PlotThe story centres around 19-year-old, Marie Allen, played by Eleanor Parker, who we see begin a prison sentence for being an accessory to a robbery. We learn that she is 2 months pregnant and that her husband is dead. The film chronicles how her treatment in the prison system makes her change from wide-eyed innocent to hardened old lag when she is finally released after a reduced sentence. Its not pretty but it is realistic and engrossing.
The film's message is plain and easily understood: if no effort is made to rehabilitate prison inmates, then a prison will only intensify the criminality of its occupants; it will only succeed in educating criminals in crime.
ProductionWarner Brothers had previously made the realistic and shocking prison movie 'I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang' in 1932, which had led directly to reforms in prison conditions. In 1949, Jerry Wald, a Warners producer had the idea of a similar exposé, this time of women's prisons. He sent Virginia Kellogg, an author, researcher and former newspaper reporter to investigate, and she spent months doing her research around the country, including actually living briefly inside a prison.
The result of her hard work was a "Colliers" magazine article "Women Without Men" which she co-authored with Bernard C. Schoenfeld. She then wrote the screenplay, based on the article. The movie includes much authentic prison slang and both Kellogg and Schoenfeld were Oscar nominated for their brilliantly detailed work.
Warners originally intended Bette Davis and Joan Crawford to star in the film, but shelved the idea when Bette Davis turned it down as a "dyke movie".
Director John Cromwell had made an earlier women's prison film, 'Ann Vickers' in 1933, starring Irene Dunne, and he very capably gets across the movie message and draws first class performances from his performers. He tried and succeeded in making the actors feel that they really were confined in jail.
Main CastEleanor Parker ... Marie Allen
Agnes Moorehead ... Ruth Benton
Ellen Corby ... Emma Barber
Hope Emerson ... Evelyn Harper
Betty Garde ... Kitty Stark
Sheila MacRae ... Helen
Jan Sterling ... Jeta Kovsky ("Smoochie")
Lee Patrick ... Elvira Powell
Jane Darwell ... Solitary Confinement Matron
Gertrude W. Hoffmann ... Millie
Olive Deering ... June Roberts
Gertrude Michael ... Georgia Harrison
The acting is uniformly excellent, headed by the brilliant performances from Eleanor Parker and Hope Emerson, both deservedly Oscar-nominated for their roles.
Eleanor Parker (1922-2013) She is regarded as one of the best actresses ever to work in Hollywood. Hers is the central performance in 'Caged' and she is brilliant. Her vulnerable beauty and innocence becomes transformed into hardened cynicism and we believe the transformation.
Hope Emerson(1897-1960) After a Broadway and radio career, Hope made her film debut in 'Smiling Faces' in 1932. Standing 6' 2", she played the role of the sadistic matron to the hilt, and fully deserved her Oscar nomination. Because of her size, Emerson was often typecast in evil roles, but her size was also used for comic effect, as when she played a circus strong woman in 'Adam's Rib' in 1949. After movie success in the 1940's and early 1950's, she finished her career in a succession of highly regarded TV dramas and sitcoms.
Agnes Moorehead (1900-1974) She began her distinguished acting career in radio and joined Orson Welles on the Mercury Theatre on the Air. She made appearances in 'Citizen Kane' in 1941 and numerous other classic movies, receiving four Oscar nominations on the way. She moved seamlessly to television and is now best remembered as the magical mother-in-law Endora on 'Bewitched' in the 1960's.
CreditsDirector ... John Cromwell
Producer ... Jerry Wald
Screenplay ... Virginia Kellogg
Based on ... "Women Without Men" by Bernard C. Schoenfeld and Virginia Kellogg
Music ... Max Steiner
Cinematography ... Carl E. Guthrie
Distribution Company ... Warner Bros.
Format ... B & W
Release date ... May 19, 1950
Running time ... 96 minutes
Academy AwardsNo Wins:
Three Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Actress ... Eleanor Parker
Best Supporting Actress ... Hope Emerson
Best Writing (Story and Screenplay) ... Virginia Kellogg, Bernard C. Schoenfeld