8 March 2009 | jzappa
One of the Most Stunning Screen Transformations in Recent Memory
John Cromwell's Caged is an exceptionally made film for the most part, a bold expose for its time on the prison system. There are many overt visual techniques which make the cinematography cloudy and suggestive, very impressive acting and a fair deal of realism.
Eleanor Parker fashions one of the most stunning screen transformations in recent memory. From the beginning, she delineates all the chastity and defenselessness of an injured yearling. As one foul interval after another follows her, that unworldliness rusts, her clean hands are continuously stained and she boils over into the vintage hard-bitten felon. If no attempt is made to adjust felons, all a prison is good for is to further indoctrinate criminals in their pegged rackets.
Of all of them, the most indelible impression is made by the gruff voice and towering physicality of Hope Emerson, who mustered all of the feelings of inadequacy one frankly imagines she suffered in her time to scald the morale of the inmates over which she abuses the power she sadistically relishes. That's not to say she is a "cow" surrounded by sumptuous, insatiable inmates. Cromwell indeed surrounds Parker with jowled, bug-eyed, bony, gnarly women. The corporeal presence of the vast majority of the convicts speaks volumes to why, in 1950 America, these women led the lives they did. And Parker, sent to prison, after a botched armed robbery attempt by her equally young husband who is killed, leaving her with an accomplice technicality as a curious wedding gift, is pitted among them in nightmarish situations. Her entirely unnatural experience inside begins with her discovery that she is pregnant. She gives birth to a healthy baby and grants custody to her mother to get the baby back after she is released, but her apathetic mother gives the child up for adoption for good because the child does not harmonize with the grandmother's habits.
Parker is then left with all the abandonments of the most deeply felt order: Her husband, her freedom, her child, her mother. Subsequently, one need just run down the characters surrounding her to map the bearings of the angle the drama will take: Manipulative and vicious superintendent Hope Emerson, hard-boiled ringleader Kitty Stark played by the boldly unglamorous Betty Garde, and corruption matron Lee Patrick. How does a sympathetic warden, Agnes Moorehead, match the impact of the environment she finds that she provides someone like Parker? The final handful of shots endure.