Eleanor Parker gets thrown in jail for a robbery she didn’t commit. To make matters worse for poor Eleanor, she’s also pregnant. When she discovers that one of the inmates have hung themselves after being denied parole, Eleanor faints. Because of her delicate condition, she winds up popping that tot out sooner than expected. Eleanor is forced to give her baby up for adoption and after she too is denied parole, she turns into a surly, uncooperative inmate. The evil matron thrives on mentally abusing the inmates and when she takes away Eleanor’s pet cat, she starts a riot. To retaliate, the matron shaves Eleanor’s head, which only makes her more rebellious.
What I think was so daring about Caged is that Eleanor actually became a WORSE person because of the penal system. In the end, she gets paroled but her criminal connections from inside the prison have already got a less than honest job set-up for her. Even the warden, who had spent nearly all the movie trying to help Eleanor sighs, “She’ll be back.” In a time when the Hays Code made sure that evil was punished, the ending is particularly powerful and condemning of the American penal system.
And even though the flick was made in 1950, it’s surprising how much stuff they were able to get away with. While it lacks the punch of some of the best Women in Prison pictures, it’s still a solid entry in the genre. Like all Women in Prison classics, we get a couple of shower scenes. Because of the time, all you get to see is a lot of shoulders, knees, and feet.
Parker’s strong performance is what anchors the film and she’s given a lot of good melodramatic scenes to play with. There’s a really great scene where Eleanor goes before the parole board and desperately pleads her case. Turns out the main dude didn’t even have the volume up on his hearing aid and didn’t hear a word she said. When he denies her parole, she flips her shit but good.
Although Caged is kinda hampered by the limitations of the time (READ: No nudity), it is nevertheless a worthwhile Women in Prison flick. If you can get over the fact that there’s no nudity, it’s an immensely enjoyable movie. Despite the low sleaze quotient, it still features better acting and more dramatically sound situations than your average WIP film. Because of that, you should spend some time behind bars with Caged.
Caged is on The Video Vacuum Top Ten Films of 1950 at the Number 8 spot, which puts it right below D.O.A. and just above Streets of Ghost Town.