Caged - Warner Archive CollectionOverview -
Caged is not just the best women's prison movie ever made, it's one of the finest prison films period. Director John Cromwell's devastating drama detailing the debilitating effects of incarceration on an impressionable young woman still stings today and features a riveting, Oscar-nominated performance from Eleanor Parker. A jaw-dropping 4K scan of the original nitrate camera negative and remastered audio distinguish Warner Archive's pitch-perfect presentation of this film noir classic. Highly Recommended.
Eleanor Parker delivers an Oscar®-nominated performance as a girl swept into a petty crime--and a life behind bars--in this dramatic and realistic look at the effect that life inside prison has on a young woman. Marie Allen (Parker) becomes hardened by life inside a corrupt and dehumanizing penitentiary ... until she reaches the point that she will do anything to survive the place and the life inside which she is Caged!
Special Features and Technical Specs:
- NEW 4K RESTORATION OF THE FILM FROM THE ORIGINAL CAMERA NEGATIVE (2023)
- Screen Director's Playhouse Radio broadcast (8/2/51)
- Classic Warner Bros. cartoon BIG HOUSE BUNNY
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
"Pile out, you tramps! It's the end of the line."
Before women's prison movies became shameless exercises in camp, Caged valiantly sought to expose the deplorable conditions, rampant abuse, corrupt culture, and bureaucratic indifference that plagued state penitentiaries and often destroyed the lives of those incarcerated there. Director John Cromwell's affecting film models itself after the similarly themed I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, produced almost two decades earlier and stands as the blueprint for all the wild, exploitative women's prison pictures that would follow it.
The purpose of the penal system is to rehabilitate its inmates and help them become upstanding, law-abiding citizens but Caged starkly shows how difficult it is to achieve those lofty goals and how the hellish reality of life behind bars often transforms convicts into career criminals instead. The dictatorial matrons who rule their cell blocks with an iron fist use fear and intimidation to first break the wills and then the spirits of the felons, plunging them into an abyss of hopelessness and desperation. Those who can claw their way out become bitterly disillusioned and quickly learn playing by the rules gets them nowhere, so they align themselves with shady characters who have crooked connections on the outside who can fast-track their paroles. Anything just to get out. Though they know full well joining the criminal ranks may lead to ruin, it's far better than dying a slow, agonizing death in a cold, concrete cage.
Naive, scared, and only 19 years old, Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker) is sent up the river for her accessory role in a bank robbery, but her real crime was blindly loving her no-good husband who masterminded the heist and lost his life during it. Adding insult to injury, Marie discovers she's pregnant shortly after she's processed, and though the benevolent prison warden, Ruth Benton (Agnes Moorehead), respects her delicate condition and treats her with kid gloves, the sadistic, imperious, and slyly manipulative matron who oversees Marie's cell block, thumbs her nose at Ruth's directives and mercilessly bullies Marie and her fellow inmates.
Dealing with the stresses, harshness, and fear of prison life and finessing the alliances and rivalries that define its culture take a toll on Marie, but she sticks to her principles and soldiers on...until circumstances conspire against her and force her to think about not just freedom, but survival. As one of the inmates tells her, "In this cage, you get tough or get killed."
Though Parker headlines the cast and anchors the film, Caged is a true ensemble piece that gives each of its colorful characters their due. The incarcerated ladies run the gamut in age and personality, and the Oscar-nominated screenplay by Virginia Kellogg (who extensively researched women's prisons for months to authentically capture the horrific atmosphere) and Bernard C. Schoenfeld highlights their individual travails, triumphs, and tragedies. Some of the women are stereotypes - or would become stereotypes in future films - but all, even the monstrous matron (played to the hilt by Hope Emerson), exude a humanity that's often lacking in jailhouse pictures.
The requisite social issue preaching, which provokes a sense of outrage and disgust, is deftly woven into the script's fabric, but Cromwell, an often underrated director who helmed an array of top-flight movies over the course of his three-decade career including the original versions of Of Human Bondage and The Prisoner of Zelda, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Since You Went Away, and The Enchanted Cottage, never allows it to overshadow the action. First and foremost, Caged is a cautionary tale and Cromwell keeps its focus on the respective plights of the beleaguered inmates.
Ironically, Caged would be a breakout picture for Parker. Her dimensional, riveting portrayal catapulted her to the top of her trade (where she would remain throughout the 1950s) and earned her the first of three career Best Actress Oscar nominations. (The insanely stiff competition that year included both Bette Davis and Anne Baxter in All About Eve, Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd., and eventual winner Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday.) Parker's pitiable, plaintive expression early in the film gradually gives way to a square-jawed hardness that's chilling, and though her transformation from wispy waif to tough broad is a little swift, it's utterly believable. Marie endures and witnesses plenty of horrors during her sentence, but Parker resists any temptations to overact. Her natural, nuanced performance adds to the power of Caged and helps the story and its themes resonate.
Emerson, a big, imposing presence, looms large and files one of the nastiest portrayals in film history. Whether barking orders, cracking wise, or disdainfully sneering, she's always magnetic and justly nabbed a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod for this frightening turn. (She lost the award to the far more lovable Josephine Hull in Harvey.) Moorehead earnestly plays the frustrated, often exasperated warden whose tireless efforts on behalf of her inmates are constantly thwarted by both the state and her own rogue staff, and a host of wonderful character actresses like Ellen Corby, Betty Garde, Jan Sterling, Lee Patrick, and Jane Darwell round out the first-rate cast.
With its noir accents, downbeat mood, taut pacing, sassy script packed with jailhouse lingo, and top-notch performances, Caged supplies potent drama and delivers a sober message. It may seem clichéd by today's tawdry standards, but it was fresh and shocking in 1950 and when viewed in the context of its time, Caged remains raw, biting, and scary.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Caged arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu without music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
Another Warner Archive Blu-ray disc, another five-star video transfer. Some things never get old, and the continued eye-popping excellence of WAC's 4K restorations is one of them. Whether Technicolor or black-and-white, the company's meticulous and reverent treatment of film classics remains unrivaled in the industry, and Caged is just one more example in a (hopefully) endless string of practically perfect transfers. The incredibly film-like 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 presentation mixes superior clarity and contrast with inky blacks, well-defined whites, and beautifully varied grays to produce a stunning image that thrusts us into the prison's stark, dank, harsh atmosphere. Faint grain adds to the gritty feel and top-notch shadow delineation enhances the noir-ish flavor of Carl Guthrie's cinematography. Close-ups are razor sharp and highlight tears, wrinkles, and the bedraggled appearances of the inmates, and not a single nick, mark, or errant scratch dot the pristine source material. This is a spectacular rendering of Caged that heightens its intimacy, claustrophobia, and power.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track supplies clear, well-modulated sound that's free of any age-related hiss, pops, or crackle. A wide dynamic scale embraces all the highs and lows of Max Steiner's somber score without any distortion, and all the dialogue is nicely prioritized and easy to comprehend. Sonic accents like moaning sirens, shrill alarm bells, and piercing whistles are crisp, and subtleties like the clipped tones of a typewriter and a cat's mewing are distinct. The audio adds a huge amount of atmosphere to the film and this high-quality track strikes all the right notes.
The 2014 DVD only included a trailer. This Blu-ray release ups the ante with a radio adaptation and classic Looney Tunes cartoon.
Vintage Radio Adaptation (60 minutes) - Broadcast on August 2, 1951 as part of the Screen Director's Playhouse series, this radio adaptation allows Parker and Emerson the chance to reprise their roles. The truncated script remains faithful to the story, which lacks some impact without the disturbing visuals. The film's director usually says a few words at the end of the broadcast, but sadly John Cromwell was unable to appear.
Vintage Cartoon: Big House Bunny (HD, 7 minutes) - This classic Bugs Bunny cartoon finds the wascally wabbit trapped in Sing Song Prison and sparring with bombastic prison guard Yosemite Sam.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2 minutes) - The film's original preview hypes Caged as "the sensational story of a crime empire...behind prison walls!"
Caged crackles with tension, features an array of memorable portrayals, and delivers a sober message about the ill effects of incarceration. Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead, and Hope Emerson shine in this compelling drama that looks and sounds terrific. A brand new 4K scan of the original nitrate camera negative, remastered audio, and a couple of engaging extras make this Warner Archive Blu-ray release a must-have for fans of film noir classics. Highly Recommended.
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