Rewind: Films of the 60s, 70s, 80s – Lady in a Cage (1964)

by RICHARD WINTERS

Olivia de Havilland, who as of this writing is the last surviving cast member from the film Gone With the Wind, plays an upper-middle class woman by the name of Cornelia Hilyard who gets stuck in her household elevator when the power goes out. A homeless man (Jeff Corey) becomes aware of her predicament and with the help of his sleazy girlfriend (Ann Sothern) tries to rob the place. When they sell some of her items at a pawn shop a trio of juvenile delinquents (James Caan, Jennifer Billingsley, Rafael Campos) follow the two back to the house where they spend the rest of the film terrorizing Mrs. Hilyard and ransacking her house further.

As a concept the film has some interesting ideas and imagery. The stark black and white photography looks great and helps accentuate the plot’s grim reality. The opening sequence is pretty good with an announcer reading off various startling news reports that are coupled with some troubling images like a young girl on roller skates kicking at a homeless person lying in the street. There is also the fact that this all occurs within a large home amidst an upscale neighborhood that is right next to a busy street, which makes for some intriguing symbolism.

However, as a thriller it ends up being quite dull. There is very little action and much too much talking that seems to go nowhere. There are no twists of any kind and the climax is forced, unimaginative, and unexciting. Any violence that does happen is conveniently done out of view. The bad guys are portrayed as being dumb, careless, and just waiting to screw up. It is probably due to the period it was made in, but this potentially brutal subject matter seems way too restrained to the point that there is never much tension. There is also the issue of the elevator, which isn’t all that high up. Cornelia could have dropped herself out of it, which she eventually does, but had she done it earlier none of this would have needed to happen.

De Havilland does a good job here, but at times comes close to over-acting especially with her scared facial expressions, which some might find unintentionally funny. This marked James Caan’s film debut. He is a great actor with an impressive career, but his performance here is lacking. He seems uncomfortable in the role as the antagonist and he never manages to reach the level of being menacing. The final shot of his demise though is very graphic especially for the time. Jennifer Billingsley is probably the best thing about the film. She is very attractive and gives a solid performance as the most jaded member of the gang.

Normally I say these one-note thrillers that get stretched too thin at feature length would work better in one of those old horror anthology series like “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour;” however, even there this story would be pushing it. Basically, in this instance, if you have read the synopsis then you have essentially “seen” the film.

The trailer for the film is actually much more entertaining than the film itself. An announcer sends dire warnings that this film has “extremely shocking subject matter” and “should not be viewed alone.” It is pretty funny and even funnier when you see how lame the movie actually is.

Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s