Could this be the only film centred around the life of the female penitentiary system to get nominated for the Academy Awards? This 1950’s film, Caged, showing the cutthroat everyday life of a women’s prison managed to have three stabs at the Oscar. Best Actress in a Leading Role Eleanor Parker beaten by Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday. Best Actress in a Supporting Role Hope Emerson beaten by Josephine Hull in Harvey. Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Virginia Kellogg & Bernard C Schoenfeld beaten by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, and D M Marshman Jr with Sunset Boulevard. Now with that said there was some tough competition in those nominee categories and truth be told Caged isn’t as good as them but it sure is blooming fantastic.
Tagline – Will she come out a woman or a wildcat?
Poor innocent, recently married 19 year old Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker) got caught up with her criminal minded husband whilst he carried out an armed robbery. When the robbery goes south and her husband takes a bullet, Marie is left to take the rap. Banged up on a 1 to 15 year sentence with the possibility of parole. All for 40 dollars, and the sucker punch, 5 dollars less and it would of been classed a misdemeanor. From the moment the prison wagon driver says “Pile out, you tramps! It’s the end of the line!” you know it’s going to be a tough time for our Marie.
First Marie has to be processed through the system. From getting her own ID number, photographed and cataloged, measured up for her new jailbird threads and sent off to the infirmary nurse. Good news at last, a compliment of sorts on her, umm, privates. “I hope your batch is cleaner than the last lot. I had to scrub them with brooms“. It’s then the tummy pains start to add to her woes, she now finds out she’s two months pregnant!.
Governor Ruth Benton (Agnes Moorehead) isn’t as hard as she looks. She wants reform and better practices instated throughout the prison. Rallying against the board of directors to help fund better conditions for her girls. She’s up against a boys club of idiots, still she’s no push over, she’ll keep hassling them. She knows Marie isn’t a bad egg and really shouldn’t be in here, her hands are tied but she tries to give her good advice.
Marie and the other banged up ladies have a big obstacle to steer clear of, unfortunately when it’s the number one guard, that isn’t easy to do. Sadistic, big and brawny prison guard Evelyn Harper (Hope Emerson) has made it worth her while working the ladies, she’s big, tough and can make your life miserable with a twist of an arm. Still she knows what’s good for her and will make life easier if you garnish her with treats.
Evelyn Harper – “Do you know how it ought to be run? With a piece of rubber hose, break them in two if they talk out of turn. Anyone who doesn’t tow the mark sits in solitary for one month on bread and water. One funny move from a girl and I’d clip every hair on her head. That’s the way it used to be run and that’s the way it ought to be run. Just like they’re a bunch of animals in a cage!”
The jail is filled with your usual array of felons from prostitutes, hookers and hoes, pickpockets, crooks and light fingered bandits and gangster molls, thugs and drug dealers. Snitches one side, hoodlums the other, every turn and every cell brings another criminal for our Marie Allen to maneuver. Lucky there’s also friendly faces and helping hands to steer her through these troubling times. Can Marie survive the system and return back to a normal life on the outside? Tune in soon to find out.
If you haven’t seen this one yet I’d say it’s well worth your time, I loved it. Superb cast to with Lee Patrick, Olive Deering, Ellen Corby, Betty Garde and Jan Sterling to add to proceedings.
Directed by John Cromwell from an adaptation of a story written by Virginia Kellogg and Bernard C Schoenfeld called “Women Without Men“. Virginia Kellogg also does the screenplay, she is also connected to Raoul Walsh’s White Heat and Anthony Mann’s T-Men. Intrigued by this lady I tried to find some information on her but couldn’t unearth much unfortunately. Though I did find her obituary which was published in the LA Times on the 20th April 1981. It’s amazing to read that she got herself banged up on false embezzlement charges so she could research her book. If you have any more info on her please let me know.