The Big Bird Cage (1972)

DVD Cover (New Concorde Home Entertainment)
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Terry, a social-climbing young woman accidentally gets caught up in the activities of two revolutionaries, Blossom and Django, and finds herself in a concentration camp for women. In the center of the camp is a towering wooden machine ("The Big Bird Cage") in which the women risk their lives processing sugar as the evil warden looks on. The prisoners are subjected to sadistic cruelty from the guards and fellow prisoners, and all attempts at escape are dealt with - permanently. Terry's only hope for escape lies in Blossom and her revolutionary allies. --IMDb
Pam Grier
Pam Grier
Anitra Ford
Anitra Ford
Candice Roman
Candice Roman
Teda Bracci
Teda Bracci
Carol Speed
Carol Speed
Review by Chad
Added: March 03, 2009
Exactly one year after the release of The Big Doll House, Jack Hill teamed up with all of the big names from that movie and put together his follow-up film. Now, let's be clear here: the two films were directed by the same guy, they were both produced by Roger Corman, they starred the same people, and hell, the plots were even similar... but this is not a sequel, and it's not exactly a rehash of the previous film either. What it is is Jack Hill presenting us with another take on the subject matter (his last foray into the genre before moving into full-on blaxploitation), and though it was a step down in quality from his previous release, it was a very small step.

In the opening scene, we watch as a band consisting of Blossom (Pam Grier) and Django (Sid Haig) perform for a group of social elites in a high-class nightclub. They abruptly end their set when Blossom starts yelling at Django for screwing up the guitar work, and to show just how angry she is, she snatches the instrument away from him and smashes it on a table. However, this was nothing but a ruse, as inside the guitar is a loaded machine gun. Yes, these two lovers are revolutionaries who had this all planned out as a way to rob these rich folks blind, but things get a little out of hand when Django spots the lovely Terry (Anitra Ford) and suddenly decides that taking a hostage would be a great idea. He throws her in his car and takes off into the night, but unfortunately for him, he never gets a chance to have his way with this woman as the cops quickly give chase.

At this point, Django pulls over on a bridge and jumps out of the car and into the river below, leaving Terry to explain what happened to the authorities. They don't believe a word that comes out of her mouth, and the fact that she's a controversial character to begin with seals the deal: it's off to a Filipino work camp for her. She quickly discovers that the warden at this camp is a cruel man who forces his inmates to work on a device known as the big bird cage, a very big and very primitive machine that... well, it does something, but I couldn't tell you what. She also meets the other ladies who call this camp home: there's Bull Jones (Teda Bracci), the "leader" of these women, Carla (Candice Roman), a horny blonde who wants nothing more than a little action, Karen (Karen McKevic), an almost Amazonian woman with a love for the ladies, and Lin Tsiang (Rizza), the camp snitch. There's also a gaggle of male guards who don't care for the hens on this island (but they sure love the cocks), and rounding out the cast is a couple dozen Filipino ladies.

Meanwhile, Blossom and Django are planning to infiltrate this camp in order to kidnap the women inside so that their revolutionary friends will have some female companionship on those lonely island nights. Their plan calls for Blossom to get herself arrested so that she can scope out the place from the inside, while Django will sign on as a guard and play the role of a gay Frenchman so that he can get in good (and I do mean get in good) with the other gay guards. A fool-proof plan? Not really, but it's a great way for us at home to spend ninety minutes.

I wouldn't go so far as to label this as a comedy and I won't even say that it's loaded with comedic elements, but it's certainly a more lighthearted affair than The Big Doll House and most other women-in-prison flicks. Yeah, there's the obligatory shower scene inserted for a dose of gratuitous nudity... but it doubles as an introduction to the sexual preferences of the male guard. There's also some fights and some blood is shed, but it's hard to take any of this too seriously when it's followed up by a blonde begging a guard to "switch to the other side" for just one night so that she can get a little lovin' or a woman who is a good foot taller than everyone else covering her nude body in chicken fat before chasing her love interest across the island.

Another thing that separates The Big Bird Cage from The Big Doll House is the amount of offensive material found within the running time. Now, this is to be expected from a seventies exploitation flick, but comparing the content of this release to that of the film that was released just a year prior is almost like night and day. Women can't go a week without sex and will turn to raping their fellow inmates if a man isn't available. Asian women are good, if you like Chop Suey. The black ladies are niggers, and then there's the whole gay thing that I've already mentioned a time or two in this review. You're likely to find a lot to bitch about if you're a thin-skinned person, but to bitch about it would be silly; the seventies was a different time in many ways, and this sort of thing comes with the territory.

I also enjoyed the interactions between Pam Grier and Sid Haig, especially since they were on the same page for a change. The two are normally cast as bitter enemies, and while watching them antagonize one another is always fun, it was a refreshing treat to see them as lovers for a change. Both of them are damned good in their roles, and fans of either of them will find a lot to love about their performances. If you're anything like me and happen to love both of them, well... you're going to love this movie.

Overall, The Big Bird Cage is a serviceable women-in-prison flick at its core, but it has the dynamic duo of Grier and Haig along with some oddball humor tossed in for flavor - two elements which raise it above the usual crop of showers-and-sex exploitation fare. As I said above, it's not quite as good as The Big Doll House, but it does come damned close. 8/10.
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