Veteran Olivia de Havilland jumped on the aging-actress horror-film bandwagon with the lurid shocker Lady in a Cage.
That said, I must add that the film, directed by Walter Grauman from a screenplay by Luther Davis (who also produced it), is much better than most other examples of the genre. Indeed, Lady in a Cage is a chilling indictment of our post-modern, decadent society where self-indulgence and indifference rule.
The film begins when an invalid woman (de Havilland) stuck in her house elevator sets off an alarm for help during a long Fourth of July weekend – but all she gets are society’s miscreants and social outlaws, among them James Caan, Ann Sothern, and Rafael Campos. Ann Sothern, for one, is a delight as the dumpy slattern who comes to ransack the house, only to become a victim herself. (The only thing that bothers me is that she gets locked in a closet and is never seen again. I keep wondering if she is still there.)
A series of striking images illustrate the unraveling of our social structure, e.g., the scene where a young girl slides her rollerskates up and down the leg of a man who is passed out in the gutter, and the fact that nobody seems to notice or care that people are in distress. Well, not until James Caan stumbles out into the street and stops traffic when his head is run over by a car.
Then there is the commentary de Havilland makes as she watches in horror the debauchery going on before her, “We built cities and towns and we thought we had beaten the jungle back … not knowing we had built the jungle in.”
At one point, she responds to James Caan’s taunting with, “Oh, I see…You’re one of the many bits of offal produced by the welfare state. You’re what so much of my tax dollars goes to the care and feeding of!”
What I also find fascinating in the film is the relationship between mother and son. It is almost incestuous the way they smooch on the lips and call each other “darling.”
Lady in a Cage retains its impact even after more than 40 years. Our dependence on electric power (and energy in general) – and our social ills – are just as severe, if not worse.
So, forget It’s A Wonderful Life! Lady in a Cage is a much more effective Holiday Movie.
© Danny Fortune
Lady in a Cage (1964). Director: Walter Grauman. Screenplay: Luther Davis. Cast: Olivia de Havilland, James Caan, Jennifer Billingsley, Ann Sothern, Jeff Corey, Rafael Campos, William Swan, Scatman Crothers.