In the early ‘40s Hollywood began to experience a torrid love affair with tales of hard-nosed, two-fisted antiheroes pit against femme fatales and seedy underworld gangsters. These crime dramas — commonly referred to as film noir — continued to romance filmmakers and audiences in Tinseltown well into the late ‘50s, delighting audiences and thrilling future film historians into penning reference books in the process. By the time 1960 rolled around, however, things were changing. With now-classic neo-noir titles like The Manchurian Candidate just a few years away from being given a green-light by studio execs, the routine, archetypical formula that had constructed countless melodramas of the ‘40s and ‘50s were hardly in demand.
And so, one has to wonder what the suits at United Artists were thinking when they said, “Yeah, sure, go ahead and make Cage of Evil!”
During the first fifteen minutes of this obviously-rushed and effortless throwback to the noir flicks of the previous two decades, one gets the impression that this film would have been a worthy experiment for the Satellite of Love crew on Mystery Science Theater 3000. The opening is riddled with bad acting, superfluous narration by the decidedly un-raconteur-like tenor of co-star John Maxwell, and doors that simply won’t close despite some hearty shoving at the behest of their equally-wooden human counterparts.
The story here recounts the falling of Detective Scott Harper (Ron Foster, who has a great deal of emoting without the assistance of a cigarette in his hand) who gets passed for promotion, only to amorously pursue the femme fatale of the tale, Holly Taylor (Patricia Blair, who would later go on to co-star in The Rifleman and Daniel Boone on TV), so that they can run off with approximately $250,000 in uncut diamonds. Unfortunately, there’s a catch: Scotty is gonna need to bump off Holly’s beau so that they can run off together with the cash cache. And, as is usually the case in circumstances like these, one killing leads to another. And another. And, oh, Scotty, you poor dumb diluted dolt, you! Douglas Henderson and an uncredited Ted Knight also star in this “B” quickie.
As bad as the movie is in the beginning, and as clichéd as it is the rest of the way through, 1960’s diamond caper Cage of Evil is an enjoyable little B-Movie “gem” (ta-dum); one that was undoubtedly made with few expectations of opulence in mind. And it’s that overwhelming sense of unimportance the film delivers that resulted in my thoroughly enjoying the film; reveling in the few things the collaborative exploits of director Edward L. Cahn (Invasion of the Saucer Men) and writer Orville H. Hampton (who also penned Lost Continent, which actually did show up on Mystery Science Theater 3000) managed to get right, and laughing out loud at all of the movie essentials they totally and utterly bungled on.
Well, that, and I’m a sucker for cheesy B-Movie movies like this, so my hat’s off to MGM for releasing this under their exclusive “Limited Edition Collection” Manufactured-on-Demand lineup of DVD-R releases — because I more than likely would never have had the chance to see this one otherwise. And the fact that the print used here for this transfer was in pretty damn good shape makes it all the more fun.
Recommended to like-minded B-Movie lovers who remember seeing films of this caliber on AMC in the late ‘80s.