Signing up to steal for the gang almost guarantees an early parole. Marie resists -- at first.
Then the draconian parole board denies Marie freedom because her mere presence at an armed robbery (net haul $40; her husband killed) brands her as a vicious criminal. Marie's morale plunges when she realizes that she's pregnant and will have to give birth in prison. Even more horribly, her worthless mother refuses to take the child for even a few months, and Marie is forced to give it up for adoption.
From then on Marie realizes that she's alone in her fight against the world. She proves that she'd be a perfect shoplifter for Kitty but still refuses to cooperate. Kitty loses her status as inmate cell boss when the convicted procuress Elvira Powell (Lee Patrick) is assigned to the cellblock and can offer the hulking Harper more bribe money. Marie's further experiences include a riot, a murder and a stretch in solitary confinement.
Caged's unholy villain is Hope Emerson's menacing Evelyn Harper, a despicable warden who wouldn't be out of place on the staff of a concentration camp. When Harper thinks Marie has money, she cozies up to her: "Let's you and me get acquainted, honey. You may be a number to others but not to me. Sit down in this chair, it's kinda roomy." Later, Harper forcibly shaves Marie's head, a grotesque punishment that creepily translates as a rape. Harper likes to see her charges suffer and gloats over the political connections that keep superintendent Benton from firing her. We can't wait to find out if Harper will get her proper comeuppance.
The Camp values in Caged come only in retrospect, as a reflection of the trashy excesses of later WIP pictures. This film is the original template (see Footnote #1 below). Ellen Corby is the archetypal cute madwoman and Jan Sterling the experienced prostitute. Edgy remarks abound, some of them pretty explicit: "She's a neat trick!" Eleanor Parker apparently really had her head shaved and undergoes a definite personality swing to the dark side. Marie's last vestige of decency is taken away when she tries to prevent Harper from confiscating a pet kitten (a substitute baby?) she's hidden in her locker.
Perhaps author Virginia Kellogg purposely had an inmate voice the name of a gift of forbidden lipstick -- "Jungle Red!" That exclamation was a key line in Clare Booth Luce's The Women of ten years earlier. The contrast between that indulgent women's fantasy and this rebellious nightmare couldn't be greater.
The DVD of Caged is a fine B&W transfer with good audio to flatter Max Steiner's music score. A trailer is the only extra. Putting Caged on this Cult Camp disc is almost a case of reverse subversion. The movie reminds us that most 'Camp' efforts are really pale copies of much deeper originals.
Speaking of a pale copy, The Big Cube is the kind of movie that serves only to remind us how low a studio could stoop. Lines like 'you have to see it to believe it' can't convey its trashy 'appeal.' The only fun in watching is to find out if it can get worse. It does, scene after terrible scene.
The Mexican co-production bears a resemblance to some of the cheaper trash Mexican dramas I've seen from the sixties, vapid conservative fantasies where the young people have orgies, use drugs and refuse to listen to the wiser old folks until it's too late. Filmed by the famous Gabriel Figueroa, The Big Cube has a major-film visual veneer, and little more. The cheesy psychedelic effects had to be horribly dated even when new.
Lana Turner is Adriana Roman, a great actress who retires from the stage to marry millionaire Charles Winthrop (Dan O'Herlihy), abandoning her playwright friend Frederick Lonsdale (Richard Egan) on the sidelines. Charles' spoiled daughter Lisa (Karin Mossberg, a non-personality who reminds of Paris Hilton, at least this week) returns from school in Europe to form friendships with a gang of decadent young people addicted to sex and drugs. They dress in gaudy mod fashions and take LSD in sugar cubes dispensed by corrupt medical student and gold digger Johnny Allen (George Chakiris). Johnny charms his way to boyfriend status with Lisa, but Charles lowers the boom when he comes home to find the swingin' kids rocking out to an impromptu striptease (!). When Charles is killed in a yachting accident (!!) Johnny conspires with Lisa to use LSD to send her new stepmother Adriana to the nuthouse. Adriana hallucinates psychedelic light show patterns while Lisa starts to realize that Johnny's no catch after all. And all that stuff about trying to murder Adriana, well, Lisa was just 'mixed up', you know?
This is clear case of 'somebody should have thought twice.' Lana Turner demolishes whatever respectability she had with her involvement in this sleazy travesty. Undeniably a star, Turner is incapable of playing a celebrated actress, and her final cure through a stage reenactment of her trauma could very well be the nadir of dramatic invention. She glides through scenes utterly convinced that she's glamorous and attractive, when she's simply discovered a new kind of early senility.
The outrageously sinful 'bad kid' behaviors are the exact kind of nonsense that a clueless middle-aged writer would come up with. Chakiris slips a guy LSD as a purposeful prank. The hipsters decide to entertain themselves with a strip act. On his wedding night, Johnny decides to sleep with another girl, and when Lisa objects, a foursome is proposed. Crude editing underlines every attempt to inject sex into the proceedings. A few nude scenes (shots, really) earn the film a lenient "M" (now "PG") rating.
The film is obviously shot in Mexico with a Mexican supporting cast and crew. The actors' English is fine but many of the men have ruddy complexions, black hair and moustaches! The Big Cube is recommended mainly for those who want to watch Ms. Turner make an absolute fool of herself, and for those already primed by word of mouth that it's not to be missed.
With all the severe restoration problems facing deserving classics, it's galling to find The Big Cube in near-perfect shape. Warners have given it a brilliant enhanced transfer, in color. The trailer emphasizes the psychedelic / macabre aspects. Note that whenever Lana is seen in close-up, the image suddenly becomes soft and gauzy: gotta protect the star!
Trog has been long reviled as both a terrible monster movie and Joan Crawford's last (& least) film appearance. Producer Herman Cohen clearly made the picture with his eye on a narrow profit margin; as with his previous Crawford pic Berserk! he commits the fewest resources possible to get a releasable movie onto the screen. Freddie Francis directs efficiently and can hardly be faulted for failing to make anything out of the drama; there's nothing to work with.
In rural England, amateur spelunkers tangle with a dangerous troglodyte, and local researcher -anthropologist Dr. Brockton (Crawford) steps daintily underground to verify his existence with her widdle fwash camwa. As soon as Trog is installed in a cage at her lab Brockton is proving that the hairy ape-man is really a softie at heart, playing with dolls and responding to kindness. But nasty local troublemaker Michael Gough won't let up in his campaign to have the proto-human executed; he's anti- Trog, anti- science and anti- feminist. Sure enough, Gough gets croaked while trying to frame Trog as a menace, and the ape-man kidnaps a blonde moppet before retreating to his subterranean lair. Only Crawford has the nerve to descend alone to give the monster a stern talking-to, so he'll behave like a good Trog.
If that description sounds trite, the movie only amplifies the sentiment. Trog's crash pad is an unconvincing cave set, with funny-colored stalactites. He appears to be an ordinary guy wearing a mask lifted from one of the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey, along with an extra bit of hair; I imagine Stanley Kubrick was not amused. With Trog's mismatched pink chest and gray face, we wonder why none of the actors doesn't reach forward and try to wrench off what has to be a Halloween mask.
Crawford is her professional earnest self and her dignified Doctor Brockton handles the script's unending expository dialogue as if it were actually important. Of course, it's grotesque to see her being oh-so sensitive and caring with the foolish-looking monster, or strutting into Trog's deep cave like Big Momma come to settle accounts. In the film's most absurd scene Trog flashes back to traumatic memories of days gone by, which appear as film clips of Ray Harryhausen stop-motion dinosaurs battling from The Animal World!
Joan Crawford's on-screen roles have been linked to her own personality more than any other glamour star, let alone those who made a comeback in Grand Guignol horror films. Trog can be seen as the ultimate expression of Crawford's habit of dominating her screen vehicles by influencing her directors or throwing tantrums. In the early 1950s the bulk of her energy went into neutralizing female competition, mostly by bullying young actresses that might upstage her. She even forced a rewrite of the conclusion of Johnny Guitar so her character could gun down the uncooperative Mercedes McCambridge. By the time the 60s come around, she's handpicking her female supporting actresses (Diane Baker, Judy Geeson), forcing them to wear unflattering costumes and taking away their best dialogue.
Many of Joan's films post-1957 repeat the basic dynamic from her greatest hit Mildred Pierce: an insensitive (or crazy) daughter tries to do harm to Crawford's innocent mother. In Trog the actual daughter character (Kim Braden) has been reduced to a meek cipher, freeing Crawford to form her important relationship with a co-star that can't answer back or steal a scene -- an uninteresting hairy monster. When Crawford confronts Trog in the cave finale, she screams at him as if she were rebuking a disobedient child. Like a good co-star, Trog immediately obeys and surrenders his little captive. Crawford quickly hands the kidnapped girl to her mother before the kid can attract too much audience attention. Crawford has finally found a film that suits her temperament.
Warners' DVD of the shamelessly tacky Trog is an almost perfect enhanced color transfer -- we see far too much of Michael Gough's spittle as he grossly overacts in scene after scene. The trailer hypes the terror angle but can't disguise the film's cheapjack nature. Yes, Trog and The Big Cube may occupy a DVD shelf place of honor for bad Camp Cult film lovers, but the rewarding Caged is the title to tell one's friends about.
For more information about Cult Camp Classics 2: Women in Peril, visit Warner Video. To order Cult Camp Classics 2: Women in Peril, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Footnote #1. Although there were certainly precedents, like Pabst's Diary of a Lost Girl with Louise Brooks. That film makes the lesbian power system in a girl's prison grossly explicit.
Cult Camp Classics 2: Women in Peril on DVD featuring Films by Joan Crawford, Lana Turner & Eleanor Parker
I didn't know what kind of a heel Harper is. She's like a cop I was sweet on once. He had to work guys over for no reason at all, just because it made him feel important. If I'd known I wouldn't have started on you.- Elvira Powell
Quit shaking the tambourine.- Kitty Stark
I'll tell Evelyn.- Inmate
Don't kid me, Harper's first name is filth.- Kitty Stark
That trained seal at the desk can sure ask a lot of questions. Who is this Pearl Harbor anyway? What is she, an inmate?- Emma Barber
Kill her. Kill her. Kill her.- Marie Allen
The film's working titles were Locked In and The Cage. Actress Sheila Stephens' surname is misspelled "Stevens" in the opening credits. According to contemporary sources, screenwriter Virginia Kellogg, a former newspaper reporter, spent several weeks in four of the country's worst women's penitentiaries in order to gather material for the screenplay. In three, she observed from the matron's quarters, but in the fourth, she was smuggled into a cell where she lived for two weeks, according to a May 14, 1950 Los Angeles Times article. The Variety review commented that the film's story was "based on actual prison life incidents." Eleanor Parker won an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress for her portrayal of "Marie Allen;" Hope Emerson was nominated as Best Supporting Actress; and Kellogg and Bernard C. Schoenfeld's screenplay was also nominated for an Oscar.
Released in United States May 19, 1950
Released in United States May 1994
Released in United States Summer June 10, 1950
Shown at New York Lesbian & Gay Film Festival May 12-22, 1994.
Completed shooting September 10, 1949.
Released in United States May 1994 (Shown at New York Lesbian & Gay Film Festival May 12-22, 1994.)
Released in United States May 19, 1950
Released in United States Summer June 10, 1950