Dir. John Cromwell, 1950
Starring: Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorhead
Hard-hitting prison drama with stunning performances
The women’s prison drama has been so popular that it has become a subgenre. Dozens of films since the 1930s have thrown a bunch of unruly women into a cell to watch them howl and scratch each other’s eyes. Most of these films have been exploitative, voyeurististic, and totally unconcerned with the realities of life in prison. And most of them have been made to amuse and titilate straight men. There have been a handful of exceptions to this: the ITV series Bad Girls, the Ida Lupino-starring Women’s Prison, or — in the ‘incarceration of lunatic ladies’ sub-group—, the Oscar winning Girl, Interrupted, and Sarah Watters’ Affinity. All of these treated with respect the perennial lesbian fantasy of a world made exclusively of strong women living in close quarters.
All of them, while thriving on melodramatic registers, were interested in showing some psychological depth. None of them, however, raised above the bar of the ‘interesting but not outstanding’ film. And so, we come to John Cromwell’s Caged, of 1950, which distinguishes itself from all its cell-mates by being utterly and absolutely brilliant.
Eleanor Parker plays a young innocent who has drifted to the wrong side of the law. In prison, she will learn that the penal system is not interested in reforming anyone, but only in erasing every single trace of humanity from the inmates. Inside these walls, cruelty and coldness are the only choices on the menu. And lesbianism is the only currency, making all the difference between helplessness and safety, if you are lucky enough to become the ‘favourite’ of one of the lady-gangster-pimps who runs this joint.
Real-life-lesbian Agnes Moorhead (the camp Endora in Bewitched) plays the somewhat human prison director, and the remarkable Hope Emerson plays the sadistic warden, and they are both wonderful in this film. But at the end of the day, Caged is Eleanor Parker, because the core of the movie is the transformation of the gentle and shy Mary Ellen into an amoral version of the flesh-and-bone machine that was Sarah Connor in Terminator-2. Parker’s portrayal of the character is stunning, a masterpiece of dramatic acting. Director John Cromwell got in trouble with Hollywood censorship again and again, but here, he managed to give us a moving, earnest, and hard-hitting mainstream film about the ongoing disgrace of our ‘democratic’ penal system, which does nothing but put people away and destroy them.
About EVIL SEASON “MAD, BAD, AND DANGEROUS TO KNOW”
screenings @ 3:30 pm
doors open @ 3 pm
come early and join us in the foyer for free tea & coffee
Our schedule is subject to change due to availability of films from Film Distributors.
Our next season will offer you another exclusive selection of fantastic LGBTQ films which are either little known, or completely forgotten, or which have failed to get the attention they deserve. We are calling this season the “Evil Season: ‘Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know'”. After our roller-coaster Season Two, “Around the World in the 80s”, we are traveling back in time to the 1940s, 50s and 60s (we will be stopping in 1968, the year Stonewall changed gay history). In Season Three, we are going to take a look at some gloriously gay films from Hollywood, made under heavy censorship but managing to tell amazing queer stories in exciting new ways. By contrast, we will also look at the freedom of European films of the period, talking about homosexuality with a mater-of-factness which is often shocking.
Our next ten screenings are “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”. That’s how Lord Byron was described by an ex-lover, and we are borrowing the tag for Season Three! The poet Byron, leading light of the Romantic movement in England and a hero of the Greek war of independence, was also famous for his sexual conquests, which did not discriminate between women and men. The writer Caroline Lamb —who after some resistance, succumbed to his charms — said of Byron that he was “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”. Of course, the aura of danger and lawlessness, and the rumours of depravity, made Lord Byron all the more alluring. His ‘wicked’ side was officially disapproved of, but it turned him into a sex symbol…
All our films for Season Three have one thing in common: they deal with evil — evil gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and queer people, yes, but also with the curse of internalised homophobia, and with the horrors of a society that cant cope with black sheep. Some of our films have great gay baddies, other films pretend to condemn us so they can publicize gay culture, and others are about people who are dying for an opportunity to be “bad”. In short, in Season Three we will see some of the lesser known but most intelligent portraits of gay people ever created, we will laugh at society’s boring obsession with normalcy, and we will also celebrate evil. That’s right, we will embrace the “intrinsic evilness” that Mr Ratzinger finds so scary, and we will celebrate it. Because, lets face it, it has been a blessing for many of us — enriching our lives with excitement, fun, tenderness, friendship… not to mention some truly fantastic films!
Evil Season. It’ll be a thrill.