Theatrical release lobby card
|Directed by||John Cromwell|
|Produced by||Jerry Wald|
|Written by||Bernard C. Schoenfeld
|Screenplay by||Virginia Kellogg|
|Based on||Women Without Men 1950 by Colliers|
|Music by||Max Steiner|
|Cinematography||Carl E. Guthrie|
|Editing by||Owen Marks|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||96 minutes|
The movie tells the story of a teenage newlywed sent to prison for being an accessory to a robbery. Her experiences while incarcerated, along with the killing of her husband, change her from a frightened young girl into a hardened convict.
Caged was adapted by Virginia Kellogg from the story "Women Without Men" by Kellogg and Bernard C. Schoenfeld. The studio had originally intended it as a vehicle for Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, but reportedly Davis had said she didn't want to make a "dyke movie" (a movie with partial homosexual content) and turned it down.
A married 19-year-old, Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker), is sent to prison after a botched armed robbery attempt with her equally young husband, Tom, who is killed. While receiving her initial prison physical, she finds out that she is two months pregnant.
Marie has trouble adjusting to the monotonous and cutthroat world of the women's prison. She meets Kitty Stark (Betty Garde), a murderous shoplifter, who says once Marie gets out, Kitty will get her a job "boosting," or shoplifting. Marie does not want to get involved in crime, but Kitty explains the realities of prison life: "You get tough or you get killed. You better wise up before it's too late."
Told she can be paroled after 9 months, Marie witnesses prisoner after prisoner being "flopped back," or granted parole, but then not released from jail because no job is arranged by their parole officers. One flopped-back prisoner, June (Olive Deering), kills herself given the hopeless situation. This saps Marie's hopes of getting out early.
Despite the hardships under sadistic matron Evelyn Harper (Hope Emerson), Marie gives birth to a healthy baby and wants to "temporarily" grant full custody to her mother. The intent is to get the baby back after she is released. Marie's callous step-father has decided not to allow the baby into his house. Marie's mother uses the excuses that she's "too old" and "hasn't a penny in [her] name" as reasons why she can't help Marie. Marie is denied a parole. She half-heartedly tries to escape, but is not punished. The prison forces her to permanently give the child up for adoption.
The arrival of "vice queen" Elvira Powell (Lee Patrick) sets off a rivalry with Kitty. Elvira bribes Harper to put Kitty in solitary confinement, where Kitty is beaten. When a kitten is found in the jail yard, Marie attempts to make it a pet. When Harper tries to take the kitten away, a riot ensues and Marie is put into solitary confinement as well.
Before taking Marie to solitary confinement, Harper shaves Marie's head, symbolically stripping her of her innocence. Harper has disagreements with the sympathetic reformist prison superintendent, Ruth Benton (Agnes Moorehead), especially after this latest incident with Marie. However, since Harper is a political appointee, the police commissioner refuses to fire her, and asks for Benton's resignation instead. When Benton declares that she'll request a public hearing, the resignation issue is dropped.
Out of solitary after a month, Kitty is distraught and mentally ill. After being picked on by Harper in the cafeteria, Kitty stabs Harper to death as the inmates watch and make no attempt to stop it. After her exposure to hardened criminals and sadistic prison guards, Marie actually roots Kitty on.
Up for parole once again, Marie has found a "cashier's job" outside—actually just a ruse to join Elvira Powell's shoplifting gang—and leaves prison a hardened woman after 15 months. Benton asks Marie why she is going into crime when she could go back to school. Marie says she got all the education she needed in prison.
Film critic Dennis Schwartz panned the film, writing, "John Cromwell's Caged is ranked as the best women-in-prison film ever made, but even if this is so it still doesn't make it very good. It isn't anything more than a superficial melodrama with plenty of hysterics and preaching about the obvious virtues of going straight. The film was remade as House of Women in 1962 ... This is one of Warner Brothers' social commentary films, where it blames society for the poor prison conditions that turn Marie into a career criminal. It does this without excusing Marie for helping her own fall from grace by willingly choosing the easy way out of her dilemma. The film's message is that punishment without rehabilitation doesn't work, it will only force the inmate into choosing an easy way out of their situation."
- Best Actress: Eleanor Parker
- Best Supporting Actress: Hope Emerson
- Best Writing (Story and Screenplay): Virginia Kellogg, Bernard C. Schoenfeld
- Caged at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Caged at the Internet Movie Database
- Caged at AllMovie
- Caged at the TCM Movie Database
- Caged film trailer on YouTube
- Eleanor Parker also stars in the radio drama version, episode #112 of the Screen Directors Playhouse which is a free download at the Internet Archive