Diamonds and a blonde prove too much for an LAPD detective, in this Edward L. Cahn-directed MGM MOD release
Ooh, Cage of Evil! What a name! Is it a film noir? Not quite. Does it have elements of noir at least? Indeed. Is there a cop and/or private detective involved? There is. A woman near his side? Yes. Blonde? Yep. Could she be characterized as a femme fatale? She could. Murder? Of course. Black and white? And corrupt all over. Can we trust the director? Sure, it’s Edward L. Cahn, a veteran of several of these cheap little crime pictures. Can we trust anyone else? Only your faithful reviewer.
Cahn opens Cage of Evil with voiceover narration, something the director often did and a likely product of the sort of economic craftsmanship that came in handy on quickly shot movies. There’s only a minimal semi-documentary feel to it, which is fortunate since that touch seems to feel stale more often than not. The voice belongs to a police captain, located in California. He’s telling us about a particular detective with a promising future. Scott Harper (Ronald Foster) seems in line for a promotion, and the captain mentions, with some ambiguity, that this will turn out to be the last case he works for him. The gig involves stolen diamonds and, after some potential suspects are gone over, Scott is assigned to become friendly with the girl (Pat Blair) of a local hood. Her name is Holly Taylor and she works at a night club as a hostess. Scott follows his orders and becomes close to Holly while maintaining his cover as a businessman passing through town. The trouble comes when he starts to get too close to her, harboring romantic interests that aren’t part of the plan.
That Scott turns, because of both bitterness and the blonde, shouldn’t be a spoiler. It’s actually the reason to watch this thing. Seeing a decent cop, even one who’s a bit too punchy, succumb to the lure of a beautiful woman is pretty good motivation to spend just over an hour with a film like Cage of Evil. That’s the noir part, which is heartily accounted for in this instance. Holly not being overtly bad or manipulative, instead only a little opportunistic, shades things in that desirable grey that ups the intrigue. Stylistically, it isn’t bathed in darkness like film noir and it also came a little late to fall inside the required period for the cycle. But the thematic and narrative attractions of noir are strongly here.
Cage of Evil embraces the steady, standard feel of being a simple programmer. It passes the time, and the picture keeps you interested for its short 70 or so minutes. Indeed, the familiarity is a lot of the appeal. It’s a B all the way, but therein should lie some comfort. Cahn’s professionalism coupled with the other decently realized elements combine to make for a rather satisfying watch. The rear projection, chintzy-looking sets and questionable locations are all overlooked easily enough. In the right mood, you need not see these as things to apologize for or look past. They enhance the mood, the time, the era. Los Angeles tends to seem kind of artificial on film anyway.
There are far better movies in this vein to cut one’s teeth on, but Cage of Evil should do fine for the already initiated. Even with its clear financial and creative limitations, a degree of believability actually does emerge, owing somewhat to the chemistry between the two main actors. Foster at least looks the part and Blair is both a knockout and very effective in her role. She was also pretty good in Irving Lerner’s City of Fear, opposite Vince Edwards. The other actors are mostly nondescript. They move the plot along as the leads bury themselves ever deeper into their characters’ mess. The leanness here is another strength, with Cahn characteristically making sure to not waste anyone’s time, including the viewer’s. The film is maybe not worth the twenty bucks being charged for a DVD-R copy but there are much worse ways to kill an hour and ten minutes.
The MGM Limited Edition Collection is where you’ll find Cage of Evil. The made-on-demand DVD-R is single-layered. Nice, enticing cover art for this one.
Even though this is a 1960 movie, the aspect ratio used here is 1.33:1. MGM has been fairly consistent about opting for what are apparently open matte presentations of these lesser known films from this era. It’s a minor annoyance but not something that really destroys the viewing. Image quality on Cage of Evil is just okay, with the usual disclaimer preceding the picture that the best available materials were used. It looks soft to me, lacking the desired crispness or tightness in detail. Better contrast might have also made a difference. Some chroma noise is visible, probably indicating that this is from an older source. At least it’s a clean watch, absent any significant damage. It’s also been progressively transferred.
The English mono audio is an adequate listen. There’s a crackle which can be easily heard from time to time. Otherwise, dialogue registers without incident. Even the dopey, too dramatic score sounds fine. No subtitles have been offered.
Special features are completely absent from this release.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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