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A classic Film Noir and the Ur-Example of a women's prison film. The screenplay was adapted by Virginia Kellogg from the book Women Without Men, which she co-wrote. The film was directed by John Cromwell and starred Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorhead, Ellen Corby and Hope Emerson.
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Marie Allen (Parker) is a teenage newlywed sent to prison for being an accidental accomplice to her husband's crime. Throughout the course of the story, she goes from doe-eyed innocent to hardened jail bird.

The film was nominated for three Oscars - Best Actress (Eleanor Parker), Best Supporting Actress (Hope Emerson) and Best Adapted Screenplay. Max Steiner composed the music.


Tropes:

  • Backstabbing the Alpha Bitch: Elvira Powell arrives in prison and uses power play to usurp the Alpha Bitch spot from Kitty Stark.
  • Birth/Death Juxtaposition: Marie finds out she is two months pregnant shortly after her husband's death.
  • Break the Cutie: Marie is steadily broken over the course of the film, but the loss of her pet kitten and subsequent haircut at Harper's hands finally do it.
  • Break the Haughty: Kitty Stark is the Alpha Bitch but gets put into solitary confinement after a bribe from Elvira Powell.
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  • Captivity Harmonica: The Christmas Eve party sees one of the women bust out a harmonica and start playing, after which all the others sing a folk song. It's one of the few happy moments in the movie, although it's still undercut by a bitter Marie refusing to sing along.
  • Catchphrase: Smoochie's "I got news for you".
  • Cute Kitten: Marie finds a stray one and keeps it hidden as a pet.
  • Downer Ending: Marie leaves prison now as a member of Elvira Powell's shoplifting gang, completely hardened and her innocence now gone.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Evelyn Harper is only the matron, but she can get away with abusing the girls because she's a political appointee. In this case, the police commissioner refuses to fire her.
  • Driven to Suicide: June hangs herself after being denied parole.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Harper's underlings protest when she goes behind Benton's back to punish Marie. They still go through with it but warn her Benton won't be happy.
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  • Fanservice: This film anticipates the more explicit T&A of later Girls Behind Bars movies with a shot of the shapely calves of several prisoners, lined up under the shower heads in the prison shower.
  • Girls Behind Bars: One of the most famous examples, though it's tamer than most. There is that one scene of a lot of leggy girls in the shower, there's a vague comment from Kitty that if you're in prison too long, you forget about men, and there's the newspaper headline that vaguely hints at lesbianism ("prison immorality").
  • Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook: Played very straight with Marie. She's only sentenced to fifteen months due to being an accidental accomplice, but gets broken by the environment.
  • Hate Sink: Evelyn Harper is a cruel matron who abuses her power, torments the girls, takes bribes from other prisoners and undermines the benevolent Ruth Benton. What's more is that she can't be fired for her abuse due to political connections.
  • Hellhole Prison: Mainly due to Evelyn Harper's cruel treatment of the girls, but it still fits.
  • Hope Spot: Marie gives birth to a healthy baby boy and grants temporary custody to her mother and stepfather, intending to take care of him when she's released. Her mother refuses to take the baby and she's forced to permanently adopt it out. She's also denied parole.
  • Innocence Lost: Marie by the time she gets out of prison.
  • Institutional Apparel: The girls wear the standard grey jumpsuits.
  • It's All About Me: Marie's mother refuses to take on her grandchild, claiming her health isn't up to it and she doesn't have enough money.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: Evelyn Harper has been getting away with abusing the girls for years due to Loophole Abuse. Kitty is eventually broken by her latest stunt and stabs her to death in the mess hall.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Harper's cruel treatment of the inmates really bites her in the ass when Kitty Stark, broken from her month in solitary, stabs her to death with a fork in the mess hall. As she's so unpopular, no one intervenes and the inmates cheer Kitty on.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Marie is this when she arrives, but she has that slowly beaten out of her.
  • The Old Con: The old lady serving a life sentence for murder. She's tough enough that even Harper is afraid of her, but she's also regretful about wasting her life behind bars and gives Marie some good advice that Marie ignores.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Kitty's reasons for stabbing Harper to death, as killing her is the only way to free the rest of the girls from her treatment.
  • Prison Riot: Harper causes one by accident when she tries to take Marie's kitten away.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Ruth Benton is the superintendent who only wants to reform the girls and see them improve their lives. Unfortunately Evelyn Harper ignores everything she says.
  • Sanity Slippage: Kitty suffers this after being put in solitary confinement for a month.
  • The Sociopath: Evelyn Harper appears to be one. She's cruel to the girls seemingly For the Evulz and delights in tormenting all of them both physically and psychologically. She even does this to Marie when she first arrives, forcing a pregnant woman to do hard labor.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Marie finds out she's two months pregnant with her dead husband's baby. Subverted when her son gets put up for adoption and Marie never sees him again.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Convinced that she'll never be accepted as anything but a criminal, Marie joins Elvira Powell's gang.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Kitty does this a lot after her month in solitary.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Threatened by Harper for any severe rule breaking. She carries it out on Marie after the kitten is found.
  • Verbed Title: Caged
  • Wardens Are Evil: Evelyn Harper is one of the most evil prison wardens in film history. While Ruth Benton subverts the trope, Harper still has the power and abuses it to great extent.
  • While You Were in Diapers: "I was queen of the con women when Claire was wearing diapers," says the old lady who has committed multiple murders and is serving a life sentence. She's the only con that Harper is afraid of. And she delivers this line right before telling Marie to avoid the temptation of a life of crime and suck up as much jail time as she has to, so that she can go straight.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: Elvira "Vice Queen" Powell's arrival in prison might be a news story, but it probably doesn't need to be a front-page headline worthy of V-J Day. And "Matron Charges Prison Immorality" takes up an entire front page.
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