My current Top 5

My current Top 5

4/13/2010

Best Actress 1950: Eleanor Parker in "Caged"

Eleanor Parker received the first of her three unsuccessful Best Actress nominations for her role as Marie Allen in the prison movie Caged.

Caged is certainly not a great movie, it’s mostly over-the-top and laughable but it’s still entertaining and camp enough make it an unforgettable example of its genre. And even though the movie itself may not be too great, it still offered some very gifted actress some very challenging parts, especially Eleanor Parker and (to a lesser extent) Hope Emerson.

Like Anne Baxter, Eleanor Parker was a rather theatrical and melodramatic actress whose acting style always differed from those of her co-stars but unlike Anne Baxter, she had enough talent to make it all work and also succeed outside of her own comfort zone. Eleanor Parker had a wonderful delicacy that worked especially well in the context of Caged because Marie Allen is such a delicate, helpless and lost character.

Right in the first scenes it is shown that Marie is different from all the other women that are brought to jail with her. She seems confused and scared, she has to be grabbed and thrown out of the car because she is unable to leave it herself. It seems that Marie Allen is hoping to experience a bad dream unlike the other arrivals that all seem to have been there before. It’s an outlook at what is about to become of Marie in a place like this.

Eleanor Parker has a wonderful face that was made for close-up and not many other actresses were able to portray fear, desperation and loneliness with such effectiveness without saying a single word. Eleanor Parker shows Marie like a deer caught in the spotlight – frightened, unable to do anything. This way, she is wonderfully able to distance Marie’s character from the other, more experienced inmates and give an extremely moving performance that shows how innocence and goodness can be turned into hardness, bitterness and insubordination. Eleanor Parker’s performance is so convincing that one even forgives the fact that she is obviously not 19 years anymore.

Shortly after the movie started, the viewer learns that Marie Allen got 15 years for armed robbery. Step by step it is revealed that she actually helping her husband to commit the crime but he got killed in the process. Eleanor Parker wonderfully portrays Marie’s insecurity as she enters the prison and also her shame about what she did and how she disgraced her family. During the first scenes, Marie speaks very little but Eleanor Parker’s ability to combine all her different feelings and show them on her face helps her to give a very moving and compelling performance. Her way of communicating mostly with her face underlines her quietness and her difference from all the other open and open-mouthed women. Also her theatrical acting effectively demonstrates her isolation in her new life.

Caged shows that even though Marie helped to commit a crime, she is actually an innocent and good-hearted woman who followed her husband and for whom the punishment in prison is only damaging and not helping. The cruelty of prison life that demands of the inmates to either “eat or be eaten”, the constant supervision of the demonic prison guard and the feeling that there is no hope and no future for her, change Marie Allen’s character and make her become just the kind of woman that society actually wants to prevent.

Eleanor Parker movingly shows how everything in Marie’s life is taken away from her. When she learns that she is pregnant, there is hope in her life but later everything is destroyed when her own mother is unwilling to take care of the child. Eleanor Parker’s acting when she pleads to her mother, begs to her and breaks down crying is chilling.

Eleanor Parker successfully established Marie as an innocent and needy character and that way maximizes the moving effects of the scenes when she is slowly destroyed and then changed by everything around her. Even though her performance seems a bit monotonous at first, her expressive face that was made for suffering, still captivates the viewer.

Eleanor Parker also shows the development in Marie very effectively and never too sudden. Marie somehow always remains that young and innocent woman but life in prison changes her forever. She is still affected by her surroundings but she seems to care less and less with each day. She slowly learns how to survive and how to hold her own. Eleanor Parker’s Marie becomes a symbol for Caged’s message that punishment in prison can achieve the exact opposite result than intended.

Only in the end, the movie seems to rushed and that way makes her transformation seem too sudden but Eleanor Parker is still able to make this believable and chilling. She never loses the core of Marie’s character and shows that Marie did not change because she wanted to but because she had to and now this new personality has taken over her life.

Overall, Caged is not great but still effective in its portrayal of prison life. It also contains a mix of different acting styles as Eleanor Parker mixes theatricality with realism, Hope Emerson goes for pure camp (but in a good way) and the supporting cast is a wild mix of everything.

Overall, Eleanor Parker gives a very effective performance that wonderfully shows the change in her character. For this, she gets

3 comments:

Sage Slowdive said...

I had the same reaction, except liked her way more and gave her a 5 :)

Fritz said...

You're more generous than me! :-)

joe burns said...

Great writeup! But I still haven't seen this. I think you ranking will be:

1. Holliday

2. Swanson

3. Davis

4. Parker

5. Baxter