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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

'Caged;' Classic Broads Behind Bars Flick

Reviewing the 2007 DVD release of the 1950 "women in prison" classic film noir "Caged" would have been criminally untimely but for both the apparent recent discontinuation of this must have "Cult Camp Classic" from the awesome Warner Archive collection and last month's inclusion of this title on the Warner Archive Instant streaming service.

Learning that Agnes "ENDORA!" Moorehead played the superintendent of the generically named "Women's State Prison" that is literally at the end of the road was enough to generate a strong interest in the film. Being told that this actress who is known for playing tough characters with little sympathy for others portrayed the warden as a compassionate administrator who campaigned for prison reform fully put me under its spell.

"Caged" begins with the incarceration of relatively innocent 19 year-old Marie Allen, played by Oscar nominee Eleanor Parker. Allen's surprisingly flexible sentence of 1-to-15 years for her role in an armed robbery relates to her standing by  man.

Seeing whether the prison experience hardens or breaks Allen makes for good borderline melodramatic noir entertainment. Her personal experiences with brutality, physical and psychological harm, and witnessing madness and suicide among her fellow inmates seems overall realistic; additionally, Parker and her castmates play their roles well.

Fans of classic films, cult and otherwise, know that the ample-bodied Hope Emerson steals the show as malicious prison matron Evelyn Harper. A "Caged-related" observation that there might have been bigger stars than the Oscar-nominated Emerson but that none were larger is a personal favorite.

Harper had the fortitude to openly and willfully defy the superintendent and easily could have stood up to even the toughest guards on the HBO series "Oz."

Harper additionally contributed great humor by directing her charges by giving them an order, calling them "you tramps," and then essentially reminding them that they no longer resided in Kansas. An '80s version of "Caged" would have had Harper telling a group of inmates in the yard "Line up you tramps; this ain't no mudd club or C.B.G.B."

Harper additionally played a huge (of course pun intended) role regarding every important plot development. This included inciting a true "pussyriot" (thanks, Joe!) and learning that her tine (not a misspelling) had come when she essentially told an inmate to fork it over one too many times.

The final judgment regarding"Caged" is that its combination of cult and classic make it worth adding to your DVD collection or streaming queue.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Caged" is encouraged to email me. Readers who want to serve as virtual parole officer can follow me on Twitter at @tvdvdguy.