Lady in a Cage (1964)


(director: Walter Grauman; screenwriter: Luther Davis; cinematographer: Lee Garmes; editor: Leon Barsha; music: Paul Glass; cast: Olivia De Havilland (Mrs Hilliard), James Caan (Randall O’Connell), Jeff Corey (George L. Brady Jr, wino), Jennifer Billingsley (Elaine), Rafael Campos (Essie), Ann Sothern (Sade), William Swan (Malcolm Hilliard), Charles Seel (Junkyard Proprietor), Scat Man Cruthers (Junkman’s Assistant); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Luther Davis; Paramount Pictures; 1964)

“Morbid unwatchable misogynist psychological thriller of the sensationalist school.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Morbid unwatchable misogynist psychological thriller of the sensationalist school, that is far less illuminating than it thinks it is. In fact, it’s really no better than a low-level drive-in exploitation flick. Longtime TV director Walter Grauman (“A Rage to Live”/”633 Squadron”/”The Disembodied”) helms this prophetic film on violence that’s written by producer Luther Davis. The writer says it’s based on a real incident and he aims to warn the unprepared country that violence is here to stay and there will come a time when it will overwhelm the country. The film might stink, but its observations and prediction were spot on (which in the early 1960s wasn’t really that hard to predict).

The smug Mrs. Hilyard (Olivia de Havilland) is a middle-aged wealthy widowed semi-invalid recovering from a broken hip, who lives in a three-story New York townhouse with her troubled son Malcom (William Swan). On the hottest day of the summer, on a holiday weekend, Malcolm goes on a trip to visit friends leaving mom home alone. Soon she finds herself stranded in her specially installed cagelike elevator, as she tries to go upstairs there’s a power outage. The electrical failure was caused when the power junctions box outside her house was accidentally hit.

When a panicky Mrs. Hilyard activates an emergency alarm to alert those on the street of her predicament, she only succeeds in attracting the attention of the delirious wino George (Jeff Corey). He enters her house to steal goods and elicits the help of the sleazy, plump, over-the-hill, prostitute Sade (Ann Sothern) to cart away the household goods to a fence. Sade tells three vicious teenage hoods, the Marlon Brando-like Randall (James Caan), the empty-headed Elaine (Jennifer Billingsley), and the knife-carrying Essie (Rafael Campos), about Hilyard’s house being open season for vermin. The trio follow the wino and the hooker back to the townhouse, where they have an orgy, murder the wino, and torture and lock Sade in a closet. Randall gets his jollies off mocking Mrs. Hilyard and confronts her with a suicide note Malcolm left behind to be read after he departed for his holiday, while she rants and raves and hysterically tries to fight like an animal for survival as the trio plans to kill the vics for sport.

If this shocker is your idea of the kind of film needed to wake up the sleeping American public to the ongoing threat of crime, let me be a dissenter. I found it dull, pretentious and unpleasant; a film that had little redeeming social value and no entertainment value.