Cage of Evil (1960)

US / 71 minutes / bw / Zenith, UA Dir: Edward L. Cahn Pr: Robert E. Kent Scr: Orville H. Hampton Story: Orville H. Hampton, Alexander Richards Cine: Maury Gertsman Cast: Ronald Foster, Pat Blair, Harp McGuire, John Maxwell, Preston Hanson, Doug Henderson, Hugh Sanders, Helen Kleeb, Robert Shayne, Owen Bush, Jack Tesler, Howard McLeod, Gregg Martell.

The voiceover narration of Inspector Daniel “Dan” A. Melrose (Maxwell) of the LAPD announces at the start of this movie that he’s going to tell the tale of how a cop—one of the most promising to have served under him—went bad. That cop is Detective Scott “Scotty” Harper (Foster), sent with his partner, Detective Murray Kearns (McGuire), to investigate a robbery at Delmar & Co., Wholesale Jewelers—a robbery during which a man was slugged: fatally so, it later proves.

Cage of Evil 0 - opener

Before it has become evident that this was an outside job, that things were set up by a fake burglar-alarm maintenance man, Harper has started smacking around one of Delmar’s trusted employees, the gemologist Claude Francen (Tesler)—to the horror of owner Victor Delmar (Shayne) and indeed of Detective Kearns, who has to haul Harper off. Later, when Harper discovers that he’s been passed over for a third time for promotion to lieutenant, we realize—and Melrose spells it out—that a main reason for the rejection is Harper’s tendency to default almost immediately to violence.

Cage of Evil 2 - Harper manhandles gem expert Francen as Delmar watches aghast

Harper (Ronald Foster) manhandles gem expert Francen (Jack Tesler) as Delmar (Robert Shayne) watches aghast.

Aided by Sergeant Ray Dean (Bush) from Records and by Tom Colton (Hanson), investigator for the Pacific Insurance Co., Harper, Maxwell and Kearns quickly narrow the field of suspects down to just a few, the most promising of which appears to be hoodlum Kurt Romack (McLeod) alias The Marquis. (We see Romack’s Records page and his name is given as Karl. However, he’s called Kurt everywhere else.) Romack has a moll, Holly Taylor (Blair), who works as a hostess at the swanky Bon Nuit Club (staunchly pronounced “bone nweet” in the voiceover). Harper and Colton go there to check her out and, if possible, to get close to her.

This Harper achieves by having another cop, Barney Sawyers (Henderson), pretend to be a pestering drunk from whom Harper rescues her. She responds by offering Harper a lift home but in fact taking him to her pad at the swish Waverley Apartments for a night of no-questions-asked-or-answered passion . . . except that the pair of them fall deeply for each other.

Cage of Evil 3 - Harper and Holly plot at the Bon Nuit

Harper (Ronald Foster) and Holly (Pat Blair) plot at the Bon Nuit.

And then Harper discovers about his failed application for promotion. Maxwell, who’d put in a warm recommendation for him, is as disappointed as he is himself, but gently offers the reminder about Harper’s rough methods. Harper doesn’t take that well:

Harper: “You wanna know what I think, Dan? I’ve been on this force for seven years. Seven years I’ve been learning how to be a good cop. I think I should have used all that time to play a little, oh, footsie with the brass downtown. Who knows? I might even be Chief by now.”

Maxwell (voiceover): “All the signs were right in front of me if I’d only been able to see them. The things Scott had stood for for seven years were falling apart . . .”

Holly gets a message from Romack that she’s to fix up a rendezvous at a motel between him and master-fence Martin Bender (Sanders) to trade the diamonds. She tells Harper this, and that she’s terrified Romack will realize she’s two-timed him with another lover and will kill her. When Harper tells her he’s a cop she’s initially horrified, but then suggests that, as a cop, he could surely kill Romack “in the line of duty”—a suggestion that Harper violently rejects. After going on a bender, however, he relents:

“You know, it’s real funny. Ever since I’ve been on the force I’ve been around hoods and thieves and killers—real stinking part of the human race. Always wondered if any of it’d rub off on me. Now I know.”

And so, when Romack turns up at Cherry’s Motel on Ventura Boulevard, he finds Holly and Harper waiting there for him, immediately smells a rat and pulls his gun, and is shot dead by Harper. However, Kearns has independently found out about the rendezvous and arrives in time to hear the two lovers plotting. He tries to arrest Harper, there’s a struggle, and Harper guns him down too . . .

For a while Harper gets away with the pretense that it was Romack who shot Kearns, and he’s even treated as a hero for killing Kearns’s killer, but the net is closing in. When the finale comes—Harper dying in the traditional noirish hail of (Mexican) cop bullets to lie dead among the stolen rocks—we’ve been expecting it for quite a while. Oddly, however, the frank predictability of proceedings throughout this movie is not so much irritating as somehow satisfying, as if we’ve watched a craftsmanlike performance of a dance whose steps we already knew well.

Cage of Evil 5 - The final shootout.

The final shootout — Harper (Ronald Foster) and Holly (Pat Blair) flee the Mexican cops.

 

Cage of Evil 6 - Cop on the rocks

Cop (Ronald Foster) on the rocks — the rocks he prized too much.

Edward L. Cahn’s greatest claim to fame is probably his direction of a string of the Our Gang shorts, from Joy Scouts (1939) to Three Smart Guys (1943), not to mention a number of SF/schlock movies, like It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), but he also made some films noirs and related movies, none of them—with the arguable exception of MAIN STREET AFTER DARK (1945)—distinguished. These include DESTINATION MURDER (1950), EXPERIMENT ALCATRAZ (1950), TWO DOLLAR BETTOR (1951), GUNS, GIRLS, AND GANGSTERS (1959), VICE RAID (1960), WHEN THE CLOCK STRIKES (1961) and INCIDENT IN AN ALLEY (1962). In Cage of Evil he succeeds in taking a passel of noirish ingredients—a corrupt cop, a femme fatale who’s a hoodlum’s moll, a doublecross, etc.—and making of them something that somehow doesn’t feel much like a film noir.

Cage of Evil 1 - Melrose briefs Harper

The way Melrose (John Maxwell) likes to remember Harper (Ronald Foster) — as one of the most promising young cops he’s trained.

 

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On Amazon.com: Cage Of Evil

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3 thoughts on “Cage of Evil (1960)

  1. Aye John, we actually did discuss Cahn’s resume on a previous thread under one of his other B films a few weeks back. You have me very intrigued with this review for a few reasons. First off, I come from a family of cops. My now 83 year-old father was a career policeman in my hometown, ascending near the end of his career to chief. Presently, one of my younger brothers, who is 54 was just named police chief on that same force, after better than 25 years on the job. I also have four uncles and cousins who are serving or have served. Alas I am a school teacher and couldn’t be less interested in that profession, though my fascination for the various corrections inherent in it has extended from noir to police procedurals to films where a good guy goes bad. In recent years I’ve embraced films like L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and SERPICO, THE DEPARTED and SERPICO among others, and I do like me a shortie of this kind. Yet I admit I haven’t seen it. Fabulous written and observed piece here.

    • Thanks as always for the kind words, Sam. Cage of Evil is yet another of these that’s hardly worth rushing out to buy/rent but certainly worth a quick watch if it turns up on TV. The real fascination for me was how Cahn managed to take so many noir ingredients (and just look at the screengrabs: how noiry can you get!) yet produce a movie that hardly has a noirish feel to it at all.

      Well, should you ever introduce me to any of your relatives, I’ll remind myself not to spit on the sidewalk.

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