Review: Caged

This is a film noir from 1950, directed by John Cromwell, but the real story is who wrote this and how.

This is another great noir written by Virginia Kellogg who also was on the writing team for White Heat and T-Men(both have been reviewed earlier on this site).  This one is interesting because Kellogg actually pulled some strings to incarcerate herself in a woman’s prison to write a book.  She then made this book into a screenplay for this film.  Everything in the book is stuff that really happened while she was in prison, so I imagine most of this movie’s plot lines are actually based on fact, though the story is fictional.

Eleanor Parker plays our main protagonist who is put in prison for being involved in a gas station robbery with her husband.  She is only 19 and her husband was killed in the robbery attempt, to top things off, she is pregnant!  She is a pretty normal girl, somewhat innocent if you will.  She probably shouldn’t be in prison for being an accomplice to an attempted robbery of only $40.

Agnes Moorhead plays the warden who is trying to make things better for the women.  She is the bright spot in a dark situation.

Hope Emerson plays one hell of an evil guard in this film.  She was Parker’s nemesis throughout the movie.

Parker meets an assortment of criminals while in stir.  Most befriend her and she learns a lot about the criminal ways while doing her time.  This quote sums it up:

“For that forty bucks I heisted I sure got myself an education.”

This really is a movie about the problems with our prison system, most, if not all these problems have not gone away in the 65 years since this film was made. If you are a fan of Orange Is the New Black you should check this film out to see how things have evolved very little in the past 6 decades.  This film should be seen by everybody, noir fan or not.  It is an amazing piece of cinema. Parker really does an outstanding job and you can see why she was nominated for an Academy Award for this performance.

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Review: The Man with the Golden Arm

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The question I had before viewing this film was “Is this a film-noir or not?”  I have no degree in film, and this doesn’t have the traditional technical aspects of a true film noir, and from what research I can find, Otto Preminger didn’t want this to be a traditional film noir. Preminger was a director that knew noir, he made quite a few, some before and some after this one. So could this be the very first neo-noir?  All I know is this is filmed in black and white and doesn’t have as much shadow play as most films of this era.  The subject matter on the other hand is very noir, it is gritty and dark.  The movie is based on the book of the same name written by Nelson Algren.

We have a convict fresh out of prison.  He was arrested as a card dealer at an illegal casino and he has a drug problem.  He comes out of prison, clean and with a new skill as a drummer.  He is looking for a fresh start, but gets pulled into his old ways.  His girl is bound to a wheel chair because of a spinal issue, she needs money to go to the doctors to help her find a cure.  She is about as close to a femme fatale as you can get.  There is also the beautiful neighbor down stairs who is the girl our hero really likes.  We have an old boss that wants to control our hero and get him back into dealing cards for him.  We got his best friend that is an honest hustler, he feels he is more honest than the criminals around him, but still a criminal.  Murder, drugs, gambling, dancing-girls, hustlers, thugs and love triangles, sounds like noir to me.

The film also pushed the boundaries of The Motion Picture Association of America’s film code and is one of the reasons the code was changed.  Because of its drug use in this film it almost wasn’t approved.  After this film, taboo subjects like drugs, kidnapping, abortion and prostitution were allowed in film.  This would of course be big for noir and neo-noir films to come.

This was nominated for 3 Academy Awards including Frank Sinatra’s one and only nomination for his portrayal of Frankie Machine.  Eleanor Parker plays Frankie’s wheel chair bound girlfriend.  Kim Novak plays their neighbor, Molly. Funny man Arnold Stang plays Frankie’s side kick Sparrow.  Darren McGavin plays the underworld boss that is trying to control Frankie.

So for those fans that have seen it, what do you think?  Is it a film-noir or a well done crime drama?  In either case it is a good film worth watching.