- Lady in a Cage (1964) movie review: Veteran Olivia de Havilland delivers a tour de force in Walter Grauman’s horror cult classic offering a side of scathing social commentary.
Lady in a Cage movie review: Olivia de Havilland shines as the titular character in this 1964 exemplar of the ‘aging actress horror movie’ genre
Two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland jumped on the “aging-actress horror movie” bandwagon with two 1964 releases: Robert Aldrich’s box office hit Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, opposite Bette Davis (de Havilland was a last-minute replacement for Joan Crawford), and Walter Grauman’s lurid shocker Lady in a Cage.
Written and produced by veteran screenwriter/playwright Luther Davis (The Hucksters, Broadway’s Kismet), the latter title is far better than most entries in the genre.
Indeed, Lady in a Cage is a chilling indictment of our decadent, post-modern society where indifference and self-indulgence rule.
The film begins on a long Fourth of July weekend, when an invalid woman, Cornelia Hilyard (Olivia de Havilland), finds herself stuck in her house elevator.
She sets off an alarm for help, but all she gets are society’s miscreants and social outlaws, among them Randall O’Connell (newcomer James Caan), Essie (Rafael Campos), and Sade (former RKO and MGM star Ann Sothern).
Sothern, in particular, is a delight as the dumpy slattern who comes to ransack the house, only to become a victim herself. Admittedly, there’s one thing that’s bothers me about her role: At one point Sade gets locked in a closet and is never seen again. I keep wondering whether she’s still in there.
Elsewhere, a series of disturbing images illustrate the unraveling of our social structure.
Examples include a young girl sliding her roller-skates 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 when other people are in distress.
That is, not until Randall stumbles out into the street and stops traffic when his head is run over by a car.
And let’s not forget Cornelia’s remark 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.”
In another scene, she responds to Randall’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!”
Still impactful after all these years
What I also find fascinating is the relationship between Cornelia and her son, Malcolm (future All My Children actor William Swan). It’s almost incestuous the way they smooch on the lips and call each other “darling.”
In all, 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 the much more memorable Holiday Movie.
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.
“Lady in a Cage (1964): Superior ‘Aging Actress’ Chiller” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
Lady in a Cage (1964) Movie Review” endnotes
Olivia de Havilland Lady in a Cage movie image: Paramount Pictures.
“Lady in a Cage (1964): Superior ‘Aging Actress’ Chiller” last updated in October 2021.