Caged (1950): “the plot of our life sweats in the dark like a face”

Caged (1950)

… the plot of our life sweats in the dark like a face
the mystery of childbirth, of childhood itself
grave visitations
what is it that calls to us?
why must we pray screaming?
why must not death be redefined?
we shut our eyes we stretch out our arms
and whirl on a pane of glass
an afixiation a fix on anything the line of life the limb of a tree
the hands of he and the promise that she is blessed among women…”

Patti Smith – Dancing Barefoot (1979)

Caged (1950) is a gritty hard-hitting social problem picture from Warner Bros. A young woman is jailed after she is an unwitting accomplice in a gas-station robbery with her husband, who is killed during the heist.  The sheltered girl on admittance to a women’s prison discovers she is pregnant, but her condition does not protect her from the humiliation and brutalisation of prison life. Melodramatic but with a strong social conscience that targets corrupt authorities, the movie is downbeat and pessimistic.  Eleanor Parker in the lead is powerfully convincing, and is supported by a strong female cast, including Agnes Moorehead as a compassionate and crusading  superintendent, and Hope Emerson as a corrupt and sadistic block matron.  Though set-bound the regimentation and claustrophobia of incarceration is given a strong expressionist treatment by director John Cromwell and DP Carl Guthrie.  A moody evocative score from Max Steiner adds emotional depth.

The trailer which I have put together  is deliberately impressionistic and focuses on the anguished transformation of Parker’s character from scared girl to street-wise dame…

9 Comments

  1. Hi! Tony,
    I have to seek this film out to watch…I must admit
    that I have been avoiding watching prison films, but
    I probably will seek Caged out to watch.

    I’am well aware of the fact, that the film Caged may go beyond just a routine “female” prison film. :?

    Tony said,”The trailer* which I have put together is deliberately impressionistic and focuses on the anguished transformation of Parker’s character from scared girl to street-wise dame…”

    I would have to say that your use of deliberate impressionism and the way you,captured the anguished transformation of Parker’s character is very evident in the trailer that you have created.

    Thanks,
    for sharing!
    DeeDee ;)

  2. And that transformation comes through quite convincingly in this impressionistic trailer! When I think of Eleanor Parker of course it’s always as Baroness Schraeder in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, 15 years after this film. But it does include a Max Steiner score, and the claustrophia does lend itself to an impressionistic cinematic rendering. And then of course there’s Agnes Moorhead.

  3. Tim Peddicord

    Prison pictures have always been a guilty pleasure. Brute Force with Burt Lancaster is my favorite men’s prison picture while Caged is my favorite women’s prison picture. Eleanor Parker has her best role with this picture. Her transformation of naive young woman to hardened con is chilling to watch. Hope Emerson looks and acts like she could kick most men’s butt let alone women and is the poster woman for sadistic prison guards. Not to be forgotten is Agnes Morehead playing a sympathetic prison superintendent. It is nice to see her in a sympathetic role.

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