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This was the third women in prison (WIP) movie produced by Roger Corman's
New World Pictures within just two years, beginning with THE BIG DOLL
and WOMEN IN CAGES, both released in 1971. In spite of the similar titles,
there's no narrative connection between BIRD CAGE and DOLL HOUSE, though
films were later shrewdly retitled `Women's Penitentiary I' and `II' by
distributors who hoped each film would capitalize on the other's
Director Jack Hill, who also helmed DOLL HOUSE, says Corman hired him to
make a sequel, but since the WIP genre had already become formulaic and
predictable, Hill played up the humor and delivered a parody instead. Like
DOLL HOUSE, the film features Pam Grier and Sid Haig in prominent roles
was shot in the Philippines. This time, Hill makes much better use of both
actors as well as the beautiful locations.
Perhaps the movie is best remembered as the screen debut of Anitra Ford, the exotically beautiful model who turned quite a few heads as well as price tags on television's THE PRICE IS RIGHT game show. She plays Terry, an American tourist visiting a Central American banana republic where her indiscreet flirtations with the prime minister get her in trouble with the governing party. She's sent to a bamboo shack prison for women staffed exclusively by gay guards and centered around a towering, archaic-looking sugar cane mill, the `big bird cage' of the title. The warden (Andy Centenera) designed the structure himself and is more than willing to sacrifice a few of his charges now and then to keep it in working order. At one point, an unfortunate prisoner is crushed to death when she's forced to crawl under the contraption to reposition a gigantic, misaligned cog.
Prisoners who lose their wits are permanently confined in a cage for `crazies' while those who attempt to escape are tracked down by attack dogs. Regardless, Terry makes a run for it and nearly gets gang raped in the process. When the effeminate head guard Rocco (Vic Diaz, who has been called `the Peter Lorre of the Philippines') catches up to her as she's being molested by half a dozen local men, he dryly comments, `Why doesn't that ever happen to me?' As punishment for her attempted escape, Terry's left hanging from a rope tied to her long, dark tresses. Talk about having a bad hair day!
The other inmates are the usual batch of rag tag stereotypes. There's the butch top dog (Teda Bracci), the sex starved nymph (Candice Roman), and a pathetic new kid (Marissa Delgado) who's befriended and championed by the heroine. The most original character is an Amazonian lesbian (Karen McKevic) who's supposedly so violent she must be chained to her bed, though she looks more like an unusually tall anorexic. She seems to have been included strictly for laughs: in one especially silly scene, she smears chicken fat over her body hoping to slip past her other cell mates so she can get her hands on a teasing tormentor.
Curiously, the most entertaining parts of the film don't involve the prisoners but rather a nearby group of revolutionaries led by Blossom (Grier) and Django (Haig). Neither actor has ever been more appealing in any role and they work brilliantly together. In the opening scene, they pose as musicians in a local band to burglarize a seedy nightclub and Grier actually sings on the soundtrack. Later, they wrestle in the mud before kissing and making up. As they noisily make love in a hut, another bandit ruefully comments, `What an army we could raise if we only had a lot of women.... Where could we find [so many] women to steal?' Thus are the unlikely seeds of a prison break sewn!
Haig is hilarious in the scenes where Django `camps it up' flirting with the guards to weasel his way into the prison staff and Grier leads the eventual riot with her usual gusto. The film features lots of action including a fiery finale. There's also quite a bit of nudity, though unfortunately only a few brief glimpses of foxy Ms. Ford in the buff. She shows a bit more skin in her next two films, INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS and STACEY (both 1973).
Jack Hill's follow-up (but not a sequel) to his earlier 'The Big Doll House' is a much more confident and enjoyable movie. Hill wrote as well as directed this one and I think that makes a world of difference. The basic model of the earlier film is followed but Hill shrewdly saw that the handful of scenes between Pam Grier and Sid Haig in that movie showed plenty of potential, so this time round he casts them as singing Revolutionary lovers (yeah baby!), an inspired move that really makes this one something special. The foxy Anitra Ford ('Invasion Of The Bee Girls') plays a sassy character who crosses their paths early in the film during a robbery. Super cool Django (Haig) takes a fancy to her but before he can do anything about it she is arrested and sent to a brutal prison. (I should point out that even though this movie, like the others in this short-lived 1970s cycle, was filmed in the Philippines, it is set in some nameless Banana Republic). Before too long Grier also finds herself in the same compound, which is dominated by "the bird cage", a strange contraption the women are forced to work on as punishment. Django cooks up a nutty plan to save her by pretending to be gay to ingratiate himself with one of the camps (very camp) guards Rocco, played by Vic Diaz, who later reunited with Haig and Grier in 'Black Mama White Mama'. This is a fantastic piece of entertainment overall and a guaranteed hoot! Personally I would say it is only rivalled by 'Caged Heat' and 'Chained Heat' as far as women in prison exploitation movies go. Highly recommended fun.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the jungles of some unnamed banana republic sits a women's prison.
The inmates are treated as slaves and forced to work in the sugar cane
fields. A nearby band of revolutionaries comes up with an idea to
recruit additional soldiers they need women to attract more men. The
prison offers them a ready made supply of women. But how to get the
Most WIP films I've seen are, in truth, very downbeat and depressing. They present scene after scene of women being tortured and otherwise humiliated. The Big Bird Cage is something of a change from the standard formula. Sure, the movie features some of the same torture scenes, gratuitous nudity, and violence, but much of it is done with a sense of humor that worked for me. Watching Sid Haig do his over-the-top queen shtick may be un-PC, but sign me up for sensitivity training because I found it very funny. It's a novel idea for a WIP film to have gay male guards to keep them from falling for the temptations of their prisoners.
The plot makes little sense if you stop and think about it. The plan the revolutionaries come up with to get the women out of the prison makes about as much sense as skydiving without a parachute and has about as much chance for success. It only serves to get Pam Grier into the prison to work from the inside. The film works best if you ignore the implausibility of the situation and just enjoy.
I love watching Pam Grier, but to be honest, her delivery is often stilted. This is especially true in her early films. The Big Bird Cage may be the best of her early work. For the most part, she's more natural sounding. She and Sid Haig have a real chemistry that works in these movies. I would love to see someone reunite the pair in a new movie. The cast also features Anitra Ford, who may not be the best actress in the world, but she's definitely easy on the eyes.
Despite the fact that women in prison films are famous for sex and
sleaze (two of my most favourite things to see in movies), I have to
say that I'm not a big fan of the genre overall and it's mostly due to
the fact that these films are often very similar to one another. The
Big Bird Cage cuts down on both of these two elements, but replaces
them with a bucket load of fun and good humour; and the result is a
film that sets itself apart from most of the rest of the genre. The
film is made up of two parts; on the one hand, we have a women's prison
ruled over by the usual assortment of sadistic guards, and on the other
hand; we have a band of revolutionaries lead by Sid Haig and Pam Grier.
After a robbery in a bar, a young female socialite is captured and
wrongly imprisoned in said women's prison, where the inmates are forced
to work inside a huge wooden structure known as 'The Big Bird Cage'.
It's not long before one of the revolutionaries comes up with a plan
involving the liberation of the women at the prison camp in order to
attract more men to their regime...
This film features three standout performances - from Sid Haig, Pam Grier and Anitra Ford. It's Haig and Grier's screen time together that is the main highlight, and we get treated to things like Haig slapping Grier with a wet fish! Of course, the film is really rather stupid with several silly decisions taking centre stage; but this all just adds to the fun! One of the best things about the film in my opinion was the gay prison guards - quite a difference to most women in prison films! The setting also sets this one apart from most of the rest of the genre - gone are the damp and dirty insides of most women's prisons and it's replaced by a rather more sunny setting and it's certainly a very welcome change. The plot really doesn't make much sense and is often played more for laughs than anything else - but personally I'm completely fine with that and the film really is very funny - Sid Haig's infiltration of the camp being a big highlight. The film is constantly entertaining throughout and manages to keep this up until the climax - although the ending does represent something of a change in tone. Overall, The Big Bird Cage is an excellent film and undoubtedly one of the best women in prison flicks ever made - don't miss this one!
In the 70s, a popular exploitation sub genre known as women in prison
produced low budget schlock after low budget schlock. Somewhere in the
shuffle, there were a few enjoyable gems. Pam Grier (The L Word, Jackie
Brown) seems to have a lock on these, as her "Women in Cages," "The Big
Doll House," "The Arena," and this one, "The Big Bird Cage" all seem to
be the most fun. I'm sure Roger Corman is to thank for these hilarious
movies as well.
There really isn't much to the plot. A bunch of broads are in a prison and used as slave labor. They are trying to get out. They have some in fighting and it usually involves mud. The guards are gay stereotypes. Pam Grier doesn't take any crap. Sound like your cup of tea?
If you go into this movie expecting "The Godfather," you may not enjoy it, but if you are looking for an enjoyable flick to catch, this is the one. Pam Grier and Sid Haig(The Devil's Rejects) steal the show here, as their over the top performances anchor the rest of the mostly there to exploit, but serviceable cast. If you like your women in prison exploitation films to be more bouncy fun and less disturbing torture, I highly recommend you start here. If only they still made flicks like this.
When it comes to Women In Prison movies, I usually want 'em to be as
sleazy and as violent as possible, but director Jack Hill's WIP flicks
look set to be an exception to this rule: The Big Bird Cage, his second
foray in the genre (after The Big Doll House), is a gloriously camp
exercise in trash cinema, occasionally tasteless but presented with
such a goofy sense of humour that it proves to be far less offensive
than many of its contemporaries and almost impossible not to enjoy.
Set in an unnamed 'banana republic' (but shot in the Philipines), the film opens with beautiful brunette social climber Terry (the belly-licious Anitra Ford), a close personal 'friend' (i.e., lover) of the president, being abducted by revolutionary Django (Sid Haig) during a daring robbery. To avoid capture by the law, Django resorts to leaping off a bridge, leaving poor Terry to be apprehended by the police, after which she is accused of being an accomplice in the crime; this presents the authorities with a convenient opportunity to rid themselves of Terry, a potential embarrassment for the government, by shipping her to a high security camp where unruly prisoners are forced to do dangerous work in a towering, wooden sugar millthe 'Bird Cage' of the title.
Meanwhile, Django, his feisty woman Blossom (busty Blaxploitation queen Pam Grier) and their revolutionary pals continue to plan their political uprising. Concluding that their cause would benefit immensely from the recruitment of more gutsy females like Blossom, they put into motion a scheme that involves Blossom getting herself incarcerated in the same establishment as Terry, and Django going undercover as a camp guard (and I do mean 'camp'all of the guards are homosexuals so as not to tempt the prisoners).
With his tongue firmly planted in cheek, director Hill delivers everything one might expect from such a set-upumpteen cat-fights (some in mud), the lesbian inmate, a sadistic warden, the camp informant, the tragic deaths of several prisoners, and an eventual uprisingplus, of course, lots of lovely women wearing very short shorts (I like short shorts!) and ill-fitting garments that frequently expose their breasts. All these lovely ladies AND Sid Haig as a hot-blooded revolutionary who must pretend to be gay to save the day = an unmissable treat for WIP fans!
Jack Hill is back again (a year after 'The Big Doll House'), to write and direct another low-budgeted drive-in Roger Corman produced women-in-prison joint in the tropics of the banana republic. This second run-of-the-mill dig is meaner, snappier, sweatier and is a lot more accomplished technical production, but I really do have a soft spot for rough-around-the-edges, but enjoyable 'Big Doll House' that sees me actually favour it over this particular effort plus it had the feisty blonde buxom Roberta Collins! Nonetheless Hill competently engraves the prominent staples (even adding few new novel ideas) and patterns one hope for from its exploitative subject matter, which is handled in a brightly lit manner than truly beating it down with despair. Sleaze, violence, profanity and a whole lot of socking personality all rolled in one. There's no better to deliver it a lively Pam Grier and charming Sid Haig come to the show with such an electric chemistry. When they go missing-in-action, you simply crave for them to appear again. Vic Diaz is delightfully amusing as camp gay prison guard and Anitra Ford adds brazen class, but seems to be struggling to keep a straight face. Saying that it seemed more comically daffy, as the script holds a cheeky edge amongst it harden dialogues. In the latter half it became insanely humorous and hysterical. Hill confidently executes it with a little more briskness and latitude, concentrating not only on the posing drama at hand, but detailing the exotically open locations with crisp photography work despite the limitations. The story can open up a notable can of worms, but it's in-your-face and well-rounded flavor made it hard not to simply enjoy.
I got a hold of this one mainly for the presence of Pam Grier. Needless to say, I was surprised at just how amusing this one was. Although it contains its share of exploitation elements, large sections of this film are really tongue-in-cheek and pretty damned funny actually. Sid Haig and Pam Grier are great as revolutionaires, and there are a sprinkling of decent character actors that round out the cast for a decent outing. The ending is chock full of early 70's combat sequences and wonderfully photographed burning buildings. Actually, I was also impressed by the director's good use of scenery; I hate to admit it, but the backdrop (jungle and mountains) were actually breathtaking in parts.
Writer / director Jack Hill follows up his Women In Prison classic "The
Big Doll House" with this savvy send-up of the genre. It's fast paced
and consistently amusing entertainment with everybody in fine form,
including Hill and his winning actor combo of Pam Grier and Sid Haig.
It's appropriately trashy stuff as we get an eyeful of our attractive
female cast members and get generous doses of sex and violence.
The stunning Anitra Ford ("Invasion of the Bee Girls") stars as Terry, a promiscuous young woman who's been with some important men. She gets caught up in a robbery staged by Blossom (Grier) and Django (Haig), and is assumed to be in on the whole thing and sent to prison - a typical prison for this sort of thing with sadistic guards and a maniacal warden (Andres Centenera) and a towering wooden structure (the "big bird cage" of the title) in which the prisoners are forced to risk their lives as they process sugar. Soon, however, Blossom and Django infiltrate the prison in an ambitious attempt to help the convicts break out.
This is highly enjoyable stuff, and the sense of humour helps make it go down very easily. The actors are a treat to watch, especially sassy and sexy Grier and the always entertaining Haig. The ladies playing the prisoners include Candice Roman as the tough talking Carla, Teda Bracci as comedy relief character "Bull" Jones, Carol Speed as the feisty Mickie, and Karen McKevic as the Amazonian fighter Karen. Lovers of Filipino cinema will also relish the appearance by Vic Diaz (a very familiar face in this sort of thing) as one of the guards.
Hill and his editors keep the movie moving along nicely, and building towards the inevitable big breakout sequence which is wonderfully rousing. Our hottie inmates are people we can root for while we also enjoy hating the villains. Along the way there's time for mud wrestling and some great laughs as Haig pretends to be gay in order to get close to the guards. The most ridiculous but riotous scene has McKevic smearing chicken fat over her naked body so she can slip past people in order to get her hands on Speed, who's been teasing her.
All in all, this is a real hoot of a movie, and a refreshing artifact from a time when filmmakers weren't about to worry about being politically correct. Highly recommended to anybody who loves Pam Grier, Sid Haig, Jack Hill, and Women In Prison pictures in general.
Eight out of 10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Haughty celebrity Terry (a delightfully brash performance by slinky brunette minx Anitra Ford) gets arrested and sent to a brutal women's prison work farm. Gutsy revolutionary Blossom (robustly played with splendidly sassy aplomb by the one and only Pam Grier) decides to engineer a break out from the outside in. Ace B-flick writer/director Jack Hill relates the entertaining story at a constant quick pace, stages the action set pieces with real flair, and maintains a winningly easy'n'breezy tone throughout. Moreover, the eager cast have a field day with the wacky material: Carol Speed as the scrappy Mickie, Teda Bracci as raucous top con Bull Jones, Candice Roman as sex-starved strumpet Carla, Karen McKevic as fearsome and predatory lesbian Karen, Andres Centenera as the strict and sadistic Warden Zappa, and Marissa Delgado as the fragile Rina. The always terrific Sid Haig is in fine lively form as merry bandit Django while legendary Filipino sleaze movie mainstay Vic Diaz almost steals the whole show with his hilarious turn as mincing gay guard Rocco. Better still, this film covers all the pleasingly sleazy grindhouse bases: a group shower scene, torture and degradation of women, a sizable smattering of tasty bare distaff skin, fierce catfights, and an exciting last reel revolt and subsequent escape. However, it's Hill's trademark sly humor that really gives this movie an extra uproarious lift (Django has to pretend to be a flamboyant homosexual in order to get hired as a prison guard and poor Rocco winds up being raped by the ladies during the thrilling climax). Philip Sacdalan's pretty polished cinematography does the trick. The funky score by William Loose and William Castleman hits the get-down groovy spot. An absolute blast.
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