Jack Hill is a master of his craft. And his craft is low-budget, always profitable, exploitation films. If you ever want a masterclass in the difference between B-Movies and Bad Movies, just load up a Jack Hill production and prepare to learn how it’s done (and you can’t go wrong picking up Jack Hill: The Exploitation and Blaxploitation Master, Film by Film by Calum Waddell, either). A shortlist of Hill’s classics reads like what I hope Drive-In Saturday’s archives to look like someday: Spider Baby, The Big Doll House, Coffy, Foxy Brown, Switchblade Sisters, and this week’s entry, The Big Bird Cage! The Big Bird Cage was Hill’s second dipping into the Women in Prison pond after the hugely influential The Big Doll House. However, it abandons some of the set-piece elements Doll House established, as the single year between releases was filled with knock-offs that turned them into clichés of the genre. Instead of lingering on the violence against women, featuring abusive lesbian prison guards, or sticking to a disturbingly humorless tone, The Big Bird Cage downplayed the nudity and incorporated humorous elements that made it stand out from the crowd. And as Hill himself said (in Waddell’s book), producer Roger Corman “always liked to have humor in his pictures.” The film stars Hill discoveries Pam Grier and Sid Haig as the revolutionary couple Blossom and Django, alongside Invasion of the Bee Girls villain Anitra Ford as Terry. The story is straight-forward enough: Terry is an American in a foreign country who is famous for her dalliances with high-ranking government officials. After being kidnapped by Django, but then abandoned after he realizes that she’s useless as a hostage, she is arrested, falsely accused of being part of Django and Blossom’s revolutionary gang, and sent to a women’s prison/work camp. Meanwhile, the revolutionaries, of whom Blossom is the only one anxious for real revolution, decide that what’s keeping the revolution from occurring is the lack of women amongst their ranks. So a plan is hatched to liberate hundreds of women from the local women’s prison. And thus, hilarity ensues. Ford’s performance is front and center as the supremely confident and self-possessed Terry. She’s a character who embraces her sexuality, but isn’t portrayed negatively for it. Sure, she’s the target of muttered comments, insults, and ultimately violence because of her libertine behavior, but she stays proud and independent throughout. And when it becomes obvious her friends in high places have abandoned her, she takes it upon herself to find a way out of prison. Even though Ford is the main focus for the first half of the runtime, this is really Pam Grier’s film. It was one of her first leading roles and while she’s still learning her craft, she brings so much energy and charisma to the film that every time she’s on-screen everything about the film leaps into the Awesomeness Stratosphere. She was so clearly a diamond in the rough, it’s no wonder Hill cast her as the leads in Coffy and Foxy Brown over the following couple of years. Once Blossom gets herself arrested (after a deliberately botched assassination attempt on el Presidente) and quickly takes over the female prisoners, preparing to lead them in their escape once her revolutionary army arrives to free them. Helping her prepare from the inside is Django, who has infiltrated the guards. How did he do this, you ask? Well, the prison guards are flamboyantly queer and led by Rocco (played by everybody’s favorite Filipino film bad guy, Vic Diaz). So Django shaves his beard down to a stylish mustache, tightens his jeans, and proceeds to pick up Rocco at the local watering hole in a hilariously offensive swish-fest in the men’s toilet. Sid Haig rounds out the lead roles in The Big Bird Cage wonderfully. His Django is more hippy than real revolutionary, and Haig plays it to the hilt. Revolutionary-Django is funny, dangerous, and extremely laid-back, while Prison-Guard-Django is an over-the-top gay stereotype that seems to have been incredibly fun to play. Overall, this is a Sid Haig performance like none I’ve seen and it was extremely entertaining and would have been just as at home in the finale of Blazing Saddles! The supporting cast is surprising strong, with everyone committing 100% to their roles, especially the already mentioned Vic Diaz and Andres Centenera as the sadistic Warden Zappa. The other prisoners are well-cast with the gorgeous Candice Roman as sex-crazed Carla, Teda Bracci as the natural leader (before Blossom shows up, anyway) of the ladies, Bull Jones, and the strangely antagonistic pairing of Carol Speed and Karen McKevic as the firebrand Mickie and the statuesque Karen – who don’t know if they hate or love each other. The film was shot on location in the Philippines, with many of the locations later being destroyed during the Apocalypse Now shoot. Hill doesn’t spend a lot of time utilizing the locations, though, with most of the film taking place in the work camp, but when he does the results are often breathtaking. With more money and more time, this film could have been beautiful. As it is, The Big Bird Cage is a damn-near perfect piece of exploitation cinema. And while Hill plays up the humor in his script, when violence occurs, it’s usually pretty brutal and occasionally hard to watch. There’s a tonal whiplash effect with this film that some reviewers aren’t fond of – finding it to be lacking in focus or commitment – but I disagree. Hill is able to give us characters here that, while starting as clichés, have enough personality and heart to make us feel for them. A big part of achieving that is the contrasting of humorous moments with darkly violent ones. When Quentin Tarantino claims Jack Hill as one of his inspirations, it’s not difficult to see why. And when the grand finale hits, it is simultaneously hopeful and devastating as not everyone makes it out alive. Overall, if The Big Bird Cage has any drawbacks, it’s that it is enthusiastically un-PC. If you want to avoid films with racial slurs, ultra-swishy homosexuals, and depictions of rape (both man-on-woman and woman-on-man), then this is probably not the film for you. And you really don’t want to watch the trailer below. But then again, if that’s case, most exploitation films are not for you. Why are you reading this? See larger image The Women in Cages Collection (Roger Corman’s Cult Classics Triple Feature) (The Big Bird Cage / Big Doll House / Women in Cages) [Blu-ray] New From: $24.42 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.