Lady in a Cage (1964)   3 Stars

“What happens in this elevator is not for the weak!”


Lady in a Cage (1964)
Lady in a Cage (1964)


Director: Walter Grauman

Cast: Olivia de Havilland, James Caan, Jennifer Billingsley

Synopsis: A woman trapped in a home elevator is terrorised by a group of vicious hoodlums.





Lady in a Cage, Walter Grauman’s starkly allegorical tale of urban terrorisation and isolation was made at a time when America – and Hollywood – was just waking up to the fact that the well-ordered society so familiar to the older generation was in danger of extinction. As such, director Grauman and writer Luther Davis manage an admirable – if somewhat sensationalist – job of conveying its bleak message.

The film sets out its stall from the start, opening with a superb credits sequence – supported by appropriately discordant music – that features such arresting images as a young black girl distractedly rolling her roller-skate over an unconscious drunkard’s leg, and an endless parade of cars passing the body of a dog on a suburban street.

Olivia De Havilland (The Adventures of Robin Hood, Gone with the Wind) is a somewhat self-satisfied middle-aged woman, clearly adoring of her son, who relies on a personal lift to travel between floors in her house. Alone during a holiday weekend, she is trapped in the lift after a power cut. Almost immediately, the vultures descend – a hopeless wino, an aging female hustler, three amoral kids, the leader of which is a clean-cut psychopath (a youthful and impressive James Caan – The Godfather, The Godfather Part II), and the shady owner of a pawn-shop – all intent on picking her clean.

The movie grows increasingly bleak and claustrophobic as De Havilland’s orderly world begins to crumble when it is invaded by the dispossessed and disaffected that, until then, had been excluded from her world. The underclass impose their brute strength to effortlessly exert control, quickly rendering unrecognisable what had been before.

Filled with extreme violence for its time, the movie suffers a little at the end as it tries to tie up and explain too many plot strands. Revelations come thick and fast, some more believable than others and, unfortunately, one strand – the fate of Sade (Ann Sothern) – is never disclosed.

(Reviewed 18th April 2002)

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