We have all heard the phrase "Man's inhumanity to man." It is one of those expressions that causes most of us to stop in our tracks and ponder how cruel people can be to each other. Open any newspaper or listen to any newscast and you are constantly astonished at the lengths to which some individuals will go to injure other people. "Man's inhumanity to man" is also a phrase that neatly sums up the theme of director Walter Grauman's eerie 1964 feature film "Lady In A Cage". Screen veteran Olivia de Havilland stars as Cornelia Hilyard, a wealthy widow who is recuperating from a devastating injury and is still struggling to regain her mobility. Unable to negotiate the stairs Cornelia must rely instead on a recently installed cage-like elevator to transport her between the two floors of her rather plush urban homestead. Cornelia is a conniving and domineering woman who has succeeded in smothering her only son Malcolm (William Swan). We learn that Malcolm is at his wits end and has finally summoned up the courage to request his share of the estate in a note to his mother. He intends to strike out on his own and leave his mothers clutches once and for all when he returns from a business trip. As the film opens, Malcolm asks his mother not to read the note he has written until after he has departed.
Through a rather unfortunate confluence of circumstances Cornelia is suddenly thrust into a disconcerting and potentially dangerous predicament. The power line leading into her house has been damaged and the electricity cut off. Our heroine suddenly finds herself trapped in a tiny elevator that resembles a prison cell roughly nine feet above the ground. To make matters worse it is going to be a hot and humid day in the city. At first Cornelia is not too concerned because she assumes that the power is out in the entire neighborhood and will be restored in short order. But as the hours pass she comes to the frightening realization that this is not the case at all. She is reluctant to use the emergency alarm for fear of making a spectacle of herself but as the temperature continues to climb she finally decides to trigger it. The problem is that no one responds to the alarm. The camera pans the street. We see a group of teenagers passing by in a convertible and workmen going about their daily business. Pedestrians walk by and a steady stream of traffic passes. Yet the alarm continues to clang and no one bothers to respond. Are people deliberately ignoring it or are they just so wrapped up in whatever it is they are doing? No matter. Now Cornelia is becoming increasingly desperate. Finally, she hears footsteps. Someone has come to rescue her! Not so fast. The person who has invaded her home is not there to help her. He is there to take advantage of her rather unfortunate situation. He is a derelict named George L. Brady Jr. (Jeff Corey) and he intends to scoop up as many of his victims valuables as possible. Cornelia is positively petrified. George ignores her impassioned pleas for help. Instead, he grabs a toaster and a couple of other items and makes haste for a nearby hock shop. But George has a big mouth and three punk teens led by one Randall Simpson O'Connor (James Caan) overhear him describing the situation at the Hilyard home. Sensing an opportunity to wreak havoc the teens follow George back to the house. These youngsters are bitter and violent and full of hatred and are seeking to wreak vengeance on someone, anyone. Spotting the terrified Cornelia in her cage they merely snicker at her predicament and threaten to kill her. Cornelia is flabbergasted at the events that are unfolding in her own home in front of her very eyes. "What kind of animals are these?" she wonders aloud. Be prepared to have your own faith in humankind challenged as you watch this film.
"Lady In A Cage" is a splendid psychological drama that features a compelling performance by Olivia de Havilland. Her role in this film would remind you a lot of Jimmy Stewart's character in Alfred Hitchcock's classic "Rear Window". With the camera fixed on her for a substantial portion of the film viewers are afforded a unique opportunity to examine up close and personal her facial expressions and body language as she reacts to what is taking place. We are all eyewitnesses to the full range of her emotions. Meanwhile in what is the first significant role of his motion picture career a very young James Caan is thoroughly convincing as a badass teen who has spent most of his life in state institutions. Devoid of love and people who really care about him Randall Simpson O'Connor is lashing out at everyone and everything around him. It just breaks your heart to see what has become of the lad. Just before the conclusion of the film one of the other teenagers discovers Malcolm's letter and reads it aloud to Cornelia. Confronted with her own egregious sins she suddenly realizes that in many ways she is really no better than the individuals who have invaded her home. I must warn you that "Lady In A Cage" contains several extremely disturbing scenes and can be quite depressing at times. But on balance "Lady In A Cage" is a film well worth seeing and was certainly way ahead of its time when it was first released back in 1964. Highly recommended!
What did you think of this review?
Fun to Read
About the reviewer
Paul Tognetti (drifter51)
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.
InLady in a Cage, Olivia de Havilland plays an aging, wealthy widow who is recuperating from a recent hip operation and is forced to use an elevator to get from one story of her home to the other. While she's headed for the upper story of the house, a power failure occurs that leaves her stranded in the elevator car 12 feet off the ground. The elevator's alarm bell arouses the curiosity of a passing wino, who comes in and helps himself to the widow's wine cellar. The transient and a friend begin looting the house until they are one-upped by a trio of feral, neobeatnik thugs (led by a very young James Caan). All the invaders merely ignore the widow's pleas for help as they toss her house in an orgy of violence. The thugs torture and kill the wino and hold his friend hostage along with the widow, until the tables are turned on them once again. For 1964, this is a surprisingly harsh and overwrought movie, easily 10 or 15 years ahead of its time; its nasty view of human nature and graphic violence led to its being banned in Britain entirely. James Caan, in his second movie role, is chillingly convincing as the pack leader whose violent streak comes as casually as, say, tying his shoelaces. Fans of Paul Schrader, Scorsese, or Tarantino films should especially take notice:Lady in a Cageis a nerve-racking viewing experience, one that still packs a noxious punch, with an ending that's a real jaw-dropper.--Jerry Renshaw