Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #19: Behind Bars (Opening Scene of Caged)

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The setting is dark, almost black.  Looking into the van, we see a caged window at the back. How appropriate for the title. Then we pan to the Eleanor Parker character who emits fear and innocence in her eyes, poorly prepared for prison.  Again, mostly we see the faces one at a time with lighting on the faces while everything else is black.  Wow, is that bleak or what?  With that opening scene, I think it will prevent some women from committing the crime that send them to the slammer.

 

Appreciate Newbie pointing out that so far the daily doses so far are openings on the road.  However, in Caged, we wonder what crimes these women may have created.  With Eleanor Parker I get the feeling she didn't do what she was convicted of. We'll see how the film plays out.

 

Just before the fade to black, they all turn to take a last look at the world outside the prison walls.  Depressing.  So Noir.

 

Why the women prisoners in Caged?  I think "women in chains" is a good grosser for the studio.  Warner Bros. style in film noir was low budget, gritty, crime films.  So, there you go.

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-- Why is this opening appropriate for a film about females at a women's state prison? In what ways has the design of this scene made the audience as "caged" as these characters in this opening sequence?

 

This particular opening does not indicate right away just who is in that van. It seems that the first assumption the audience would make would be either men are in the van, or it is empty (but then why the siren?). We don’t even know if anyone (let alone women) is in the van until the door is opened and the guard says, "Pile out, you tramps, it's the end of the line." Then we see Eleanor Parker (she doesn’t even have a character name yet), who cringes, is scared and, by the way she is looking around (dazed & confused), you can see she is completely naïve. Then we see the “Womens State Prison” sign and have the “Ah Ha” moment. Eleanor Parker is last off the van, and the driver/guard has to grab her arm and pull her out. As the women line up, one of the women turns to Eleanor Parker and says “Grab your last look at free side, kid” – as they turn to look over their shoulders at the street traffic (now rather noiseless) and city outside the heavy iron gates of the prison. I couldn’t help but notice Eleanor Parkers’ oxfords and socks – an indication of youth (the bobby soxers of the Forties) and normalcy – something that hints she doesn’t belong here with these other women. The other women are dressed as you’d expect – cheap furs, heavy make-up, that rather sleazy, street worn look. Eleanor Parker is clean, fresh, with little or no make-up, dressed like a regular young girl but who is not very well off.

 

As to the second question, the scene starts with a tiny window with bars taking up a small portion of the movie screen surrounded by darkness. That window is the view of the outside world as the van (is that the van’s siren or another car’s siren?) travels rather fast to its destination. There are no other sounds other than traffic noises, the siren and other diegetic sounds which put you right in the scene (I can imagine the impact sitting in a dark movie theatre!). These sounds are unsettling, jarring and frightening as you “sit in the dark” of the van, wondering where you’re headed, knowing it can’t be good.

 

-- What about this opening reminds you of the Warner Bros. house style? And why is that appropriate for this subject matter?

 

The WB house style is the “harsh urban reality” as mentioned by the Curator. The realistic sounds and limited visuals through the tiny window of industrial or manufacturing buildings and main boulevards, not residential streets, set this scene in an area outside a comfort zone -- that is, outside residential neighborhoods with quiet streets. Manufacturing and Industrial areas are a staple of film noir locations because they are isolated, disorienting and can be intimidating by their size (the storage drums in White Heat, empty manufacturing building in D.O.A.).

 

-- Just based on this opening, how do you think film noir will influence this film's realism about life behind bars? In other words, why is the "substance of noir" appropriate for a story set inside a women's prison?

 

The main character, Marie (Eleanor Parker), is sent to prison charged as an accessory, has done nothing basically wrong except be in the car with her husband during a robbery. So we have her whole range of emotions from what has happened to her so far, including the pregnancy, and her situation now of being in prison. The other women on the van with Marie appear to be “seasoned veterans”. She is thrown into a world teeming with raw emotion, as every woman in that prison has her own story, a degree of guilt and has been hardened (some more than others) by the prison system. Even the Warden and matrons have stories. The Warden wants prison reform. The matrons run their wards like little fiefdoms. The fact that Marie’s innocence will not survive this brutal world becomes obvious and we must watch while Marie and the other inmates suffer their inevitable fates, some at the hands of the brutal matron who has a fate of her own as well.

 

I’ve seen this movie a couple times (despite being no fan of Eleanor Parker’s acting – but she is good in this early role) and to me it is dated in its reflection of the strict Fifties morality code for women and its borderline preachiness of same through it condemnation of the women inmates in the prison. But, the characterizations of the inmates are good, some are better than others, and some are very stereotyped. Despite this, it is still an entertaining movie, though it offers no solution(s) at all (a typical film noir characteristic) especially for Marie and little hope for the future of prison system reform. Here is another movie pointing the spotlight on injustice and corruption in the Fifties post-war, cold war, paranoid world.

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The opening scene from Caged is appropriate for a film about women in prison in that the camera angles are low, making the prison look extra imposing (as a woman would see it relative to her male counterpart), and it established the absolute powerlessness particular to women in prison (in that they are guarded by derisive, gruff, and at times almost menacing males).  It also dramatically illustrates the visual stimuli a gal on her way to the big house (in the 50s) would have seen through her own eyes at that moment, (just a bit of light from a tiny, barred window, the reflection of the light on the roof of the vehicle, and utter blackness) a highly effective way of letting the audience feel her terror for themselves.

 

The production values seen in just that short clip have WB written all over them. The gritty, newsy music, bold titles and realistic cinematography were Warner's stock in trade, as was socially conscious subject matter, such as the tribulations of ladies in the hoosegow.  

 

Having seen this movie before, I can say that it is likely as realistic a depiction of life in a women's prison as could have been made under the Hayes code. And since my personal definition of film noir is "Movies about folks who have been served a poop sandwich, and how they manage that experience," I can't think of a more appropriate subject than women behind bars.

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I also saw this on tv when I was young.  It frightened me then and the opening frightened me again.  The tears of helplessness on Eleanor Parker's brought the feelings back to me.  I do not remember the kitten you mentioned, I probably blocked that part out.  It bothers me when the cats or dogs get killed in movies because they seem more "innocent" than the people.  I don't think I'll watch this again.  I've never seen "Orange is the new Black" because of this film.

The death of the kitten symbolizes how nothing innocent can survive there. That, and how the inmates are not allowed to have anything of comfort, solace, sweetness and again, innocence. As a "mommy" of 5 cats, I didn't like this scene either (and it is rather telegraphed) but it is essential to get that point across without, I guess, killing a person.It also foreshadows what comes later, speaking of killing.

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Oh, and I keep forgetting to mention something! I love this class, and I would love it if TCM decided to do something similar with Pre-Code movies. Anyone wanna second that emotion?

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Here again we see the automobile, panel van in this case, as a claustrophobic entity showing the noir world. We are brought to that world with only a small vision of it through total darkness, with only a small rectangle of caged light.

 

This is Warner's realism, from the moment they open the doors: “Pile out you tramps, its the end of the line”. If you couldn't from the drive you know this will not be a pleasant movie. Those same words spoken in a film today would be even more haunting. Then the shot to the prison's high walls, almost skyscraper like, with the tall ominous pseudo-Federal style columns making this a foreboding “Women's State Prison.

 

You can feel the terror that Eleanor Parker is expressing in her face. This is not a place anyone would want to go into. Most movie goers probably knew this was based on the expose by Virginia Kellogg*, who had had herself put into a woman's prison to find the facts on prison life.

 

Then Parker being told “Grab your last look at free side, Kid”. To see the gates, with cars whizzing by, going places in the noir world. Inside they will meet Hope Emerson, who is a female version of Moose Malloy from Murder My Sweet, As Jake Hickson in Noir's Goon Squad wrote:

 

….At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Emerson not only eclipsed her female costars

she also towered over most of her leading men. With her large forehead,

thick jowls, and long beaked nose, Emerson looked like the female version of

the big lug henchman,... *

 

Just ask Richard Conte, Cry of the City*, this is not a woman you would want to meet in a dark ally. This film will be realistic and scary.

 

 

*http://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2012/08/noir-goon-squad-hope-emerson-jake-hinkson-feminism-film

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My, my, my...we finally get to a favorite movie of mine starring the great Eleanor Parker. Although this film may have some noir influences, this is not film noir.

 

Why is this opening appropriate for a film about females at a women's state prison? In what ways has the design of this scene made the audience as "caged" as these characters in this opening sequence?

 

(If I could make a suggestion, it might be better for the students if the instructor could simply ask the first part of the essay question and allow the students to come to the conclusion stated in the second part of the question as part of the process of sorting out their answers).

 

From the siren blaring (although I didn't know that a siren was used for a transport from jail or a courthouse to a prison) to the extremely small, barred window, which is the only light source and view of the world outside of the van, to the darkened inside of the vehicle, which is seen under the stark, bold credits, the audience knows it is in for some kind of drama featuring criminals.

 

From our view in the van we only see the things as the new prisoners see them and life looks confined, bleak, dark, shrill, and a little unpredictable, especially at the beginning. All of these impressions are appropriate for the opening sequence of an innocent girl on her way to prison for the first time.

 

What about this opening reminds you of the Warner Bros. house style? And why is that appropriate for this subject matter?

 

The Warners house style featured socially conscious subjects, realistic urban settings, snappy dialogue, fast pacing, and great stars who knew how to portray the gritty characters peopling the movies made there with a minimum of melodrama (unless of course the film was a great melodrama al la Mildred Pierce!).

 

The prison drama was not a new subject matter for Warners, which created the gangster film as a particular genre. Criminals were a stock in trade study for the Warner Brothers. That studio was also the most socially conscious of the majors frequently explaining the social problems that lead to the rise of the hoodlum (Public Enemy), the penal system excesses which hardened criminals (I was a Fugitive), the mental health issues involved in crime (White Heat) and much more. So the fact that Warners brought the problems of penal reform in a woman's prison is par for the course for that studio.

 

The house style was perfect for portraying this gritty subject matter.

 

Just based on this opening, how do you think film noir will influence this film's realism about life behind bars? In other words, why is the "substance of noir" appropriate for a story set inside a women's prison?

 

It is appropriate to look at Caged as having noir influences. In my view the genre is a prison drama, which should be realistic in nature. Of course the symbolism which noir can contribute to the film transforms it from a realistic portrayal into great art. In this case, Caged is definitely art.

 

The noir constructs of tight shots demonstrating the claustrophobia of confined spaces, shadowy lighting focusing a single light source in a scene on frightened faces in exaggerated close up, shadows of bars signaling impending loss of freedom, and unsavory subject matter such as the corrupt shenanigans that go on in the prison setting, all contribute to making Caged a great film. The biggest contribution, however, to Caged in my opinion is Eleanor Parker's performance. 

 

Parker was a beautiful actress, but she was an actress with a capital "A." She did not shy away from subject matter that did not capitalize on her beauty alone. Here she plays a good girl lead astray by a young husband who was himself the victim of poverty and ignorance. She doesn't have the familial support of a stable home life, and finds herself in prison as an accomplice to a robbery. She has little understanding of her plight or how to deal with the low characters she is about to live with up close and personal for a long time.

 

She is equally victimized by her fellow prisoners, and the prison authorities until she figures out how to survive in this subhuman setting. By the time that happens she is on her way to a life of crime upon her release. There are no good guys except for Agnes Moorehead who tries to run the place with an eye toward reform, but can't surmount the corruption that lies at the heart of the state prison system. In one particular scene, we see the precise moment that Parker begins to resent those outside the prison and decides to get the good things in life the wrong way.

 

The prison is visited by a group of do-gooding matrons. they are touring the prison and Parker can hear what is being said to the visitors about the place and its inhabitants. It is almost as if the group is touring a zoo with a tour guide explaining the animal to the ladies. Parker spots one young, wealthy, beautiful matron, who looks much like herself, but is dressed in an expensive fur coat, is impeccably groomed, and, most of all, free. The look on Parker's face says it all. The film is worth watching for this scene alone. Don't miss it.

 
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I was scared by the light and the images streaming in from the small window cage and the unpredictable motion of a transport vehicle, so I guess the opening works well. 

 

Also, going back to the earlier theme we discussed of noir as "suffering in style".  How amazing that some of the women were wearing high heels and coats with fur lapels on their way to prison.  It really was a more formal era. 

 

Prison actually does not seem like a natural venue for a noir to me.  Film noir is so much about how a character gets pulled under the murk of a morally ambiguous world--prison seems like a likely "end location" of a noir but an unlikely beginning location--there's something too decided or "case closed" about prison.  I need to watch the film and see what I think afterwards.

Once you watch it you will understand how Parker's character get's there, then it makes sense.

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The Warner house style is immediately obvious with that shield logo and then, as another poster mentioned, those credits which are so typical of Warner Bros. movies.

 

There are a couple of strange things going on in this clip though. That van is seen to make lots of turns. Is that an omen about plot twists and turns?

 

When the arriving prisoners turn to take a last look at the outside world, I couldn't help but remark on how close the outside world is to the prison. That gate can't be more than 20-30 yards from where the van ended up. And traffic is going by and there is a church steeple less than a block away. What's a prison doing in the middle of a town and so close to where there is traffic and people will go to church? Aren't prisons usually out in the open country or, if in a town, somewhere on the edge or in a non-residential or warehouse area? Something a little strange is going on here. Maybe the normal outside world is so close just for contrast but maybe it's a sign that the normal and prison life are just barely separated. Can we expect other strange juxtapositions as the movie goes on. I don't know.

 

I don't remember ever seeing this movie but I have seen other women's prison movies (like the one with Ida Lupino in it). Is this going to be like that one or can I expect something very different?

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This opening clip gives us a sense that the movie will be a huge slap in the face of conventional morality. 

 

The credits are rolling as the van enters the prison compound thus further obscuring an already limited view. And by all accounts was intended to make the feeling of confinement and dread more powerful. To me, nothing can be more uncomfortable than not being able to see your surroundings.

 

A look up at the imposing and overpowering shot of the Women's State Prison indicates we are about to enter an unknown and frightening territory. We are insignificant within this institution and we will be exposed to a separate society that has not been widely disclosed to the public. The topic of criminality among women, in particular, was swept under the carpet...as well as the prison system as a whole.

 

When the women disembark from the van, the last look of freedom is very profound. They will lose so much. And Eleanor Powell's reaction, as she leaves the van, speaks to that very matter.

 

A whole lot of noir in this scene.

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You cannot see anything but the credits at first.  Everything is in a dark box.  Then you notice the small, grid covering the opening between the back and the drivers.  When the bus stops, you get your first light when the door opens onto Eleanor Parker's face.  She is petrified.  In a way the expression on her face reminds me of a look that Gene Tierney had in Laura.

 

Film Noir creates a reality where there is no escape for some characters.  Women in prison do not have a way to escape easily.  The reference to "grab your last look at free side, Kid" where the cars are moving up and down the street contrasts sharply against the solid, tall, cement front of the prison.

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This is a story about betrayal of innocence. It is shown so vividly by the expression on Elenor Parker's face when we first see her. She is in total shock at her situation and where she finds herself. It is so intense that she is paralyzed by fear as we see when the guard forces her out of the paddy wagon.  From the opening sequence the sound of the siren ,and the view that we have from inside the truck, make us feel boxed in and needing air allowing us to empathize with the character. It is a pittiful moment when she gathers with the other women and you notice her crumpled coat, bobbie socks and oxfords. She is way to young and in alot of trouble.

 

Warner Bro. was great at pushing the envelope and showing stories about women in prison was just one of the ways that they went about it. This side of a female character was a surprise to the general audience. We were used to Cagney, Robinson and Bogart but a lady in the klink, not so much.

 

Watching Parker's character grow right before our eyes is amazing. I don't want to go into many details about that in fear of a spoiler. I think it is safe to say you can understand why she got an Oscar nod in 1950.

 

This film noir shows realism by using the light and showing a new reality for her.  We see so much of the light used in shadow and low visibility but  when she comes out of the darkness of the truck she steps into  a different sort of  danger. It is real and she is not dreaming nor is she imagining it. Here we see a known danger coming from an unusual enemy and it's one she has to try to understand quickly.


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Ah yes, Orange Is the New Black goes noir. It's unusual for a film--of any time period--to feature an all-female cast. I haven't heard of Caged, but I wonder about the film's marketing and whether it was as big a draw as other films of the era.

 

I love the darkened screen with a small window of light shining through. It adds a sense of claustrophobia, trapping the viewer, making her or him feel like one of the characters. Perhaps this puts us on the prisoners' side, regardless of what they did to be put in such a precarious position.

 

It makes sense that there should be a noir set within the walls of a prison. Both the "substance of noir" and the idea of a prison conjure themes of fate, crime, guilt, and dread. In both, people/characters often find themselves thrust into positions beyond their control and they must struggle to survive. The gritty realism of a prison and its feeling of hopelessness are at home with the post-war sense of gloom at that time.

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The opening scene from Caged is appropriate for a film about women in prison in that the camera angles are low, making the prison look extra imposing (as a woman would see it relative to her male counterpart), and it established the absolute powerlessness particular to women in prison (in that they are guarded by derisive, gruff, and at times almost menacing males).  It also dramatically illustrates the visual stimuli a gal on her way to the big house (in the 50s) would have seen through her own eyes at that moment, (just a bit of light from a tiny, barred window, the reflection of the light on the roof of the vehicle, and utter blackness) a highly effective way of letting the audience feel her terror for themselves.

 

The production values seen in just that short clip have WB written all over them. The gritty, newsy music, bold titles and realistic cinematography were Warner's stock in trade, as was socially conscious subject matter, such as the tribulations of ladies in the hoosegow.  

 

Having seen this movie before, I can say that it is likely as realistic a depiction of life in a women's prison as could have been made under the Hayes code. And since my personal definition of film noir is "Movies about folks who have been served a **** sandwich, and how they manage that experience," I can't think of a more appropriate subject than women behind bars.

 

The way the women were dressed was interesting.  One had a fur color.  But Eleanor Parker's clothing was more subdued.  It gave the feeling of how did a woman like her get into this trouble.  She must have done one wrong thing (not a hard-boiled criminal) and got caught.

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don't know if you have seen the women, but that film has an all female cast too. not a man on the screen. they just talk about them the whole time. i never saw caged either. but hopefully its just as good as ladies they talk about with barbara stanwyk. not a noir  but a good women's prison film. i loved the darkened screen.

Ah yes, Orange Is the New Black goes noir. It's unusual for a film--of any time period--to feature an all-female cast. I haven't heard of Caged, but I wonder about the film's marketing and whether it was as big a draw as other films of the era.

 

I love the darkened screen with a small window of light shining through. It adds a sense of claustrophobia, trapping the viewer, making her or him feel like one of the characters. Perhaps this puts us on the prisoners' side, regardless of what they did to be put in such a precarious position.

 

It makes sense that there should be a noir set within the walls of a prison. Both the "substance of noir" and the idea of a prison conjure themes of fate, crime, guilt, and dread. In both, people/characters often find themselves thrust into positions beyond their control and they must struggle to survive. The gritty realism of a prison and its feeling of hopelessness are at home with the post-war sense of gloom at that time.

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-- Why is this opening appropriate for a film about females at a women's state prison? In what ways has the design of this scene made the audience as "caged" as these characters in this opening sequence?

 

I felt, as a viewer, as caged as the women because I only had the little square as a light source and the scene made me feel claustrophobic. It was dark and grim and the women were all crammed in the back of the van. I felt trapped and not able to escape. The director did an excellent of warping our sense of view and therefore making it more real for the viewer.

 

 

-- What about this opening reminds you of the Warner Bros. house style? And why is that appropriate for this subject matter? 

 

 

Based on the previous module, we learned that Warner Bros. tended to make movies that had more of a social conscience and dealt in toughness and realism. In addition, their movies were generally dark than other studios’ movies and gave their audience a working example of what was going on in society, in general. In previous decades, movies often presented females as mothers, daughters or characters in a more positive light. They never delved into the reality that women committed serious crimes and went to prison. Warner Brothers gave audiences a true dose of what was going on. They tended to not deal with fantasy and happy endings that other Hollywood studios produced. 

 

 

-- Just based on this opening, how do you think film noir will influence this film's realism about life behind bars? In other words, why is the "substance of noir" appropriate for a story set inside a women's prison?

Because film noir movies’ cinematography, directing and lighting lends itself to bleakness and a sense of despair by the characters in the films, this is a perfect subject or topic for them to tackle. The black and white film gives the movie a sense of realism and the hopelessness of the women in prison. Unable to be in control of their surroundings and the walls closing in around them due to the fact they are in a setting that prevents them from making their own decisions, going and doing what they desire, etc. 

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The opening of Caged reminds me of Lady in the Lake and Dark Passage in a small dose.

That window gives me the feeling of what it would be like if I was on that prison bus.

This is most definetly Warner Brothers style, hard edged and gritty. Never saw this before but if Agnes Morehead is in it, hopefully she has a lot of screen time and I hope it's a good one

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I haven't seen the film yet, but the subject of incarceration (and especially female incarceration) is something that interests me greatly. The cinematography of the opening scene is REMARKABLE; the viewer finds it impossible to escape from the feeling of confinement, paranoia and utter claustrophobic dread, painted brilliantly on the main female protagonist's face... what strikes me as exceptionally odd is how all these women look like proper ladies, walking slowly as if they are on their way to a field trip or a museum visit...

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Interesting way to begin.  Claustrophic except for that brief shining daylight, constantly moving as if the driver is in a hurry.  

 

The women are dressed too nicely.  If they were going from the jail to a prison, they'd be wearing prison uniforms.  OR, was this from a raid, at which point, they would be going to jail to be booked.  I was just waiting to see if this was Reform School Girl (which was a really bad movie, but hysterical).

 

The young lady seems to be mystified that she's being locked up with everyone else (She was innocent!  It was the lawyer's fault.), and I loved Agnes Morehead's character in which she's telling the kid to enjoy what freedom she has left because she'll never be innocent again.

 

These last three films almost appear to be the end of film noir because the lighting is fantastic, but the writing leaves something to be desired.  I loved the strong, intelligent females in the earlier films but I wonder if it's because of that time period, society wanted their women back in the kitchen and not be at the same intellectual level of men, so the movies were telling their audience that only strong women were locked up in looney bins or jails.

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Not sure where "realism" will fit into this movie. We will see starkness and nitty-gritty, people reduced their minimum in terms of will and emotions. There will be death of innocence, probably, but perhaps a certain camaraderie, as shown by the seasoned criminal telling the newbie to have a last look-- I loved the way all the women looked back, a ritual of sorts.  After watching the Salute to Technicolor on TCM last night, I'm reminded that in the 1950s, the choice between b&w and color alone is a signal about whether a film will be "real" or "fantastic." The total darkness of the screen is the first clue of the darkness of the vision. I also like the way the "unreal" rolling of the credits, white lettering on a black background, gradually gives way to the knowledge that the Black isn't just background, but space, the setting of the movie itself. We are brought nicely into the visual frame and the visual world of the movie, but definitely caged, both in the van, in prison which is the point-of-no-return, and the controlled vision of the director.

 

But how is this supposed to stack up against what women's prisons are "really" like? For the 1950s, I don't have much information OTHER than this sort of women-behind-bars film noir. People have commented on how the clothing isn't realistic, or the prison is too close to a real town... ??? Prisons back then aren't the way they are now, for sure, and women weren't always treated the same as men, or subjected to the same level of security. Jails were often in the center of town, historically? And not all places had money to give people a completely new set of "jail" clothes before they were convicted. I think jail movies in particularly probably always have more of a political point of view than most noirs. I vaguely remember seeing this on TV also, perhaps in the "scared straight" mode of the "crime doesn't pay" p.o.v. back then.  

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All right, you tramps, listen and listen good. Here's what I got to say about Caged.

 

All we see is a tiny barred window at the beginning so we don't see much of where we are or where we're going. The police siren is the only clue we have.

Then when the back doors of the paddy wagon open up we know we're at the prison and the cold cruel taunt of the guard, saying "pile out, you tramps!"

 

Then you see Marie (Eleanor Parker, who got an Oscar nomination for her role) in a state of shock, thinking, what have I got myself into? Why am I here? I don't deserve this! It looks like she may have been crying as well. She sees what we see; barred windows and the big sign WOMEN'S STATE PRISON.

 

She just sits there as the other women (all well dressed except her; one even wears a fur coat.....guess you wanna look good when you're booked) exit the paddy wagon. Eventually the guard grabs her arm and shoves her out.

 

Ellen has clearly been through the ropes before when she nudges Marie and says "grab your last look at free side, kid."

 

At that point all the women do just that, where we see a street scene behind an iron gate, and we better enjoy and remember the view....and wonder when we'll be on the other side of the gate.

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Warner Brothers’ films noir always seem darker and grittier than films noir from other studios.  Even though I talked about the realism in the Hitch-Hiker yesterday, it definitely had formalistic qualities in the deep, dark shadows.  Caged uses darkness to its advantage too, but it is more naturalistic.  We are inside the transport van like the other prisoners, almost completely surrounded by darkness, and we can barely see the outside world through that screen hidden behind the credits.  When the door opens and the light floods in, we know that we’ve come into a brutal, unforgiving world, one where innocence cannot survive.  It was an interesting choice by the costume department to put her in bobby socks and saddle shoes.  The other women are wearing heels or flats, showing that they are mature women who have been around in the world.  Eleanor Parker’s shoes emphasize her youth and naiveté.  How she’ll manage in this harsh environment remains to be seen.

 

(I’m not sure if I’ll be able to watch this one.  My mom saw a preview for a release when she was a kid, and they showed the scene when the kitten is killed.  Even if I wasn’t a cat person, I don’t think I could watch that.)

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Has anyone noticed the jarring effect of the abrupt change in the last note of the usual Warner Bros. fanfare at the beginning? It is almost as if you are in the movie house about to expect normal entertainment that you assume will be played, and then they blast you with a flat down note that sounds warped. As if you were just hurled from a pleasant world into a dark reality like cold water on your face.

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Claustrophobia, entrapment, alienation, fear: I see all of these noir themes in this clip. The decision to show us just the small window of the police van makes the viewer feel like we are in the van, too – we are seeing the same thing that the women prisoners see as they are transported in this moving cage. I also like how the music transforms into the siren, as if you don’t know where the music stops and the siren begins. The Warner style is apparent in the terse, hard-bitten dialogue (“File out, you tramps, it’s the end of the line” and “Grab your last look at free-side, kid”). And when all of the women take that one last look at freedom, they’re seeing the normal, everyday life of a small American town – church, cars, daily activities of free people. And it even seems brighter and more day-lit out there, whereas the prison surroundings are so dark it seems like night time. It’s like the American dream out there is being juxtaposed with the nightmare in which these ladies have suddenly and irrevocably found themselves.

 

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-- Why is this opening appropriate for a film about females at a women's state prison?  In what ways has the design of this scene made the audience as "caged" as these characters in this opening sequence?

 

With the exception of a faint reflection on the roof of the prison transport van, the scene that appears behind the credits for Caged has been reduced to a small window covered with wire mesh that makes up only a tiny portion of the otherwise dark frame.  It signals the entrance into a world in which the view available to the inhabitants is severely restricted.  The sounds of the siren and the scraping of iron gates are meant to have an unsettling effect.  Appropriately, the final image seen through this tiny window on the world is a blank wall.  This POV opening puts the audience in the position of the women being transported to prison, in effect “caging” the audience along with the new inmates.  The “end of the line” is established visually by the image of barred windows and the words “Women’s State Prison” above the door.  The “last look at freeside” is a full screen image of a sunny city street with a prominent church steeple and traffic flowing freely along the street.  By contrast, the prison courtyard in the foreground inside the gate is almost entirely in deep shadow and devoid of movement.  This last look at the sunny world the women are leaving behind contrasts starkly with the restricted aperture previously seen behind the credits.

 

-- What about this opening reminds you of the Warner Bros. house style?  And why is that appropriate for this subject matter?

 

I’m not sure what I can say about this other than what Prof. Edwards has already pointed out regarding the Warner Brothers history with prison movies in the 1930s and the studio’s willingness to tackle societal problems (in contrast to MGM for example).

 

-- Just based on this opening, how do you think film noir will influence this film's realism about life behind bars?  In other words, why is the "substance of noir" appropriate for a story set inside a women's prison?

 

Film noir frequently deals morally ambiguous characters, antiheroes, and ordinary people dealing with an unjust fate, so my expectation from a film noir set in a prison will be that Marie, who appears fearful and bewildered when she is pulled from the transport van, may well turn out to have been imprisoned unjustly.  The prison setting is consistent with film noir’s tendency toward neorealism in the postwar period.  Given the tendency of postwar noir filmmakers to push the boundaries of the Hollywood production code, I would expect the film noir tendency in such a movie would be to portray the prison guards as something less than upright agents of justice and at least some of the prison population as something other than despicable criminals who deserve everything they get.  The image may well emphasize contrasts of black and white, but the story will likely deal with shades of gray.  Instead of telling a moral crime-doesn't-pay tale as some prison movie from the 1930s might have done, I expect the influence of film noir on this movie will be to stress the sociological problems that led to the incarceration of the inmates.  Stylistically, the prison setting should offer ample opportunities for chiaroscuro effects, high and low camera angles, and compositional tension in the frame.

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