Friday, January 30, 2009
The Big Bird Cage (1972) review
THE BIG BIRD CAGE 1972
Anitra Ford (Terry), Pam Grier (Blossom), Sid Haig (Django), Teda Bracci (Bull), Candice Roman (Carla), Carol Speed (Mickie), Marissa Delgado (Rina), Vic Diaz (Rocco)
Written & Directed by Jack Hill
After being seen with wanted revolutionaries, Terry Rich, a Lady of the Evening closely associated with notable foreign dignitaries, is arrested and placed in a brutal women's prison somewhere in the Philippines. Riling the other women to break out of the jungle hellhole, Terry and the revolutionaries prepare for an attack to escape the savage penitentiary and get revenge on the vicious warden Zappa.
Fresh off the success of the biggest moneymaking independent film up to that time, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE (1972), Jack Hill returns with this quasi serious spoof of the genre. Reuniting with his two favorite actors, Pam Grier and Sid Haig, Hill began work on this rambunctious and offensive follow up to his prior hit. Shooting on locations that would later be blown to smithereens by Francis Ford Coppola on APOCALYPSE NOW (1979), director Jack Hill gets a lot of mileage out of some startlingly beautiful jungle scenery.
Jack Hill was a gifted director who was a master at delivering a superior product with absolutely zero fat on his films. Left to his own devices, Hill knew what the audience wanted and gave it to them in droves. His films were laced with extreme violence, abundant nudity and action aplenty. THE BIG BIRD CAGE is no exception. He also wrote the scripts for a number of his films including this one.
Hill was also obliging to his actors to play around with their characters improvising dialog if they felt something else was a better exchange. A lot of the sharp witted ripostes and other lines of dialog were ad libbed on set for THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972). One of the funniest, and most controversial, is featured below--
Terry: "What do you want me for?"
Django: "I'm gonna rape you, what the hell you think I want?"
Terry: "Oh, bologna, I don't believe it. Besides...you can't rape me, I like sex."
Women's groups took offense to the line delivered by the sulty Anitra Ford indicating that being raped wasn't much of a threat, nor much of a bother to her. However, later in the film, she is raped by a group of horny men in a small restaurant in the jungle after she has made a stealthy, but brief escape from the prison. Sex plays a big part in this movie.
Given that the brutality of rape is a mainstay of the WIP (Women In Prison) genre, there's a multitude of sexual shenanigans on display here. The bulk of the cast are sex starved individuals and that goes for the other characters who aren't in the prison. The characters of Blossom and Django (Grier & Haig), in between their proclamations of an unspecified revolution, engage in constant trysts.
One scene has the pair square off in a fight that ends with both in a pigs mud hole. Turned on, they retire to their hut while Django's lustful followers hanker for love outside. They look over at their own women, all old and unattractive, then look back at the hut and admire what Django is enjoying at that moment, "Blossom...what a woman..."
One of the female prisoners, Carla, played by the beautiful Candice Roman, is on the verge of a nervous breakdown if she doesn't get some lovin' from the male persuasion. During one scene wherein a prisoner returns from a rendezvous with the warden, Carla tries desperately to get the girl to reveal specifics of her encounter. When she isn't obliging, Carla becomes incensed shouting that she hasn't any right to keep details away from interested parties. She then says, "Doesn't anybody have a dirty joke?!"
Another sexual plot point prevalent in these movies is lesbianism. While it is talked about, this film has a heavier accent towards male homosexuality. Hill has always been as politically incorrect as he possibly could in his films, and here, he went all out. In addition to a number of racist remarks, he pokes a lot of fun at gays in THE BIG BIRD CAGE. The two main male guards are both lovers and provide a good deal of comic relief. Rocco gets the most screen time. Played by perennial Filipino bad guy favorite, Vic Diaz, Rocco is one of the most memorable characters in the movie. According to Hill, Diaz was hesitant to take on this role as he was uncomfortable at first about playing such a character.
In what would have to be a screen first, the most unforgettable moment (among so many noteworthy moments) occurs during the finale when the revolutionaries have begun their assault. Django entrusts the girls with keeping Rocco quiet. The sex starved Carla has other ideas, though. The women hold him down while Carla does her thing to get Rocco's member to stand at attention. While the other anxious women look on, Rocco begins to scream like a little schoolgirl. To shut him up, Bull (Teda Bracci) then proceeds to sit on his face!
As Carla is coming to orgasm, the battle has begun outside starting with the explosion of a water tower resulting in Carla to satisfactorily announce, "Geez, I never had one like that before..." The girls exit and leave Rocco tied to the floor where he is later assaulted in a far more violent manner by a group of insane women he kept locked up inside a bamboo cage. Amazingly, the movie became a cult item with the gay community, despite Hill's continuously over the top jabs at homosexuals throughout the picture.
Hill was forced by the MPAA to remove some frames from the rape scene perpetrated on Rocco by the libidinous women. Frames of Candice Roman mounting Vic Diaz and moving up and down were removed to avoid an 'X' rating. Even still, Hill states that he went back and put some of them back in. The scene is absolutely hilarious and the closest comparison is a certain outlandish death scene featured in the cult favorite, ILSA, HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHIEKS (1976), directed by another great exploitation director, Don Edmonds.
Anitra Ford was a fashion model and also a 'Price Is Right' model in addition to becoming an art photographer some time after. She appeared as the lead villainess in INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS (1973) during her brief stint as an exploitation starlet. It's a shame she didn't have a longer career in sleaze cinema as she was a decent enough actress and looked good in her roles. She also has some television credits among her resume.
Pam Grier, of course, needs no introduction to cult film fans. Having appeared in virtually every genre of cinema, she will forever be associated with two roles that made her synonymous in blaxploitation cinema with roles built around strong women characters-- COFFY (1973) and FOXY BROWN (1974). Grier also appeared in horror films (THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE and SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM), fantasy films (THE ARENA) and science fiction movies (CLASS OF 1999).
Curiously, the majority of BIG BIRD CAGE's female cast didn't go on to to feature in similar, or bigger productions. Carol Speed, who nearly steals the show as Mickie, the loud mouthed inmate that constantly berates and taunts the giraffe like stature of fellow prisoner, Karen (played with a degree of silent menace by model, Karen McKevic), seems to have had the longest career outside of Pam Grier and Anitra Ford. Speed ended up in the starring role as ABBY (1974) among some other blaxploitation and television credits. The natural beauty of Candice Roman, who shines as the sexually famished Carla, seemed to disappear from film entirely after the close of 1972.
Jack Hill tells some humorous stories about this films production on the disc commentary track. One funny story has to do with how Hill came to name Sid Haig's character of the revolutionary leader, Django. Both Hill and Haig had beards during the filming and Hill heard some of the Spanish speaking locals saying the word "Choongo", when he and Haig were out together. Thinking it sounded a lot like "Django", Hill called Sid's character Django in the script. Only later on did the director discover the word is Spanish for "Monkey", and that the name was insulting to the Filipino's.
Another outlandish story concerns the search for suitable locations. Jack Hill and his producer were on the lookout for appropriate jungle settings when they found a hut out in the middle of nowhere. Upon entering the seemingly abandoned hovel, the two found famed screen tough guy, William Smith (!) lying on a bed. The awakening Smith thought he was dreaming after seeing Hill (whom he knew) out there in the jungle. Smith was in the Philippines shooting a film as well, but what was the likelihood of running into a friend out in the middle of the filipino tropical forests?
Jack Hill's dad designed the Big Bird Cage of the title and built it to last. During the fiery finale, a scene required that the torturous contraption was to collapse and crush the evil warden Zappa. Assured that attached cables would successfully pull down the 'Big Bird Cage', Jack Hill had to come up with an alternate method for the constructions destruction when the huge apparatus proved difficult to tear down. Jack Hill's dad was also responsible for the Walt Disney castle as well as several of the theme park rides.
Director Hill was obviously a fan of Italian westerns given the name of Haig's character. Hill also integrates some dialog exchanges from Italian oaters as well. The line heard at the end regarding Django being up in the mountains after his death was borrowed from VIVA, SABATA! (1970). Jack Hill also had an idea for a sequel called THE PIRATE WOMEN OF ZAMU WENGA. The sequel never went past the idea stage and Jack Hill went on to make the seminal blaxploitation classic, COFFY (1976) instead.
THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972) amazingly wasn't the success of its predecessor, but over the years, it seems to be the most well remembered in cult film circles. It's one of my favorite movies and offers near endless entertainment value and some great, if sometimes offensive dialog. If you are a fan of Jack Hill's other cinematic offerings, then this 'Women In Prison' adventure is worth multiple visits.
This review is representative of the New Concorde DVD (OOP).