The Big Doll House was not only a big suc­cess for New World Pictures, it was also a cru­cial film for Jack Hill.  It opened up the 1970’s leg of his career, mak­ing him a go-to guy for smart exploita­tion flicks that deliv­ered the goods with style and wit.  When it was time to make a Big Doll House fol­low-up, it was only nat­u­ral that pro­duc­er Roger Corman would turn to Hill.  Hill took the chal­lenge on and the result was The Big Bird Cage, a smart and col­or­ful piece of work that solid­i­fied his 1970’s style.

The plot for The Big Bird Cage is much more ambi­tious than its pre­de­ces­sor.  Our main iden­ti­fi­ca­tion fig­ure here is Terry (Anitra Ford), a sar­cas­ti­cal­ly fun­ny par­ty girl who finds her­self in pris­on after allow­ing her­self to get caught up in a night­club rob­bery mas­ter­mind­ed by self-styled rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies Blossom (Pam Grier) and Django (Sid Haig).  This pris­on dou­bles as a sug­ar cane plan­ta­tion and Terry and the oth­er inmates are ruth­less­ly worked by its war­den and guards to keep its “bird cage” — a mon­strous cane-press­ing machine — going all the time.

Terry is imme­di­ate­ly chal­lenged by the oth­er inmates — includ­ing the mouthy but dimi­nu­itive Mickie (Carol Speed) and the brash, self-styled lead­er Bull (Teda Bracci) — but she wins them over with her cyn­i­cal wit and defi­ant atti­tude.  While Terry tries to fig­ure a way out of pris­on, the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies decide they need some new num­bers to flesh out their ranks and fig­ure a jail­break at the pris­on is the way to do it.  Blossom allows her­self to be impris­oned and Django gets a gig as a guard — he has to pre­tend to be gay because the war­den only hires gay men to work around the wom­en.  Terry rec­og­nizes Blossom but keeps her mouth shut and they join forces for a fiery break­out.

If The Big Doll House set down the rudi­ments of the 1970’s Jack Hill style — tough and cool female pro­tag­o­nists, fem­i­nist & rev­o­lu­tion­ary themes, skill­ful action sce­nes, a lit­tle sex, off­beat humor — then The Big Bird Cage solid­i­fies that style and presents in a bold­er, more con­fi­dent man­ner.  Hill’s script has an ambi­tious scale to its ensem­ble and inci­dents but it nev­er los­es focus: instead, he dri­ves all the ele­ments home with a smart blend of dra­ma, cheap thrills and humor.

The humor ele­ment is real­ly pro­nounced, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the non-p.c. but enter­tain­ing sub­plot where Django must camp it up to fit in with the guards.  There’s also a focus on wild and out­landish ele­ments that raise the stakes on the film’s pulpy qual­i­ty — the “Bird Cage” struc­ture, the idea of women’s pris­on run by gay male guards and the pres­ence of an Amazonian, super-strong pris­on­er (unfor­get­tably played by über-stat­uesque mod­el Karen McKevic).  That said, Hill main­tains a care­ful bal­ance between the out­ré edges of the mate­ri­al and his themes and char­ac­ter­i­za­tions, nev­er let­ting one side over­whelm the oth­er.

Hill also gets fan­tas­tic per­for­mances from his cast: Ford’s sexy, con­fi­dent work as the hero­ine instant­ly ingra­ti­ates her with the view­er, as does Grier’s fiery turn as her rev­o­lu­tion­ary coun­ter­part.  Speed is fun­ny as a pris­on­er whose mouth writes checks her body can’t cash and Bracci plays her role with the brassi­ness of a low-bud­get Bette Midler.  Haig steals sev­er­al sce­nes in the lat­ter part of the film when he has to imper­son­ate a gay guard and he makes a strong action hero, to boot.   Equally wor­thy of men­tion is Filipino flick reg­u­lar Vic Diaz, who is a campy delight as the queen­ly head guard (his ulti­mate fate is also a moment for the exploita­tion-flick record books).

Finally, Hill’s direc­tion seals the deal with his sig­na­ture com­bo of craft and con­trolled ener­gy.  It moves at a snap­py pace with­out ever seem­ing rushed and he takes advan­tage of the Philippines locales to give it an impres­sive scope (Corman obvi­ous­ly gave him a big­ger bud­get and he uses it well, par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing the riot finale).  Whether he’s deal­ing with a moment of dra­ma, action or com­e­dy, he gives a sub­tle but sure-hand­ed touch and the end result moves like a smooth­ly-oiled machine.

In short, The Big Bird Cage is one the best and most flam­boy­ant wom­en-in-pris­on films to emerge from the genre’s fer­tile 1970’s peri­od — and anoth­er great Jack Hill film for exploita­tion flick col­lec­tors.  Needless to say, it’s required view­ing for all schlock fiends.

The Women In Cages Collection [Triple Feature]

The Women In Cages Collection [Triple Feature]

The Women In Cages Collection — Triple Feature       Pam Grier (Jackie Brown) joins a group of sexy, young female pris­on­ers in their strug­gle again­st a sadis­tic war­den in Big Doll House. This shock­ing­ly real film is per­haps one of the most influ­en­tial of all wom­en-in-pris­on films! Also star­ring Judy Brown, Roberta Collins (Death Race 2000) and Sid Haig (House Of 1,000 Corpses). Directed by Jack Hill (Spider Baby, Foxy Brown).Innocent Carol Jeffries (Jennifer Gan, Naked Angels) is framed by her drug-deal­ing boyfriend and ends up in a tough pris­on in the Philippines jun­gle in Women In Cages. She must face off again­st the sadis­tic war­den, Alabama (Pam Grier), who takes great plea­sure in alter­nate­ly seduc­ing and tor­tur­ing her pris­on­ers. Also star­ring Judy Brown and Roberta Collins. Directed by Gerry De Leon (Mad Doctor Of Blood Island).Inside the hell­ish women’s pris­on called The Big Bird Cage, inmates like Terry (Anitra Ford, The Price Is Right) strug­gles to sur­vive. They get their chance to escape when schem­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary Blossom (Pam Grier) engi­neers a pris­on break … from the out­side in. Also star­ring Carol Speed (Abby). Directed by Jack Hill.






The Women In Cages Collection [Triple Feature] (Blu-ray)

The Women In Cages Collection [Triple Feature] (Blu-ray)

The Women In Cages Collection — Triple Feature       Pam Grier (Jackie Brown) joins a group of sexy, young female pris­on­ers in their strug­gle again­st a sadis­tic war­den in Big Doll House. This shock­ing­ly real film is per­haps one of the most influ­en­tial of all wom­en-in-pris­on films! Also star­ring Judy Brown, Roberta Collins (Death Race 2000) and Sid Haig (House Of 1,000 Corpses). Directed by Jack Hill (Spider Baby, Foxy Brown).Innocent Carol Jeffries (Jennifer Gan, Naked Angels) is framed by her drug-deal­ing boyfriend and ends up in a tough pris­on in the Philippines jun­gle in Women In Cages. She must face off again­st the sadis­tic war­den, Alabama (Pam Grier), who takes great plea­sure in alter­nate­ly seduc­ing and tor­tur­ing her pris­on­ers. Also star­ring Judy Brown and Roberta Collins. Directed by Gerry De Leon (Mad Doctor Of Blood Island).Inside the hell­ish women’s pris­on called The Big Bird Cage, inmates like Terry (Anitra Ford, The Price Is Right) strug­gles to sur­vive. They get their chance to escape when schem­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary Blossom (Pam Grier) engi­neers a pris­on break … from the out­side in. Also star­ring Carol Speed (Abby). Directed by Jack Hill.