The Big Bird Cage (1972) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Roger Corman made plenty of Women in Prison movies, and Pam Grier starred in a bunch, so it's no surprise that their paths crossed on three WIP flicks. The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage, and Women in Cages. The Big Doll House was the usual WIP formula, the other two a bit different. In Woman in Cages, Pam is the Head Matron, not a prisoner. In this film, The Big Bird Cage, Pam goes to an outdoor detention camp on purpose, to help a fellow gang member engineer a break - all to provide personnel for a revolution.

Sid Haig plays Pam's co-conspirator, and he's pretty funny in this. Although he's a tough revolutionary and gangster, he pretends to be a fancy lad in order to get the guards interested in him. The premise of the film is that this woman's detention camp is run entirely by male homosexuals. This was apparently designed by the government to minimize the abuse that woman normally get from lesbians or hetero males. This actually makes some sense, when you think about it. Would that we had such enlightened thinking in our own prison system.


These is nudity in many scenes, most of it anonymous Filipino prisoners falling out of their blouses and taking showers. Among the stars:
  • Pam Grier does no intentional nudity, but her nipples fall out in a fight scene.
  • Karen McKevic is completely nude from all angles in a scene in which she covers herself with chicken fat.
  • Anitra Ford shows everything, but all very briefly.
  • Candice Roman shows her buns and breasts
  • Teda Bracci shows breasts in a shower scene.
  • Carol Speed showed one breast in a down-blouse just before she is crushed in the Big Bird Cage.
  • Rizza Fabian as the warden's stooge, shows breasts after being with the warden, and again in a transparent t-shirt at the end.
  • Wendy Green shows breasts in a mud fight with Greer.
  • Several other women also rolled around together in the mud.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • no widescreen

  • full-length director commentary - unusual for a zero budget 1972 movie.

Sid has a great opening scene. He's playing the guitar in a casino, waiting for a chance to pull off an armed robbery. After he robs the place, he kidnaps a sexy girl, but the extra passenger means there is no room in the getaway car. So he takes a cab! When he sees that he'll be caught, he stops the cab on a bridge and jumps into the river, leaving his "victim" to take the fall for him.

You can't take this one very seriously for 90% of the movie, but the last 10% is non-stop violence and mayhem, including the deaths of all the characters you identified with, and most of the other characters as well. It's low budget and not a very good movie, but it delivers as an exploitation flick with cheap gags, nudity, and sensationalism.

In addition, there is an unexpected treat. The photography of the hillside rice patties is often spectacular.

Tuna's Thoughts

The Big Bird Cage (1972) is a Roger Corman production directed by Jack Hill, who could credibly claim to have invented WIP films with The Big Doll House, and Blacksploitation with Coffey. The Big Doll House was a huge financial success, and Hill planned on a sequel, but, by the time he was ready, most of the actresses from Doll House had appeared in several WIP films for other studios, and the WIP market was a little over-exposed as well, so he decided to make a genre spoof. He stuck with Pam Greer and Sid Haig for the leads, but had an all new cast for the rest. Haig's character was called Django, after a word the Filipinos called him. It wasn't until later that they learned the word was an insult, and meant monkey, which was a dig at his beard.

Director Hill came from a show business family. His father was a set designer for Warner Brothers and Disney studios (he did the Disneyland Castle, Tom Sawyers Island, and a lot of Main Street), and designed the "Big Bird Cage," which supposedly ground sugar cane. The machine actually functioned, but did not actually do anything useful. Hill attended USC and worked on student productions with classmate Francis Ford Coppola. Both went to work for Roger Corman. There was no specific budget for this film. Roger, as he often did, said to make it is cheaply as they could. It ended up costing about $150k. Part of the reason it was so cheap is that they used local camera crews and a DP, who did excellent work.

Greer purposely gets arrested so main squeeze Haig could start his revolution by storming a bastille. At the same time, he figured that liberating a couple hundred women would be a nice incentive for recruiting his army. The prison is run by a sexually repressive hard-ork-as-therapy warden (sounds like the religious right in the US), and the women are treated abysmally, and thus are willing to risk an escape. The guards are all gay, which keeps the women chaste, and provides Haig a way to infiltrate.

There is plenty of exposure. The film was not a big hit when released, but has a far larger cult following today then the smash hit Big Doll House. As a WIP, it is far from the best, but as a genre spoof, it is excellent. Watched with the right expectations, I think most will be entertained. C+

The Critics Vote

  • no major reviews on line

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDB readers say 4.6 of 10


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C. (Tuna C+) Ok WIP film, watchable because of its humor and sheer over-the-top goofiness.

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