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Tag Archives: Eleanor Parker

Caged (May 19, 1950)

CagedCaged (1950)
Directed by John Cromwell
Warner Bros.

“Pile out, you tramps. It’s the end of the line.”

With those words we are plunged into the dark, unforgiving world of Caged, a masterpiece of the women-in-prison genre from director John Cromwell.

Caged is a tough, tragic, and intelligent film; it’s hell and gone from the cheap, lurid flicks that would define the women-in-prison genre during the exploitation heyday of the 1960s and ’70s.

Not only is Caged a great drama, it’s also a feminist film. Some of the prisoners in Caged are victims of abusive husbands, many of them were forced into a life of crime by their husbands or boyfriends, and all of them are subject to a justice system run by men. Even the woman with the most power in the film, the reform-minded warden Ruth Benton (Agnes Moorehead), has to answer to the governor and his officious underlings.

Like most prison movies, Caged focuses on a first-time offender, or “fish,” who’s new behind bars and has to learn the ropes. Her name is Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker), and she’s serving time for driving the getaway car for her young husband, who was killed during the commission of a robbery that netted a mere $40. “Five bucks less and it wouldn’t be a felony,” says the woman in the prison office who types up Marie Allen’s intake forms. (The arbitrary and sometimes brutally unfair nature of the criminal justice system is a theme that runs through the film.)

Eleanor Parker

Caged wasn’t the first movie to feature scenes in a women’s prison, but as far as I can tell, it was the first women-in-prison film to take place pretty much completely behind bars.

There were movies in the pre-code 1930s that featured scenes behind bars in women’s prisons. And about a year before Caged was released, Crane Wilbur’s The Story of Molly X (1949) proudly boasted that its prison sequences were filmed in a real women’s correctional facility. But the prison sequences in The Story of Molly X were a relatively small part of the whole film, and were the kind of violent and lurid exploitation most people normally think of when they hear the words “women in prison.”

Caged, on the other hand, is a great film with great performances. It’s a tragic story about a young woman who barely needed rehabilitation in the first place, and yet has everything systemically taken from her until she is a hardened criminal with nothing but criminality to look forward to when she’s released.

There are plenty of filmed women-in-prison stories that I’ve enjoyed, but I honestly can’t think of a smarter or more affecting one than Caged until the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black came around in 2013. However, I haven’t yet seen So Young So Bad, which was released in theaters one day after Caged. It’s the next film I’ll review, and we’ll see how it stacks up.

Caged will be shown on TCM Friday, February 20, 2015, at 1:30 PM (ET).

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The Voice of the Turtle (Dec. 25, 1947)

The first thing you should know before you watch Irving Rapper’s The Voice of the Turtle (or One for the Book, its title when it’s shown on TV) is that in 1947, the phrase “make love to” didn’t mean “have sexual intercourse with,” which is more or less what it means today. In the ’40s it was a nebulous expression that could mean anything from “pitching woo” to “heavy petting,” but didn’t explicitly refer to P to V contact.

So when pretty young struggling actress Sally Middleton (Eleanor Parker) says, “I was raised to think no nice girl let a man make love to her unless … unless it was serious — I mean, sort of marriage — otherwise you’d be cheapening yourself,” she’s not talking about making the beast with two backs.

Or is she?

It’s hard to say, because Rapper’s film is a sanitized version of one of the longest running plays in Broadway history. The Voice of the Turtle opened in 1943 and was nearly at the end of its run when the film version came out. John Van Druten’s play was a funny and frank look at the sexual lives of young New Yorkers during World War II. Clearly the story of a nice young man and a nice young woman who decided to go to bed together couldn’t be made into a Hollywood film without some alterations. Or, as the review of the film in the December 15, 1947, issue of Time put it, “The movie is most coyly prurient where the play was most pleasantly candid.”

Van Druten adapted his play for the screen, and even though it contains the obligatory concessions to the Hays Code, I found it enjoyable, funny, and charming. As someone who grew up with President Reagan, it’s always a little weird seeing him as a younger man, since there are so many things about his physical appearance and line delivery that literally never changed over the course of four decades.

Even though he was 36 when he appeared in The Voice of the Turtle, Reagan still had the slightly high voice, nervous smile, and “aw shucks” attitude that exemplified youthful masculinity in the ’40s.

Other than that and a few missing wrinkles, however, I felt as if he could have been telling Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down that wall” or explaining the Strategic Defense Initiative to his fellow Americans.

But I digress. In any case, I liked Reagan as the good-natured Sgt. Bill Page, who’s pushed aside at the last moment by the worldly Olive Lashbrooke (Eve Arden) for the lunkheaded Commander Ned Burling (Wayne Morris). Bill ends up staying at Sally’s apartment over the long Christmas weekend after he can’t find a hotel in Manhattan. (Eve Arden played the heroine’s best gal pal in more movies than Randolph Scott played cowboys or Keye Luke played Chinamen, but here she gets to play a role with a little bite. She’s not a total jerk, but she clearly cares more about herself than she does about her friend.)

Despite a few inserted scenes that are meant to imply that Bill and Sally don’t really engage in any heavy hanky-panky (those scenes can easily be ignored, if you so wish), I thought The Voice of the Turtle was a funny and enjoyable look at two likable young people who fall in love with each other despite each having a broken heart and a reluctance to mend it.