The Big Bird Cage (1972)
Director: Jack Hill
Writers: Jack Hill
Starring: Pam Grier, Sid Haig, Anitra Ford, Carol Speed and Candice Roman

The Plot: Terry (Anitra Ford) is a high class call girl who goes between many South American political figures. While out one night partying with one of these said officials, she is kidnapped by a group of revolutionaries who hold up Terry and the bureaucrats. This group is lead by two foreigners played by Blossom (Pam Grier) and Django (Sid Haig), a strange duo to say the least. When Django manages to ditch Terry on the side of the road, the police assume she was in on the heist and immediately sentence her to do hard time. She is lead to a small South American jail quite unlike anything in our own penal system. A small colony of huts with bamboo cages, this high class call girl is going to have to fight off any number of horrid obstacles in order to eventually find her way out of here. While she fights her battles within prison, we follow the revolutionary group on the outside as their leader Django puts Blossom to work in a plot to assassinate an official that ultimately leads to her capture. Now both Blossom and Terry are going to do their best to break out of the Big Bird Cage.

The Review
Continuing on in my exploration of this Roger Corman Filipino trilogy of women-in-prison movies, we find The Big Bird Cage which isn’t the shadiest of the three movies presented on the Women in Cages collection (from Shout! Factory), but it certainly isn’t devoid of the sleaze you would expect of the genre. Straight from the introduction, where we see Roger Corman’s “New World Pictures” pop up in giant bold yellow letters, this movie simply screams out for classic exploitation madness. This is what one expects from early seventies drive-in cinema and as we then watch a bevy of scantily clad, and beautiful, women come strolling down the mountainside… could things possibly get any better? With that question you might also ask “could we possibly find a less realistic depiction of a women’s prison?” To which the answer is: probably not, but that is most certainly the joy in a movie such as this one. Jack Hill doesn’t ask much from you only a slight suspension of disbelief and a brain that doesn’t mind having a bit of fun rather than being cynical.

From the three films (Women in Cages, The Big Bird Cage and The Big Doll House), this one enters even further into the realm of the surreal than any of the other pictures actually do. While each one of the films on this Women in Cages collection has at least one foot in the realm of the bizarre, The Big Bird Cage jumped right in without any contemplation. Between this ridiculously large prison set that the film takes place upon, which looks more like something out of the Amazon instead of on the outskirts of a city (as the rest of the film makes it appear), and the strange colorful lighting that is used throughout, we get the idea that we are watching something that takes place in a strange heightened version of reality. With a set of guards who are flamboyantly homosexual and a litany of over the top performances, The Big Bird Cage manages to defy all expectations of a regular Jack Hill production.

In keeping with the rest of the over the top behavior, the torture and violence of the genre makes a triumphant returns. While the torture is taken down a bit in comparison to the much sleazier Women in Cages, there’s still a great amount of violence to behold in this picture. The amount of violence inflicted by the guards on-screen doesn’t reach the heights of the previously mentioned film, but this is likely due to the punishers being men this time around, which might seem less tolerable than watching women do these things to one another for some members of the audience. The violence inflicted by the male guards is still quite difficult to stomach at points. There are many instances where these guards beat, slap or otherwise bully the girls in a very uncomfortable way. Even though they may be played for laughs as stereotypical homosexual males, the brutality of their violence is still strongly felt. It doesn’t help that these aren’t exactly small men, either. The few moments of true torture that the film does carry with it are exceptionally brutal. The notorious scene where Anitra Ford is strung up by her hair is infamous not only because of the strange nature of the torture, but also because Anitra Ford literally WAS strung up by her hair!

As is so often the case, Pam Grier shows up and completely steals the show once her character is unleashed inside of the prison. When this Blossom character hits the prison, the entire film seems to switch gears. Up until this point, all of the comedy had taken place in several vignettes between Pam Grier and Sid Haig’s characters. However, like an explosion of energy, much of the disturbing and dark atmosphere that dominates the early half of the film is blown away by Grier’s eager performance. With incredible dialogue, Pam Grier’s character takes over the prison community with lines like “Nigger! Who do you think you are!? You ain’t bigger than a minute!” and after being referred to as a foul word for African American’s Grier retorts with “That’s MS. NIGGER to you!!”. Never has it been so obvious to see an actress walk into a picture and utterly dominate the screen. She even involves all of the principle cast in a massive mudfight to prove her superiority. Patently offensive and sexist, the sequence is also quite hilarious and over the top. The funny thing is at this point in the movie, its not even the first mud bath that Grier has taken! The young actress brings something fresh to the movie as she delivers the comedy that she and Sid Haig had throughout the first third, but she delivers it by herself with an assortment of one-liners and impeccably cool charisma.

The Conclusion
Featuring a bevy of quotable lines, The Big Bird Cage is another exploitation classic that deserves the reputation and cinematic heritage that it has developed. A treat for the audience and one of the better women-in-prison movies you will find. It too earns a 4 out of 5.