Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Glass Cage (1964) Experimental Noir


The Glass Cage (1964) was directed by Antonio Santean written by Antonio Santean and John Hoyt, It stars Arlene Sax, John Hoyt (The Unfaithful, Brute Force, The Bribe, Trapped, Loan Shark, and The Big Combo also a long stretch of  TV appearances) Bob Kelljan, King Moody and a nice cameo by Elisha Cook Jr. who of course had  about roughly twelve Film Noir in his CV at this point in his career. Cinematography was done by Jean-Philippe Carson.

"As the Motion Picture Production Code weakened and independent poverty row and low budget film creators were allowed more artistic freedom. So those Film Noir that went too far over the line depicting violence started getting classified as Horror, Thriller (even though they were just say, showing the effects of a gunshot wound, or dealing with weird serial killers, maniacs, and psychotics, etc.). Those that went too far depicting sexual, drug, torture, etc., situations were being lumped into or classed as various Exploitation flicks, (even though they are relatively tame comparably to today's films). The the noir-ish films that dealt with everything else, except Crime, concerning the human condition were labeled Dramas and Suspense. Those that tried new techniques, lenses, etc., were labeled Experimental. Some films are so so bad in all aspects that they acquire the "so bad it's good" Cult status.

With nothing really giving some of some of these directors & producers some parameters, or putting the brakes on, there was no speed limit they just shot past the limits of contemporary common sense, cultural acceptability and good taste. Good taste can block out entire subjects deemed dangerous or unworthy. What makes these low budget films worthwhile, to quote V. Vale & Andrea Juno in Incredibly Strange Films, is the "unfettered creativity. Often the films are eccentric-even extreme-presentations by individuals freely expressing their imaginations..." To quote Picasso "Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness.""


Flip this smoggy LA neighborhood over like a rock and see what crawls out.  Arline Sax/Martel's flop is in the 200 block of S. Figueroa on the West end of Bunker Hill.


The Glass Cage is a very Noir-ish styled Mystery with some great experimental cinematography. The tale begins at night in a Los Angeles Bunker Hill neighborhood. At a low rent dump called The Melvin, a "housekeeping apartments" converted victorian apartment house. An attempted break in is abruptly thwarted. We see a hand break open a screen door we see a revolver in extreme close up. A muzzle flash. A man is shot. He tumbles doing a backflip down a flight of stairs breaks through the railing on a landing and falls vertically head first to the concrete pavement two stories below. A stream of blood flows quickly from his corpse towards a sewer drain.




A point blank revolver a backwards flip down a stairway and...Blood on the concrete.
A crowd gathers and the LAPD arrives. A meat wagon is called in and a corpse is removed. In a macabre touch one of the coroners men, after they load the dead man on a wheeled gurney, sings dirge like "merrily we roll a long, roll a long, roll a long" as they glide off into the darkness.

"merrily we roll a long, roll a long, roll a long"...

Two detectives are assigned to the case  Lt. Max Westman (Hoyt), the by the book veteran and Sgt, Jeff Bradley (Keljan). The dead man turns out to be a local businessman and not a burglar as suspected. The beautiful young woman Ellen (Sax) who shot him tells a story that conflicts with the facts, but Jeff is smitten by Ellen who comes off as sweet and demure and he believes her while Max stays aloof and by the book. Sax, later known as Arlene Martel, was a staple of 50s-60s TV.

Jeff and Max rt., talking to witnesses.
Ellen, telling her version of events. 
Ellen claims the intruder was in the kitchen when she shot him. When contradicted with the facts by Max she claims she really doesn't remember. When asked where she got the gun she says that her sister Ruth gave it to her for protection that same night. When questioned about any other relatives she says that her father is living in Arizona, Asked what he does for a living she says that he's an evangelist in a tone of voice that one would use to say he's a card carrying communist. Ellen is a troubled woman from Noirsville with serious daddy issues.

A nice foreshadowing visual expressing Ellen's true state.
Noirsville

The Melvin Apartments Ellen's home

Ellen


Ruth











King Moody who will remind you a bit of Timothy Carey is Tox, a kooky troubled beatnik artist who lives across the alley from Ellen. The police question Tox because he witnessed the events after the gunshot. Tox knows the score with Ellen, Jeff doesn't.



Tox the beatnik artist, "crazy man"
Crime scene investigation reveals that the gun Ellen had in her possession was the murder weapon but paraffin tests reveal that she didn't fire it. The two Detectives head over to Ruth's house with a search warrant. They toss the place but come up empty handed but they do find a portrait of Ruth.

Ruth's place

Ruth's portrait 


Tox gets a night time visit from Ruth who is apparently Ellen's sexy sultry double. He's anxious to show her his new work so he invites her into his studio. A studio filled with a plethora of found objects, umbrella frames, naked mannequins, clowns, all converted into expressions of abstract art. He reveals to her his latest creation,  it resembles a big vagaina, Ruth starts to laugh uncontrollably, and Tox going into a rage almost decks her, but something stops him, Ruth leaves.

Ruth in the flesh

The studio confrontation between Ruth and Tox.

Tox's art looking like a big vagina
Meanwhile Jeff begins courting Ellen having lunch with her, taking her to the zoo, they also go for a float in a rowboat on a park lake and ride the merry-go-round in Griffith Park.


Jeff and Ellen at the merry-go-round.
Tox ever surveillant of the goings on in Ellen's apartment starts to haves issues with Jeff moving in on his"good thing."

He drops over later that day to "borrow a cup of sugar", but it isn't the granular kind that he's looking for.

"Can I borrow a cup of sugar"?

reaching for the sugar

But Tox really wants her honey pot... Ellen raped.
During Ellen's rape sequence she calls out for Ruth to help her. The rape of Ellen triggers a flashback/nightmare sequence where she is dressed in her prom gown carrying a bouquet and running through crowds of people away from an ominous man who walks with a cane. This sequence features experimental cinematography combined with Noir stylistics part of the chase sequence features the The Bradley Building an iconic location for Classic Noir.

Noirsville flashback with experimental camerawork










The sequence ends back in reality with Tox gone and  a disheveled Ellen/Ruth laying across her sofa clutching a doll in her hand, She wears Ruth's evening gown over Ellen's housedress.

 Ellen/Ruth.
Ellen's evangelist father (Elisha Cook) arrives at the apartment in a very noirish sequence



Elisha Cook Jr. the evangelist, Ellen's father
Ellen is the persona who wakes up and she is startled to see her father sitting there watching her. The confrontation with her father again changes the girl from a cowering Ellen back to her Ruth persona and with this she turns the tables and does battle with the evangelist, triggering another brief flashback.

The Daddy Flashback



Ruth tells the story of how Ellen all dressed for the prom comes down the stairs of their house and is confronted by their evangelist father who in a righteous rage strips the gown from her body. Ellen runs half nude back to her room. Her father follows up and euphemistically "saves" her. In the Classic Noir tradition, it's left to our imagination what her father did to "save her", but in the very next scene Ellen has returned and she is on her knees between her father's legs.





Ellen on her knees




Daddy!
 I love the derisive way she says "Daddy" during this sequence.

Jeff arrives at the end of all this drama and finds his gal has a serious screw loose. Jeff's sudden appearance distracts Ellen's father and allows Ellen/Ruth to run past him out of the Melvin. She hops in her car and drives to the L.A. Zoo and the surprising finale.

I was pleasantly surprised, the film was produced by Futuramic Productions whose only other efforts was Squad Car (1960) and Come Spy with Me (1967). Its available cheap on DVD from Sinister Cinema, it could really use a full restoration 7/10

2 comments:

  1. Hey Joe !! I saw The Glass Cage not too long ago and LOVE it! It was very gritty and I loved the use of experimental angels. It's a real oddball addition to the noir genre for sure. Thanks so much for leaving a comment on The Last Drive In. We've got similar tastes in films... I too grew up with 13 channels in NY and devoured as many now obscure horror and cult gems. So glad you covered The Glass Cage! and added so many cool images too... Cheers Joey from The Last Drive In

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  2. Glad you enjoyed it too. I'm going through Something Weird's Six Weird Noirs, they are good too but so far not as good as Aroused and The Pick-Up.

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