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  Lady in a Cage Hate In An Elevator
Year: 1964
Director: Walter Grauman
Stars: Olivia de Havilland, James Caan, Ann Sothern, Jeff Corey, Jennifer Billingsley, Rafael Campos, William Swan, Charles Seel, Scatman Crothers
Genre: Horror, Thriller, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Mrs Cornelia Hilyard (Olivia de Havilland) is a middle aged widow with plenty of money to see her through to her final years, which by all rights should be very comfortable indeed. She lives with her son Malcolm (William Swan), and is recovering from a broken hip which means she has to use the house's elevator to get from the ground floor to the first floor, and today, the hottest day of the year so far, Malcolm is planning to leave on a trip to see friends. He has also left his mother a note - a note which may well be a suicide note, but he has told her not to read it until he has left. And when he does leave, he accidentally knocks over a ladder with his car, which in turn hits a power line... and Mrs Hilyard is set on the road to hell...

In the sixties, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? prompted some ageing lady stars to appear in lurid shockers as a way of securing another hit. De Havilland not only appeared in Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, but also this overheated thriller with unsubtle pretentions to pounding home a message about the savage state of the human condition that looks ahead to the more notorious horrors of the seventies. What happens is that Mrs Hilyard is travelling up a floor in the elevator when the power line is broken and not only does the air conditioning go off, but her transport too. So she is now trapped, but reluctant to ring the alarm bell because she is sure that the power will be restored at any minute.

Which doesn't happen, obviously, or there would be little story for us to watch. As Malcolm has apparently departed to do himself in, his mother could very well be there for days, and even when she does get around to ringing the bell nobody bothers to investigate. The cars outside continue to motor past, oblivious and uncaring, a neat comment on the remoteness of the modern world - or a heavy handed one. But eventually, as Mrs Hilyard stews in her cage, someone does hear the bell, unfortunately an alcoholic down and out named George (Jeff Corey) who is mostly attracted to the wealth and the booze she is hoarding.

George breaks in and helps himself to the toaster and a bottle of wine, ignoring Mrs Hilyard's pleas for help. He then goes off to the local pawn shop to secure some money for his new found treasure and catches the attention of three young punks led by Randall, played by a fresh faced, straight haired James Caan. Caan reputedly modelled his performance on Marlon Brando, but he and his gang are more reminiscent of the leads of Rebel Without a Cause gone bad, with Caan sporting his shirt open to the waist, floozie Jennifer Billingsley sporting a black eye, and sidekick Rafael Campos sporting a flick knife.

It's not long before not only George and hustler friend Sade (Ann Sothern, another past her prime star) have gone to the house, but the three hoodlums have as well. And then the sleazy thrills really take off, with Randall leading an assault on the persons of George and Sade, and making it clear that Mrs Hilyard is next. Not simply is the burping Randall offensive to her possessions, but he affronts her socially too, with a minor class theme emerging. But mostly Lady in a Cage goes out of its way to show how people are not much better than animals when it comes down to it, a bleak view that sees Mrs Hilyard soundly humiliated to prove its point. Banned in Britain when first released, the film manages a sensational and oppressive atmosphere, yet is too over the top to be as illuminating as it thinks it is. And de Havilland's constant voiceover is simply silly ("Stone Age, here I come!"). Music by Paul Glass. Great title sequence, incidentally.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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