Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mini Review: Caged (1950)

Directed by John Cromwell
Starring: Eleanor Parker, Hope Emerson, Agnes Moorehead
Grade: B+

Courtesy of Goatdog (thanks, Mike) I was able to catch this great film about the many failures of the prison system. I mainly wanted to see this for Eleanor Parker's oscar-nominated performance, which I was unable to judge when I rounded up Oscar's 1950 Leading Ladies more than a few moons ago. After seeing it I'd probably place her a respectable fourth, given the incredible quality of the line-up, and she weighs up at about as good as Caged itself.

The best parts of Girl, Interrupted, a film admittedly not about prison but bearing similar themes, are a) the acting, and b) the way in which it's made. This is a similar story. Caged features a great ensemble, and its noir-era melodrama always works well in the film. However, it does seem a little too eager to state its message that the prison system creates criminals rather than reforms them (an admirable one I know -- especially for the era), and presents this very baldly. Not the worst crime in the world, but because there's so much the film can be admired for (brave themes, dark sequences, unsympathetic characters) it does act as a slight let-down.

Politically speaking it also gets to the brunt of why the prison system is the way it is, but the real key to Caged is its community, which feels united by necessity (against a thoroughly hideous prison warden) rather than any token need to create characters to root for. Parker's Marie gets immersed in this community, and despite her key moral shift not as incremental a process as I would have liked, is a believeable victim of her mistakes. Thus, Caged does its job.

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