Wednesday, September 11, 2013
'Lady in a Cage:' Awesome Daytime Noir
The 1964 "Lady in A Cage," which Warner Archive recently released on DVD, should be mandatory viewing for any college course on the history of film noir.
Like films that include fellow 1964 release "Kitten With A Whip," "Cage" is a stylish black-and-white drama with a social message in which a culture clash becomes a terrifying experience for characters who believed that their wealth insulated them from the terrifying trauma that this genre depicts.
"Cage" opens with the widowed Mrs. Hilyard, played by classic actress Olivia de Havilland, seeing her unmarried adult son who lives with her off for a trip over a very warm Fourth of July weekend. Soon after the son leaves, a power outage leaves Hilyard trapped in the birdcage-like elevator in her home halfway between the first and second floors.
Hilyard's plight prompts her to push the emergency alarm button in the elevator; this attracts a deranged homeless man, played by highly prolific character actor Jeff Corey, known as Repent for his habit of continually repeating that phrase.
Rather than help Hilyard, Repent torments her and steals some household items after raiding the house's liquor supply. The fact that a toaster is a four-slicer may explain why Repent includes it in his haul.
Repent's travels following that initial raid result in his returning with a companion named Sade, played by (no introduction needed) Ann Sothern, who is a prostitute. A trio of 20-something counter-culture type violent delinquents led by Randall Simpson O'Connell, played by James Caan, soon join the party.
The interaction between Caan's rebel without any cause whatsoever and his Sal Mineo-like sidekick alone make this film worth owning. A scene between these characters in the house's bathroom is a true classic.
The roller-coaster ride kicks into turbo mode as the two groups of malfeasors compete with and among themselves while subjecting Hilyard to realistic psychological torture and threats of physical harm. The distressing experience is like the anxiety of watching video of burglars running wild in your home magnified by 1,000 percent.
O'Connell is particularly cruel in that respect and revels in becoming more animalistic as the chaos escalates. The symbolism regarding his character would easily provide enough material for a thesis.
Asserting that films such as "Cage" tell it like it really is is a stretch, but it does an excellent job depicting topics that modern movies and television series avoid; one such theme is that not all aggressive acts against folks who approach (but fall short of) the one percent are justified. Hilyard is a very proper lady and has her flaws, but there is no indication that she obtained her money through unsavory means or that she is at all elitist.
The factors that contribute to the hostility and need to act against "the haves" are very understandable; struggling to get by while others seem to have more comfortable lives handed to them is rough. However, Repent and his band of not-so-merry men and women have little in common with Robin Hood.
Another creepier theme is the inappropriately close (but not at all sexual) relationship between Hilyard and her son. She simply still sees him as her little boy while relying on him to be the man of the house.
The final analysis regarding this exceptional film is that it is well produced and acted and keeps you glued to your seat while giving you many things to think about.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Cage" is welcome to email me. You can also follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.