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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

'Women in Bondage:' 'Caged' in Nazi Germany

Women in Bondage
Warner Archive's recent release of the highly effective1943 World War II propaganda film "Women in Bondage" evokes thoughts of the recently reviewed Archive's DVD release of the infinitley campier 1950 women in prison film "Caged." Both movies accurately depict fascists subjecting women to unduly brutal conditions.


"Women in Bondage," which the film's opening scene asserts depicts actual events, succeeds as propaganda because it sets an appropriate tone and generally does not sink from drama into melodrama. It additionally mostly uses gentle pressure, rather than a sledgehammer, to communicate its message.

"Women in Bondage" opens with Margot Bracken returning to Germany in the midst of World War II 10 years after she and her husband moved away. The husband entering the German army prompts Margot to move onto the estate of his wealthy family.

Margot's sister-in-law gleefully telling Margot within minutes of her homecoming that she will make Margot a "good Hitler woman" quickly sets the tone of the film. Whether the sister-in-law never loves Eva Braun and that Braun wasn't even part of her destiny remains a mystery. (Google it millenials.)

Margot is also very quickly pressed into service in a Nazi women's auxiliary force and assigned as the section head of a group of mid and late-teens girls who are being indoctrinated into the Nazi lifestyle and trained for tasks that include watching the skies for enemy planes and ratting out fellow group members who do not toe the line.

The plethora of very stern and demanding women in the mostly female cast is the first element that evokes thoughts of the life in women's prisons that "Caged" depicts. A scene in which Toni Hall, who is a member of Margot's youth group and works as a maid in the Bracken family mansion, is subject to a thorough and heartless physical examination is particularly reminiscent of "Caged."

The Nazis are requiring Toni to undergo the ordeal because of her desire to marry her boyfriend, who is an SS soldier. The requirement relates to the Nazi policy that members of the SS are so elite that they are prohibited from marrying women who do not meet standards that range from harsh to ridiculous. Examples of the latter is requiring that the woman meet what seems to be an arbitrary height requirement and that her ears have acceptable characteristics.

Toni falling very short of meeting the established standard ultimately prompts her to lash out in a manner that leads the Nazis to pursue her in the exact manner that the police would chase a dangerous escaped felon. One really roots for her to be lucky and get away from those madmen with evil minds. (Google it millenials.)

Margot's defense of Toni results in Margot ending up on the bad side of Frau Schneider, who is the local district director of the women's auxiliary. Schneider is much more like "Caged's" sadistic prison guard Evelyn Harper than the tough but compassionate warden Ruth Benton.

In typical Nazi style, Schneider finds a way to punish Margot despite Margot's status as the wife of a loyal German soldier from a prominent family whose other son is a high-ranking SS officer. That fate is as bad, if not worse, than the physical and psychological abuse that Toni suffers.

A subplot involves the kindhearted Margot trying to help a local war widow have her baby baptized in the church, rather than in a truly repulsive mandatory ceremony that bonds infants into the Nazi party. Needless to say, things do not work so well regarding that effort.

Margot initially not opposing the Nazis and keeping her protest of their cruelty civil until they focus their intense hatred directly on her seems realistic. She also chooses a truly heroic act of defiance that would have been a perfect moment on which to end the film, but the closing shot provides a good message of hope.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Women in Bondage" or "Caged" is welcome to email me.