Lady in a Cage
Walter E. Grauman
- Olivia de Havilland as Mrs. Hilyard
- James Caan as Randall
- Jeff Corey as George
- Ann Sothern as Sade
- Jennifer Billingsley as Elaine
- Rafael Campos as Essie
Stark and highly suspenseful, Lady in a Cage is a surprisingly lurid and at times brutal thriller from the 60’s. Parts of it reek of being dated and melodramatic, but I was still surprised by how effective and shocking this movie was at keeping me on edge like all good thrillers.
Mrs. Hilyard, a wealthy widow is recuperating after breaking her hip. To get around her house better, she has had an elevator installed to help her get between the two main floors. With her son away, who she often mollycoddles a lot, Mrs. Hilyard attempts to find something to take her mind off being alone. But when she uses the elevator, which at times resembles a cage, a power failure causes it to stop midway and she is left trapped. She tries to call for help but no one seems to come. That is until the homeless alcoholic stumbles into her home and instead of helping her because of his addiction, steals some of her belongings. He proceeds to visit his only real friend, the weary prostitute Sade. Both are desperate for money so they return to the house to see what else they can hawk for cash. The duo gains the attention of a violent troika of teenage hoodlums; savagely brutal leader Randall, lecherous Essie and violence loving Elaine. The teenagers cotton on to the idea of money and riches and follow George and Sade to the house. Meanwhile, Mrs. Hilyard is slowly beginning to crumble in fear and things get a whole lot worse when Randall and his posse arrive and indulge in games of violence and torment with her, and Sade. Can this civilised and well-bred woman manage to survive the ensuing brutality around her and free herself from the eponymous cage?
Walter E. Grauman coats Lady in a Cage in a bleak and unforgiving light, that makes the events that transpire even more horrifying. Themes of indifference and cruelty are explored with a lot of dramatic impact generated. The fact that when Mrs rings for help no one seems to notice taps into society’s culture of being to busy to notice important things and it is presented against the backdrop of savagery that soon invades her house. The stark and at times harsh black and white cinematography is used to terrifying effect as it brings more darkness to the film, despite the events all taking place over a sunny day. Now it must be stated that Lady in a Cage despite holding up well in various areas, does have parts that have dated badly. The main instance is the inner monologue of Mrs Hilyard, which seems like a good idea but eventually becomes more than a little repetitive. In other instances some of the film gets a bit histrionic, but thankfully due to some of the content that is still shocking today it succeeds above these two flawed elements. A shifting score of tempo and volume ushers in uneasy feelings for the characters and audience.
Olivia de Havilland is excellently cast as the trapped woman of the title. Through her performance, we as the audience share her suffering and turmoil as her civilised world is torn apart and she must fight to survive the carnage. Sympathetic, desperate( as evidenced by the fact that Mrs Hilyard makes her own conversation to alleviate her panic) and traumatised, yet still holding on, de Havilland is oh so marvellous in the part and she displays such tangible emotions that we can’t help but want her to live through the terrifying plight she endures. In his first really substantial film role, James Caan is disgustingly evil as the leader of the gang who delight in terror. He really strikes fear into the heart of this film and many of the shocking events unfold as a result of his character’s cruelty. Jeff Corey and Ann Sothern manage to make their characters, who are in essence thieves sympathetic, because they may break into the house but their violence and means are nothing as vicious as the trio of demented teenagers. And speaking of the horrid teenage hoodlums, Jennifer Billingsley and Rafael Campos as the loyal followers in the gang are equally as creepy and filled with disturbed menace.
A thriller film that isn’t afraid to be shocking and disquieting, Lady in a Cage showcases talented acting and dark subject matter in a highly compelling and difficult way. Archaic as some of it is, one can’t deny the power of the film and what it taps into. Who knew a movie from such a long time ago could still retain a brutal impact?