Monday, February 08, 2010

Lady in a Cage (1963)

Directed by: Walter Grauman

Written by: Luther Davis

Starring: Olivia De Havilland, James Caan, Ann Sothern


This is a one of those films where the set-up says it all. It caught my eye on Amazon and I thought it sounded like the greatest film ever. I have never heard anything about it but I figure if it attracted Ms. De Havilland, it have some merit, right? I was so titallated by the set-up that I had no doubt in my mind that this was going to be the best film ever. I was right!

The film begins with a darling little setup of a 30 year old man, Malcolm, living with his kind but overbearing mother. He is going away for the 4th of July weekend, leaving behind a suicide note for her to find when he is already gone. It is clear that they have a strange relationship as he jarringly refers to her as "darling" (shudder!!). Soon after he leaves, due to a power cut, Mrs. Hillyard find herself trapped in an elevator they had installed since she broke her hip the year before. Hot and panicked, Mrs. Hillyard tries to free herself but soon finds she may be safer where she is when a string of nogoodniks break into her house with trouble in mind.

I don't want to give away too much about the plot but the reason I found this film to be so charming is the role of the villian. It starts out as a harmless, crazy homeless man accompanied by a down-on-her-luck ageing prostitute stealing silver to pawn but they soon become victims themselves when they are joined but three dangerous teenage delinquents. Later in the film, Mrs. Hillyard's own conscience places her as the villain, at least in her own mind. She sees herself as a monster, which in some ways she is, bringing the circle of villainry to almost a perfect circle.

The people around her are so busy getting away for 4th of July weekend that they fail to notice her strife despite her use of a fairly effective alarm a number of times. A shot, during the opening credits of a dead dog lying by the road, ignored by passers-by is gory and distressing and foreshadows a later scene in which Mrs. Hillyard tries to get help out on the busy road outside her house.

The relationship that is built between Mrs. Hillyard and the ringleader of the delinquents (a very young, very intense James Caan) is interesting, particularly an exchange between the two in which she begs him to show mercy on her as she is a living breathing human being, to which he replies that he is an animal. This is how the film ensues. He is an animal. He is a frightening, menacing character and the moral and physical content is quite shocking for a film from the 1960s.

Now, it should be noted that this is exploitation cinema. It is not your typical Olivia De Havilland affair. It is low-brow, it is visceral and it is full of (effective) shock tactics. Admirably gory for such an early film, Lady in a Cage delivers a string of unexpected twists and turns and never fails to deliver horror and melodrama in equal measure. Olivia De Havilland is a class act as usual, and the chemistry between her and James Caan illustrates the enormous generation gap that existed in the early sixties and highlights the running theme throughout the film which was integral in most of these fear-mongering, moral high ground films about juvenile delinquents; fear of the future.

This is a film that (at least for me) has everything. It has a classy leading lady, a truly frightening villain, a high-concept setup and a charmingly exploitative accusatory tone, rampant on the early sixties, regarding young juvenile deinquency. Highly recommended and you can pick it up here for the stupidly cheap price of £1.50. Enjoy!

...or watch a good quality upload in 9 parts on YouTube:

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:13 AM

    This was filmed in my Grandparents house and I have never seen the movie. I have it ordered now. Cool! Laura I have a picture of James Caan, taken in 1963, standing at the back door!