Appellate Judge Tom Becker can't wait for the 2009 remake, "Oliver Stone's Trog"
"Pile out you tramps, it's the end of the line."
Pearl White's Pauline tied to the railroad tracks. Jane Randolph being stalked through the city streets in Cat People. Ingrid Bergman spying on husband Claude Rains in Notorious. Jamie Lee Curtis babysitting "the night he came home" in Halloween. Audrey Hepburn's terrorization in Wait Until Dark. Cate Blanchett receiving the unwanted attention of Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal.
Imperiling women is a time-honored filmmaking device. Sometimes, we're on the edge of our seats in suspense, sometimes we're falling off our chairs laughing.
Since this three-disc set is part of the Cult Camp Classics line, we're guessing Warner was shooting for the latter. How do these fair ladies fare in their various plights?
Facts of the Case
"Maybe there's no perfect murder, but I think we've figured a perfect
Renowned actress Adriana Roman (Lana Turner, Peyton Place) retires from the stage to marry super-wealthy Charles Winthrop (Dan O'Herlihy, Imitation of Life). She tries hard to make nice with his daughter, Lisa (Karin Mossberg), but neither Adriana nor Charles approves of Lisa's boyfriend, gold-digging LSD peddler Johnny Allen (George Chakiris, West Side Story). When Charles dies in a boating accident, Adriana inherits his fortune. She won't share with Lisa unless she dumps free-loving freeloader Johnny, and this ticks off the diabolical dealer. A boy like that would dose your mother, and sure enough, Adriana is soon having nightmares in neon. Will she ride The Big Cube to her doom or will she find the square route to sanity?
"I don't have to tell you, but people on the outside think all
scientists are a little…deranged."
Out for an archaeological adventure, some college boys discover a secret underground cave. While exploring, they attract the attention of a several-million-year-old cave man, who inhospitably greets his guests by beating one to death and scaring the beeswax out of another. The survivors run to the clinic of famous anthropologist Dr. Brockton (Joan Crawford, Strait-Jacket), who's intrigued. She visits the cave, tranquilizes our hirsute hero, and brings him to her lab, which is located near a quaint village in England. She decides he's a Troglodyte and nicknames him Trog. She teaches him tricks, rewards him when he's good, and treats him like a favored pet, kind of a Paleozoic Yeller. Unimpressed with his winsome eyes and opposable thumbs, the locals want this Missing Link to get lost. The biggest loudmouth is landowner Murdock (Michael Gough, Sleepy Hollow), who's afraid the naughty Neanderthal will break out of the clinic, cause havoc, and drive down property values. So what does Murdock do? Breaks Trog out of the clinic so he can cause havoc and drive down property values. Will Trog survive civilization? Will civilization survive Trog?
"You see, kid, in this cage you get tough or you get killed."
Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker, Detective Story) is a naive kid who got a bum rap. She's 19, and she's been sentenced to 1-to-15 for being an accessory in an armed robbery. It was her husband's idea and he was killed; now Marie is Caged in the Women's State Prison. On top of that, she's pregnant. The warden, Mrs. Benton (Agnes Moorehead, Citizen Kane), is a progressive thinker. She believes in rehabilitation, not punishment, but her views are not embraced by the higher-ups or by the matrons. She sees potential in Marie, but so do the other inmates, who think her good looks and intelligence will make her an asset to criminal society when she gets out.
The Big Cube wants to be a counter-culture Gaslight, but it's a hopelessly square relic of psychedelic silliness. Turner takes acid-tainted sleeping pills and runs around the mansion wearing nightgowns so elaborate that you half expect Zorro to pop up for some bodice ripping. Unfortunately, her hallucinations are not that creative, just the usual array of pinwheels, painted faces, and skulls, while the recorded voices of Mossberg and Chakiris urge her to jump out of windows and "Die!" Turner sports the worst facelift this side of Mickey Rourke. Her eyes pulled high and her mouth pulled tight, she doesn't have to act to register fear or surprise, she just has to turn her head toward the camera. As her stepdaughter Lisa, Karin Mossberg doesn't look much younger. The script makes a few references to Lisa having gone to Swiss boarding school, but this doesn't explain Mossberg's accent, which sounds like Zsa Zsa Gabor channeling Bela Lugosi.
Trog is a ridiculous movie, memorable only for the gargoyle-like presence of Joan Crawford. Crawford must have had the same plastic surgeon as Lana Turner. Her face is frozen in an unnerving smirk, and she slurs her lines as though she's at the tail end of a bender. Trog himself is a short, dumpy guy in a bad monkey mask recycled from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Think of Dr. Zaius, as played by "Turtle" from Entourage. Most of the film is split between Crawford's obedience and charm school sessions with Trog ("He's like a backward child!") and Gough inexplicably fuming, "The monster must be destroyed!" Despite moments of carnage that bookend the film, Trog is goofily entertaining in a Saturday-matinee way.
The odd-man-out on this set is Caged, which is a terrific film that stands with the best of Warner's hard-boiled melodramas. Don't confuse this one with The Big Bird Cage, Chained Heat, or any other campy, exploitation, babes-behind-bars film. This is a top-notch production, with a cast of talented character actresses and an unforgettable turn by Hope Emerson as vicious matron Evelyn Harper. Says one inmate: "Evelyn? Don't kid me. Harper's first name is filth!" While the butch prison matron has become a staple of prison movies, Emerson's Harper was no parody. She's the original and the model for every one who came after.
With its rapid-fire dialogue and quotable lines, Caged sounds like a grimy Stage Door, only instead of the theater, these women crave freedom. There are veiled and overt references to sex, prostitution, drug use, abusive men, and other topics often skirted in 1950s films. The script, as well as Emerson and Parker, earned well-deserved Oscar® nominations. From its opening line to its bleak ending—also unusual for a film made in 1950—Caged is a potent movie experience.
Caged deserves far better than the treatment Warner has given it here. All three films have competent but uninspired transfers, with Trog looking the best. Both Trog and Cube are in anamorphic widescreen. Audio is serviceable on all three. Each disc has only a trailer for an extra.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'm glad these movies are available, particularly Caged, but Cult Camp Classics? Who's kidding who? The only bona-fide cult camp classic here is Trog. The Big Cube is campy enough, but it's got a ways to go before it attains "cult" or "classic" status. Caged is a legitimately well-made drama. One could find some campiness in its tough-gal dialogue, but its strengths put it in a higher class. If we really want to nitpick, only The Big Cube gives us a traditional woman-in-peril scenario. Caged is a harsh indictment of the penal system, and the only peril facing Joan Crawford was to her dignity. Speaking as a cynic, I think Warner is burning off some titles from their vault, and they found a clever way to package them.
Crawford and Turner were campy long before the term was fashionable, but Eleanor Parker is no one's idea of a camp icon. Perhaps they could have chosen a third film with a more flamboyant star. I mean, come on, how can you have a set with the words Camp and women in the title and not have Bette Davis, Shelley Winters, Elizabeth Taylor, or any of the other leading ladies of camp represented?
Warner has turned out some great box sets. This isn't one of them. It's a good idea, campy imperiled-women films. I just wish they'd put more thought into the titles and more care into the discs, particularly Caged, which is strong enough on its own to warrant a better-looking disc with some bonus material. The films are also available separately, but if you're going to buy more than one, it's cost-effective to pick up the box.
The defendants have been tried separately and will be sentenced separately. The ladies from Caged are found not guilty; commute their sentences and free them. Dr. Brockton, take Trog and run, run fast! Miss Turner, hand over the Cube—and meet Matron Harper.
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Scales of Justice, Caged
Perp Profile, Caged
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Caged
Scales of Justice, The Big Cube
Perp Profile, The Big Cube
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, The Big Cube
Scales of Justice, Trog
Perp Profile, Trog
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Trog
Review content copyright © 2007 Tom Becker; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.