Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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 "caged" as these characters in this opening sequence?

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

 

Interesting view of the cage. 

​Opening scene sent a lot of time in close up.  You really felt the isolation, sadness and dread

 

I think it already showed us the isolation, fear and loneliness. I think it will takes us inside and make us feel what its like to be in such a situation.  

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This opening is perfect for a film about a women's prison because we are Eleanor Parker.  We are caged inside the transport van, looking out through a barred window trying to figure out where we are going and why.  When the van arrives at it's destination and the guard says "end of the line" it's as if he's speaking directly to us.  As we gaze for the last time at the outside world, our faces mirror the look of horror and dread on Eleanor Parker's face.  We are just as terrified as she, asking what are we doing in this awful place and isn't this some sort of mistake.  

 

It really seems as though we are starting at the end of the line, where so many films noir come to a close, Caged is just beginning.  In typical WB fashion, there are no glamorous movie stars and wide sweeping shots, just real people in cramped quarters facing a very bleak future.  Films noir so often toy with the concept of fate, as in one false move or one chance encounter can change the course of a person's life.  I'm left wondering what happened to bring these women to this prison and is their any hope?  

 

Great first scene, very film noir with its vague feeling of dread, and very like The Hitch-Hiker and Kiss Me Deadly in that the first few moments have left us with many more questions than answers

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Two things really stuck out at me when watching this opening scene: restriction and, oddly enough, fashion. It's very easy to see how restricting the opening scene is for the characters, as well as the audience. We know just about as much as Eleanor Parker. We barely even get a window to peer out of, and that window is obscured by bars, too, so we're all kinds of out of the loop. We only realize what's happening once the door opens and we see Parker in chains and her fellow inmates filing out. Now, when I say fashion, I do mean it. The women heading into prison seem very well dressed (is one of the women wearing furs?), and definitely much more so than they need to be. I mean, they're going to prison where they'll surely get uniforms to wear. It just seems odd to me that they've dressed up so nicely to go to prison; though, maybe they're all thinking ahead and plan on wearing these clothes to look glamorous once they get out.

 

This film continues the trend of gritty realism. Perhaps it's less gritty than some of the other pictures we've seen, but it certainly seems realistic in its portrayal of a ride to the slammer. Maybe it would be "grittier" if the film focused on men? I'm not sure. (I did just pick up Criterion's release of Riot in Cell Block 11, so it would be interesting to compare the two films). In comparing this Warner Bros. film to The Maltese Falcon, I can definitely see a house style forming. Glamorous isn't a concept in either--though fashion is still present--and realism, again, surfaces. There isn't anything fancy here, just grim reality.

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Warner Brothers' studio was home to hard-edged urban dramas about societal problems, including gangster and prison films.  Thus, "Caged" follows a long line of WB investigative movies revealing life's more sordid side.

 

The opening very effectively evokes an imprisoned feeling through the black screen, where only the small caged window from the back of the police van to the driver's cab, and it's dim reflection on the interior roof of the van, are visible under the credits.  The only visuals we have place us in the van with the outcasts headed for the hoosegow.

 

As the women arrive at their "new home," they are prodded and pulled out of the van, past the main character's seat at the back of the van.  She looks very young and absolutely terrified.  As she is pulled roughly into the parking lot before the entrance we notice she is wearing bobby socks and saddle shoes, the impression of a lamb going to the slaughter is reinforced.

 

The film noir atmosphere perfectly fits the despair and hopelessness of the woman's situation; the punishment for women transgressing in a "man's world." No matter what the crime, the women are all guilty of the audacity of assuming they have the power to disobey.  This is certainly appropriate fodder for the progressive representation of women in the noir ethos.

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Two things really stuck out at me when watching this opening scene: restriction and, oddly enough, fashion. It's very easy to see how restricting the opening scene is for the characters, as well as the audience. We know just about as much as Eleanor Parker. We barely even get a window to peer out of, and that window is obscured by bars, too, so we're all kinds of out of the loop. We only realize what's happening once the door opens and we see Parker in chains and her fellow inmates filing out. Now, when I say fashion, I do mean it. The women heading into prison seem very well dressed (is one of the women wearing furs?), and definitely much more so than they need to be. I mean, they're going to prison where they'll surely get uniforms to wear. It just seems odd to me that they've dressed up so nicely to go to prison; though, maybe they're all thinking ahead and plan on wearing these clothes to look glamorous once they get out.

 

This film continues the trend of gritty realism. Perhaps it's less gritty than some of the other pictures we've seen, but it certainly seems realistic in its portrayal of a ride to the slammer. Maybe it would be "grittier" if the film focused on men? I'm not sure. (I did just pick up Criterion's release of Riot in Cell Block 11, so it would be interesting to compare the two films). In comparing this Warner Bros. film to The Maltese Falcon, I can definitely see a house style forming. Glamorous isn't a concept in either--though fashion is still present--and realism, again, surfaces. There isn't anything fancy here, just grim reality.

I want to respond to the comment about getting dressed up to go to prison. First, women were expected to dress up to go to the corner store in this time period. Even in the 60's when I was a kid, my mom would not leave the house to go somewhere public without lip stick. Second, when they go to prison, who do they leave behind? Woud they care for your best clothes for years? If nothing else, the clothes would be safe in prison. When you are released years later, you have no idea what the fashion will be, but you do know you want to be wearing the best quality clothes you own.

 

I also wanted to make a comment about the prison guard. Before the women plie out, he calls them "tramps." This explicitly implies they are promiscuous women. The guard has no idea why all the women are going to jail except for being found guilty. When a woman is bad, she has to be promiscuous. I am sure the guards in the men's prison are not calling them the male version of tramp--is there one? The use of tramp, especially in this time period, is said to show the women they are not part of respectable society. This is definately mental abuse. If they had any self-confidence, this is fashioned to disolve it immediately.

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One of the things that caught my attention was the shot of the "busy" street behind them. I'm sure there was a conscious effort to make the outside street as vibrant, free, and alive as possible, as opposed to the darkness they're walking into.

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The juxtaposition of such a limited view with the overwhelming sound (the siren), places the audience in the helpless state of the prisoners. We know that intense things are happening around us but do not fully understand them and are powerless to stop them. Then the quick cuts of the prisoner's view of the prison shows wall and the imposing columns and pediment, solid, and constant, like her limited existence as a prisoner will be.

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Yikes!  The opening scene already makes you feel as if you are "caged" with the other women in the dark.  They tiny little screen with it's bars and lines already give you the feeling of confinement and claustrophobia.  It makes you want to scream for air.  Then the sun blinding the terrified, bored, hardened faces really fits in with the WB's "house style" of realism.  Everything Eleanor Parker looks at has lines or "bars" in it...the windows, the archway the gate looking out onto the street.  Everything gives the feeling of being behind bars before the characters have even entered a jail cell.  Dark and depressing.

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Daily Dose of Darkness #19: Behind Bars

(Opening Scene from Caged)

 

—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?

The camera is filming as though it were a prisoner being driven to the women’s state prison. Everything the audience sees and hears is what the female prisoners see and hear, and the prisoners see precious little through the mesh screen between them and the driver. When the van door opens, the light reveals one of the prisoners, and she is frightened. Off screen, we hear a man’s voice: “Pile out, you tramps. It’s the end of the line.” It’s the end of the ride, but it’s also the end of life as the prisoners know it.

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

I wish that I could say that I know a lot about the Warner Bros. house style, which I’m guessing, from what I have read so far in this course, is very realistic and gritty. That’s certainly what is being portrayed in this opening sequence. I’m also guessing that audience members didn’t see the inside of women’s prisons very often. I wonder if the film was meant to shock not by showing anything gratuitous but by being realistic and showing what life behind bars would be like for women.

—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 mere fact that life in a women’s prison is out of the ordinary would be enough to make Caged a film noir. The women alighting from the prison van seem like any women you would meet on the street, but we know that they’re in for a rough future simply from the rough treatment at the hands of the male police officers escorting them into the prison. Who would want to live life feeling trapped or caged?

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The small shape of the window creates a frame and a reality where darkness is greater than light.  The reflected light on the ceiling is a nice touch and gives the viewer the first clue that passengers are in the van.

 

We know we’re in some kind of vehicle but we don’t know it’s a prison van.  There’s the repetition of the siren, but it’s not completely clear where the source is.  Additionally, we don’t know the van is filled with women prisoners.

 

At the point when the back doors open, light fills the van, causing Eleanor Parker to squint at not only from the light but also the reality of arriving at a prison.  Parker is afraid and reluctant to exit the van and immediately faces the derogatory, “Pile out you tramps.  It’s the end of the line.”  Not surprisingly, life will get worse in prison in this 1950 Warner Bros. social realism “expose,” directed by John Cromwell.

 

Academy Award nominations for writer Virginia Kellogg as well as actors Eleanor Parker and Hope Emerson.

 

-Mark

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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?

    The opening scene is appropriate because of the fear and apprehension that is shown on the main character's face as she is riding in the vehicle. The audience feels as caged as the characters because the only thing that that the viewer sees is the small van window with bars as the characters ride along. 

 

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

    The opening reminds me of the edgy style that some of the films by Warner Bros one in particular, is the opening of The Letter.

 

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?

    You along with the character does not know what is behind the walls of the prison. Furthermore, we as viewers do not know why the character is sent there. 

 

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The confusing opening immediately alarms the audience. We are not sure what is going on but we know something wrong because there are sirens and given how loud they are it means that we are in some form of emergency vehicle and that's never good. When the van stops, we are called tramps and ordered out by a terse voice. This is not good. We can tell that the main character is feeling that as much as we are. She clearly has never been to prison before because she is frozen and scared in the van when told to get out. The group of women move as one to look at the last look of freedom, indicating uniformity and that they are equal in this situation. This fits the Warner Brothers house style of amazing toughness and realism. The movies are generally darker than the other studios. There is no sugar coating this situation, the dialogue is tough and real and there is no room for fear or emotion.  

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Immediately from the start of this film, "Caged", the audience is struggling along with the characters to see something, ANYTHING! The small window even has some wire fencing, forcing what little view we do have through a tiny matrix. As the vehicle comes to a stop we hear a male voice order the "tramps" to get out and the camera settles on the fearful face of one woman. We feel her disbelief as she surveys the adjacent building. The sign above the door establishes that this is a correctional facility, but the camera pans up on a pair of classical marble columns with a Georgian pediment, which belies the grim reality of what's inside this building- it could be a University! As the group of women cue up in front of the door one of them suggests that they take a last look at "outside". As they all turn in unison we see an avenue leading far away from the prison as various vehicles move freely on the street- something these folks will not be able to do for awhile. One can only imagine that a women's nick in the 1950's must have been a pretty awful place- cold, dark and spare with an unsympathetic crowd of both inmates and staff. Classic film noir themes such as mistrust, violence and brutality would all exist inside this culture, making noir the ideal film genre for a story about gals in jail. And no studio could give such a story the  unpolished realistic look and feel required better than Warner Brothers. Known for their urban grittiness WB noirs present us with a very realistic interpretation of the interaction between the inmates and the circumstances of their life on the "inside". This opening allows us to feel the apprehension and fear of the newcomers, as well as the glib, take it in stride hardness of the repeat offenders. We can even see that Eleanor Parkers coat is wrinkled as she steps out of the van- you'd never catch that in an MGM film! 

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Like most of the great film noir openings we have seen thus far, Caged has both an interesting and engaging introduction to its narrative. It doesn't get any more film noir than being bathed in almost complete darkness at the beginning of the film. A small window of light at the end of what seems like a dark, cavernous enclosure, we immediately are anxious to find out where we are and why. Right from the outset we are placed into the shoes of our protagonist by sharing their experience in as realistic a way as possible. Like The Hitch-Hiker, this shared experience heightens the tension as we slowly become uneasy with our surroundings, and then almost desperate for an escape, for some kind of sensory input other than this black expanse.

 

And perfectly, our first such input is the horrified and frightened expression of Marie as she shies away from the light that suddenly explodes into what we now know to be the back of a prison van. The harsh light, and the even harsher shout of one of the guards, makes us wary of the new environment that we had started to crave for after having been sitting in the dark thus far. With minimal dialogue, we get our location from the prison's sign, the personalities of the characters/prisoners who have arrived, it seems almost old-hat to everyone but Marie who is visibly shaken and scared. We take that last look at freedom with her, a bustling city through the iron gates of the prison, desperate to escape into the wide open expanse of a metropolis after having been shut up since the opening of the film.

 

Warner at this point was known for its urban dramas filled with grit and darkness, such as their gangster films, and it seems appropriate for them to take on the story about a women's prison as it fits well into the noir mold. Based on Marie's opposite reaction to the others she is being transported with, she has to be pulled from the van and is unsure and wary of her surroundings, we get the sense that she is someone that doesn't belong there. The other prisoners seemed resigned to their fate, accepted their imprisonment, but perhaps Marie is wrongfully imprisoned. We'll need to watch more to find out, but this opening more than whets the appetite for more of this story.

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I think it is appropriate because women were treated differently than men at that time.  The guard calling the ladies tramps, is a prime example.  Would he have said that to the male inmates no probably not.  I felt like I was caged watching it.  The darkness with a small window.  At first, I couldn't tell if it was the front window or the back,  It was very disorienting.  Obviously the woman who didn't want to get out of the paddy wagon, was not as hard core as some of the others.  Maybe she is innocent and wrongly accused or maybe this is just her first time.  I thought is was amusing how they were dressed, as if they were going to a party instead of prison.  

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Social Commentary short, direct, and to the point:   “Pile out you Tramps! It’s the end of the line!”

 

Women are things to pile up and throw out.    Are all these women tramps?  Tramp: a woman who has sex with many different men.  These women are not tramps but a collective symbol of the femme fatale in all her glory.   They are received as powerful, rebellious, women who are moving into male-dominated space: the prison.  Not surprising, the noir story line here plays the femme fatale as victim.   For a ‘tramp’ has to be put in her place.

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One of the lady's tells Parker to take a last look at the street kid, so they all look back over their shoulders at the street they won't see for however long they are going to be in jail.  At first, Parker's character doesn't want to get out of the wagon, almost as if she is trying to convince her self that this isn't really happening to her.  She looks scared to bits.  I don't know if all of the lady's are tramps, but that's no reason for the officer to make such a sweeping generalization.  From the start, the camera looks out a window with bars on it.  This, as it turns out is the back of the wagon.  And you feel like you are in there with these girls.  I'm not sure about WB house style, but it is appropriate  for the subject matter because not only are you in a cage for your sentence, but you are behind brick walls, electrified gates.  You can't go anywhere, or do anything that you used to do because there are different rules in prison.  Everyone wears a uniform, there is no individuality.  The food is nasty and because you are locked up, you feel like you have some kind of dread disease and the world doesn't want you around.  No one wants to help you.  The noir substance here is why is this lady going to jail?  She doesn't look like a prostitute to me, and yet she's going to jail.  What will happen to her?  Will she be "reformed" by the time she is released?  Will she be released?  What does she have to go home to when she does get out?  How is this going to affect her life ever after?  There is mystery, intrigue, suspense, danger and even death in prisons to this very day. 

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Eleanor Parker's character Marie is about to enter a place where she will slowly lose herself while serving out her sentence.  What a horrifying fate.

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Just like those women inside the car, the spectators do not see anything but the small window ahead, which limits their view of the world. When everybody are satnding at the main entrance of the prision, the camera focuses only in what the convicted women can see as well. So who watch the sequence is as caged as the ladies along, visually and emotionally (specially after the last phrase of the excerpt).

 

The prision itself is a place where people have limited freedom. They cannot make their own choices, there is not a clear future ahead. If we remind that Warner Brothers' movies are more realistic than any other studio of its era, this first sequence is just perfect to show that to the audience. And the substance of noir just reinforces all that in a particular strong way. In a conturbated world like that one we had at the 40's and 50's, the style and the stylistic tools are just well set.

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This is a great opening for a film about a prison. We the audience feel caged inside what we learn to be a prison vehicle full of convicts. All we see are the small bits of light coming through the window and we hear the motor. I personally wasn't sure where we were till a few moments later. The next nice touch was when the women look at the world through the gate, knowing it would be a long time before they saw it again. 

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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?

 

It is obvious that the woman does not fit there. She might be a simple housewife who „did something wrong once” and was caught, she might as well be an innocent girl who was simply framed. She does not look like a criminal, she differs from the other women and it's not only the way she was dressed. She is scared, like she could not believe her life turned to such a point. Fortunately, she might get some help from the older woman, who has obviously been imprisoned before and probably knows the prison code. What we see and feel is despair, entrapment, claustrophia, powerlessness, defeat. The woman, who is frozen with fear or maybe just stunned with the whole situation, is simply pulled from the van by force. She is wearing her own clothes, maybe she was taken straight from the courtroom, maybe had no time to deal with the verdict. The van itself had no windows, except for a very small one, which made the transported women feel like animals, transported in darkness to another, bigger cage, simply dehumanized.

 

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

 

These ladies seemed like members of the working class, at least our protagonist looks like a common woman, who led a decent life and was simply a victim of certain circumstances. Rich and glamorous girls don't get caught so easily and certainly don't get framed. WB hailed working class values, they were the social conscience of the film industry and their movies often presented social and moral problems of the postwar era. They produced many prison films that were brutal and realistic. And this realism makes WB pictures much darker.

 

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?

 

This is a drama of a regular person who is suddenly thrown into a very harsh world. She will probably fight to survive and that won't be easy. The other women, obviously criminals, will be very brutal, especially seeing her weekness and innocence. Even the prison guard calls the women „tramps”. She has to find help, support from an older prisoner, who will protect her and teach how to survive in this hell. Because prison is hell and it's real. Is there any hope for the weak?

 

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The small window surrounded by darkness creates a solitary claustrophobic prison with no escape, freedom, or hope to look forward to. Not a single frame in this scene, whether it’s the window, Eleanor’s Parker’s tear-filled face, placard carved “Women’s State Prison,” the layered brick foundation with separated by barred windows in-between, or gate severing the prison from the outside world.   

 

The opening to Caged is unmistakably is the Warner Bros. It echoes many of the crime films that came before, particularly I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. The making of the film came to the perfectly fit studio at the perfect time, in the era of film noir, with the perfect leading lady who captures Marie’s evolution throughout the film so beautifully. I have seen this film before a long time ago. Just watching the opening credits gives me a fresh, new perspective, as well as a strong sense of foreboding that signals the rest of the movie right up until the end.

 

Whether intentional or a huge coincidence- both Fugitive’s James Allen and Caged’s Marie Allen share the same surname, similar stories and circumstances, and ultimately a doomed fate of hopelessness. Both are fragile creatures lost in a world they no longer belong in and are perplexed by- James as a war veteran who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, whereas Marie is a frightened teenage, pregnant newlywed who becomes an accessory to a robbery pulled by her late husband.  While Marie isn’t wholly innocent like James, both characters are sympathetic and relatable, sticking out like sore thumbs both in and out of prison. As a result, they get kicked around a lot, have every glimmer of hope cruelly snatched away from them, and decline deeper toward their downfalls.

 

I can think of very few movies off the top of my head where characters, particularly women who weren’t completely innocent) or led into crime by malicious circumstances before Marie Allen. This is where the advent of film noir comes in. Film Noir is very good with making anti-heroes and anti-heroines, involved in crime, into sympathetic, relatable protagonists. Even the poster reads “She was part-good before—She’s all bad now!” Even in the pre-code era, a heroine like this would not have been possible (at least not one that didn’t start as wrongfully condemned or gleefully saccharine from the very beginning).

 

In I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang and many other Warner Bros. prison films, there is usually a love interest to provide the men a temporary haven; whereas, in Caged, there are no love interests (or any discernable male characters in the movie for that matter) to vow for her freedom or promises of waiting for her release. Marie is on her own and remains that way until the end.

 

Unlike James Allen many of her other male noir counterparts, doomed to obscurity or death, Marie embraces her fate. She knows there is no complete escape, but rather than lamenting, finds a newfound power and strength in this absolute knowledge. She breaks out of her own personal weaknesses, gender norms, has nothing more to lose after being deprived of everything. Nothing can hurt her or punish her no matter what might happen to her from now on. This is the ultimate power of the noir woman.

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