THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972)
This Blaxploitation WIP (Women in Prison) movie was a non-sequel follow-up to 1971’s THE BIG DOLL HOUSE. There are a lot of other things this film isn’t as well.
Re-teaming Pam Grier with director Jack Hill, it concerns a bad-ass guerrilla fighter (Pam of course) with a floppy-hatted equally radical boyfriend Django (an almost unrecognisable Sid Haig) who for kicks decide to liberate an outdoor jungle women’s prison. It turns out that one of the inmates is Terry, a libidinous girl- about-town (Anitra Ford) who ended up jailed due to a haphazard robbery the two tried to commit earlier. Terry is a very peculiar character who seems to have no discernment about who she sleeps with, even to the extent of a very poor-taste exchange with Django early on when after he threatens to take advantage of her, she replies “You can’t ‘rape’ me. I like sex”. No wonder she is incarcerated, although psychiatric observation might be better.
The prison is not only extremely low-budget, being composed of mud-huts and a central mill (the titular Bird Cage), it’s also laughably low-security and run by a similarly low-rent version of Ricardo Montalban (the warden played by Andre Centenera). There only seems to be about three lazy guards running the place and in the exterior day scenes when they should be supervising the women’s labour you can hardly see them. Why don’t the ladies just escape? Probably they are too busy trying to lay each other as there are endless scenes of posturing and threats of girl-on-girl but no ‘action’ between the amazons, Hispanic, blacks and Caucasians.
Things look up though when Pam is imprisoned as well. She quickly installs herself as the Big Momma after a canteen tussle where she pins her racist assailant to the ground with “That’s Miss N***er to you!’ Eventually, it all descends into the inevitable break-out after one of the revolutionaries infiltrates the compound by posing as gay so one of the guards will try to get him a job there. (This elaborate effort also makes zero sense as with such a skeleton guard detail, they could take over the place with a spud-gun and free the inmates any time they like). Still, Pam blasts away with a machine-gun so someone gets to have fun at least.
It’s hard to imagine any audience flocking to see this in the grindhouses in the early ‘70s, unless they were winos looking for a warm place in the daytime. The poster is wonderfully lurid and aside from being a totally bogus come-on, contains a sensational strapline that manages to be both offensive and inexplicable at the same time:
‘MEN WHO ARE ONLY HALF MEN AND WOMEN WHO ARE MORE THAN ALL WOMAN!’
Pam Grier and Jack Hill would collaborate much more effectively in movies over the next few years, so don’t bother rattling this cage…