Tucked away on Netflix are all kinds of neglected gems. Take this 1964 example, a home invasion movie where Olivia de Havilland is menaced by the young James Caan and his gang of juvenile thugs. It’s a film which manages to be tense and taut, but also distinctly melodramatic, with some scenes where our lead seems determined to eat the scenery, the cameras and all the extras.
There’s a lot here that’s fascinating. Clearly part of the ‘older ladies in horror movie’ trend started by WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE, de Havilland is the over-bearing rich lady who literally spends most of the film trapped in a gilded cage. An elaborate elevator that she’s had installed in her palatial home while she recovers from a broken hip.
A modern interpretation of this would be that it’s about the 1% getting their comeuppance – de Havilland is first menaced by some down and outs of society, before the disaffected youths take over. But nobody here is a social warrior, nobody is any kind of hero. Add to that constant shots of other people just driving past and ignoring the horrible things around them and – at one point – de Havilland almost bring thankful when she thinks a nuclear war has broken out, and you get the sense that the film is starkly telling us that society is broken from bottom to top. From that reading you might feel that it’s a reactionary film, but I think it’s more in the genre of unpleasant people doing unpleasant things to each other, and that’s always a cracked mirror for the rest of us to look into.
de Havilland is always great, although her character is too sympathetic to really make the idea of her comeuppance work; while James Caan is already so skilled at menace that it’s clear why Sonny Corleone became his signature role. Notable mentions should also be made of Ann Sothern as a middle-aged hustler swiftly out of her depth (a character you don’t often see in movies) and Rafael Campos as the kind of loose limbed psychopath who would easily fit into Wes Craven’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.
LADY IN A CAGE is a striking and memorable movie, with a twisted sensibility, which makes its neglected status all the more curious.