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Lady in a Cage

Lady in a Cage(1964)

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Children are playing. Fireworks. A couple make out in a car as the radio crackles news updates. Fourth of July celebrations are underway. Traffic begins to pile up. Heat. A young girl idly rolls her skate across a sleeping, or possibly dead, homeless person. Cars honk. Construction. Heat. A dead dog.

Welcome to the incredibly downbeat, doomsday vision of LADY IN A CAGE. Trust doesn't get any more uplifting from there! Olivia de Havilland stars as a disabled, wealthy poetess who becomes trapped inside her private elevator on a hot, summer Fourth of July weekend due to a power outage. Her pleas for help go unanswered, until a drunken bum (Jeff Corey) is attracted by the ringing of the emergency alarm from de Havilland's elevator switch. Finding a house full of riches galore (and a wine storage closet to boot), he enlists the help of an over-the-hill and overweight hustler (Ann Sothern) to help him carry off the goods. Unbeknownst to them, their plan is hardly a secret and they are followed back to the house by a trio of the most loathsome, sadistic and savage hoodlums (led by a young and surly James Caan) ever seen in film- The story then spirals into a harrowing, intense and truly sick chain of events.

The film is a shocking and disturbing piece of work - from the first animal attack appearance of the masked trio in the house, up to the surprisingly gory ending.

Olivia de Havilland turns in a sympathetic role in a part that could have easily been played very broad and campy (although her voice-over poetry recitations and readings come pretty close)- but she adds humanity and pathos to it so that you truly do worry about this character's safety. Also of note is the fact that it is an intensely physical performance; she crawls around the elevator floor, builds herself makeshift weapons and tools and is eventually kicked around and manhandled by the thuggish Caan. The barrage of awful things that happen to this character is quite surprising for a picture made at this time.

The film also showcases a brilliant use of photography - every scene is shot in an unique way - often contributing to the overall claustrophobia and oppressiveness of everything going on- from the low angle shots of the cars stuck in traffic, the bird's eye angle of the drop down from the elevator, the framing of the telephone ringing in the foreground as de Havilland (trapped and looming up above) watches desperately. Everything is framed like a photograph - scenes and shots are framed through car windows, wine racks, bars----all adding to an incongruous and bleak vision of a world gone wild.

The movie stills holds up today, as, sadly, our modern world has gone above and beyond this tale with our own current stories of murder and madness...but if anything, LADY IN A CAGE certainly shows that evil, depravity and inhumanity has always been around and isn¿t simply a problem of today¿s modern society, it¿s simply one that is always evolving and becoming increasingly creative.

While a difficult and violent film and one that was clearly ahead of it's time (and certainly influenced films along the lines of Last House on the Left, Panic Room, Death Game and many others)- it's a hard film to actually recommend to someone without a warning. It's certainly not a "fun" watch. However, for fans of hard-boiled, psychological and disturbing films, this is one of the best. And one that is absolutely unforgettable.

Paramount Home Video's "barebones" treatment of the film is disappointing- no extras whatsoever. At the very least, the disc sports a very nice, crisp and clean widescreen treatment. The sound is quite good, as well, particularly showcased in the dramatic opening sequence through the use of the erratic, jazz-ish bleats and rumbles of the film's soundtrack.

For more information about Lady in a Cage, visit Paramount Home Entertainment. To order Lady in a Cage, go to TCM Shopping.

by Eric Weber