July 1, 2023

CAGED!: Noir Behind Bars

CAGED! (Blu-ray)
1950 / 96 min
Review by Mr. Paws😺

Despite the histrionic title - stylized on the original poster with an exclamation point - Caged is a gripping, noir-styled thriller. It eschews exploitative elements typically associated with the women-in-prison genre, maintaining a mostly serious tone and exploring the psychological impact of being incarcerated. 

Eleanor Parker is outstanding as Marie, a 19 year old convicted of a robbery attempt in which her husband was killed. She also happens to be a few months pregnant and is informed by sympathetic warden Ruth Barden (Anges Moorrhead) that when the time comes, she’ll have to give birth in prison and appoint a relative to care for the child until she completes her sentence.

The narrative chronicles Marie’s transformation from wide-eyed innocent (the robbery was mostly hubby’s doing) to cynical inmate hardened by a harsh, corrupt system. She and fellow inmates are regularly subjected to cruel treatment at the hands of hulking, sadistic matron Evelyn Harper (Hope Emerson). Along the way, she develops cautious relationships with others, the most interesting being Kitty Stark (Betty Garde), a streetwise murderer who nevertheless demonstrates compassion at times. Her open defiance of Harper eventually comes at great cost (to both of them, actually).

"You ate your desert first...didn't you."
Caged is certainly a product of its time and I suppose some of its depiction of prison life might seem a little quaint these days. Still, it’s a dark, pessimistic film that displays distrust in the penal system and considerable empathy for those incarcerated. The audience is genuinely invested in Marie and what she endures while behind bars is distressing, as is her gradual loss of innocence. Conversely, Harper is suitably nasty and hateful, personifying everything corrupt about the system. 

But Caged is never as relentlessly depressing as it sounds. Quite the contrary, the film is very entertaining, with familiar characters vividly rendered by excellent performances (Parker and Emerson were nominated for Oscars). Smart, fast-paced and consistently engaging, it transcends the women-in-prison genre with a memorable story and stylish film noir elements.



“BIG HOUSE BUNNY” - Classic Looney Tunes short with Bugs Bunny & Yosemite Sam.


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