This week’s pick is the 1950 “women-in-prison” drama Caged. The film stars Eleanor Parker and was directed by John Cromwell. Screen writing credits are attributed to Virginia Kellogg based on the story Women Without Men written by Kellogg and Bernard C. Schoenfeld (source: Wikipedia).
Many of my “younger” readers may know her as the almost stepmother of the vonTrapp children in The Sound of Music. This role is definitely a great departure from that more glamorous role and we see our protagonist transform from an innocent who falls on hard times, to a prison-hardened dame who is destined for a life of crime.
How does it all go wrong?
19-year old Marie (Parker) takes part in an attempted robbery with her husband. Unfortunately, their plans are thwarted and her husband is killed. It is then off to prison for Marie who soon finds out that she is pregnant. She is determined to keep the child but circumstances arise to make this impossible. As a result she is faced with no choice but to give her child up for adoption.
This event combined with the harsh and brutal treatment she receives at the hands of inmates and guards, transforms Marie into a woman who is destined to be on the wrong side of the law. At the conclusion of the film, she is seen leaving with some “hoods”: her desire to get out of jail has lead to her make a Faustian deal with some less than above board people. The result is an indebtedness that she will have to pay while she is on the “outside.”
For her performance, Eleanor Parker received well-deserved recognition in the form of an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. There was also a Supporting Actress nod for Hope Emerson as the sadistic prison guard.
What resonated with me about this film is that for its time, it must have been a somewhat shocking look inside a woman’s prison. Some of the goings-on are obviously played up for dramatic reasons, but it still works on many levels.