Caged (1950)

Caged (1950), directed by John Cromwell.

A terrified young woman enters prison. She was in the car when her husband robbed a gas station. Now he's dead, she's 19 and pregnant, doing 1 to 15 as an accessory.

The warden (Agnes Moorehead) is decent and wants to help, but she barely runs the place. The real boss is the monstrous matron of Corridor B, a huge woman who lives well off the inmates and punishes those who don't cooperate: beatings, solitary, shaved heads.

Marie's only hope is for early parole where she can do any sort of honest work and keep her baby. But this is deep in the "we're screwed" end of film noir and nothing works out. She becomes crazed and then hardened. There's no escape. She can get out if she agrees to do crime, but everyone knows she'll keep coming back until she's a lifer.

It's barely a "message" film; there are some scenes in the office with arguments about conditions, funding, and reform, but they let the story do the work without pushing it too hard. We have more blunt talk than usual about prostitution, VD, and pregnancy.

We have just the slightest hints of lesbian acts. Later entries in the women in prison genre push it harder, going all hot and steamy and sadistic.

Eleanor Parker shows amazing levels of dread and shocked disbelief. I remember her distinctly only as the Baroness in The Sound of Music (1965), but I'll keep a lookout in the future.

Later: I've been trying to see all of her films and have reviewed:

Max Steiner score.