Judge Daryl Loomis keeps a lady in a cage: Lady Sunshine. She's a toucan.
Our review of Lady In A Cage, published June 18th, 2005, is also available.
I am…a monster!
I review a lot of horror, new and classic, independent and studio, and, over the last few years, I have noticed the proliferation of the "home invasion" subgenre, especially for young filmmakers. One reason, of course, is that the movies generally take place in a single location with but a few characters, keeping costs low and keeping ambitions relatively modest. The other reason that they've become so popular, though, seems to come from the ease at which filmmakers can do one of two things (or both): make a social statement or unabashedly deliver exploitative thrills. As a viewer, both ends work pretty well for me, though some are wont to complain about their amorality and connection to "torture porn." There's an undeniable connection between the two but, unlike that term that causes a certain population to dismiss movies outright, none of this is new. I don't know if it's the first of its kind, but Lady in a Cage is a fantastic example of the genre that was made half a century ago…and people think their outrage is unique…
As her son heads off to a weekend 4th of July party, Cornelia Hilyard (Olivia de Havilland, Hold Back the Dawn) gets stuck in her private elevator, ten feet above the floor and with no capacity to free herself. Now, stuck in this cage, her alarms draw the notice of a pair of groups, one a wino and his prostitute friend (Ann Southern, Maisie), the other a group of ruffians (including James Caan, Misery, and Jennifer Billingsley, White Lightning, the feature debut for both). As Cornelia pleads for help above, the people below revel in their animalistic side, and a simple easy robbery turns to murder.
In most ways, home invasion thrillers are all basically the same: one or more people enter a house for some reason, in the house resides a bourgeois family, and the invaders then make life hell for them, either to teach them a lesson or, maybe, just for kicks. The devil, though, is in the details; the quality of the direction and, especially, the strength of the performances is where one of these movies lives or dies. Lady in a Cage follows the pattern perfectly and has all the technical prowess to make it one of the very best of its kind.
Director Walter Grauman (The Last Escape) had a career spent on television, as director of shows like The Fugitive and Murder, She Wrote, so it's clear he had a handle on how to direct suspense. As the movie builds, it feels more and more desperate and out of control until it all hits the fan, which comes around in a surprising and very effective way. It hits home, implicating everyone as dark and selfish and giving the story a feeling that is much more akin to something we'd see today than in 1964.
Grauman's direction pays off well through this, but it's the performances that make Lady in a Cage memorable. The always appealing Olivia de Havilland is brilliant in her role, doing a ton while being stuck in a 5x5 box for ninety percent of the movie and exploding at the end. Ann Southern is always fun as the flouncing harlot, and it's clear from the moment he appears that James Caan is a star in the making. His presence is probably the strongest thing about the film, so mean and vile that it's a wonder anybody ever cast him as a good guy after it. Lady in a Cage is simple and straightforward, but very strong in all aspects; smart and suspenseful, Lady in a Cage is an easy recommendation.
Lady in a Cage arrives via the Warner Archives on-demand service and, as has become increasingly clear over the years, proves once again that Warner Bros really has no interest in curating their catalog, only in gouging consumers. This release, once again, is identical to their DVD of the film from a decade ago so, if you already own that version, you have no reason to bother yourself with this one. Even so, technically, the disc is pretty strong. The 1.85:1 image is nice and clear, with good black and white contrast and a pretty clean print. While certainly not perfect, it looks good for its age. For sound, there is a pair of mixes to choose from, the original mono and a remixed surround track. Both are crisp and clean, with strong dialog, but there really isn't much of a difference between the two. There are no extras on the disc.
Lady in a Cage is excellent work, with outstanding performances from the entire cast and assured direction from a guy who would spend a career directing suspense on television. With the proliferation of home invasion thrillers these days, it may not seem terribly unique, but this is one of the places where it started and it's well worth watching. If only Warner Bros thought enough of it to give it a proper release, but that isn't the movie's fault.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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