Long before there was Orange is the New Black or Wentworth, there was Caged. This women-in-prison film noir from 1950 is an intense, gritty movie that offers an in-depth look into the complicated lives of its characters. Adapted from the story Women Without Men by Virginia Kellogg and Bernard C. Schoenfeld, the script (written by Kellogg) holds nothing back. While the drama is certainly heightened, the film is remarkable in its seemingly realistic depiction of prison life for women (at least for the time it's set in). Kellogg gives us relatable characters to root for and loathe, portrayed by a talented cast of women including Eleanor Parker in an Academy Award nominated lead role, Betty Garde in a heartbreaking performance as homicidal shoplifter Kitty Stark, and Agnes Moorehead as the sympathetic prison superintendent Ruth Benton. A prison movie wouldn't be true to genre without a villain and Hope Emerson gives us a ruthless one in her sadistic portrayal of the evil prison matron Evelyn Harper. A character shouldn't be this much fun to hate. Emerson devours every scene she's in rightfully earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role. There is much to admire about this brutal yet compassionate film. Yet, the standout here is the brilliant performance of Eleanor Parker. Her transformation from meek to corrupt is breathtaking to watch. A true ensemble film, Caged is a daring, brave exploration of women shunned and forgotten by their society. Fueled by unforgettable performances and a solid script, acclaimed director John Cromwell has delivered one hell of a great movie.
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