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November 8, 2014

The Big Bird Cage

by Franz Patrick


Big Bird Cage, The (1972)
★★★ / ★★★★

Django (Sid Haig), a guerrilla leader in the Philippines, and his girlfriend, Blossom (Pam Grier), rob a local joint filled with the rich and influential. Taken by the beauty of Terry (Anitra Ford), proud of her white-hot sexuality and powerful influence on men, Django takes her hostage. Chaos ensues and Blossom is separated from Django.

Meanwhile, Terry is suspected of being one of the criminals so she is thrown into a sadistic prison for women where inmates are required to perform tough manual labor. Back in Django’s camp, the men itch for female companionship. One of them has a brilliant idea: to liberate hundreds of women from the nearby prison.

“The Big Bird Cage,” written and directed by Jack Hill, is an exploitation film that is offensive at times and yet it is enjoyable to sit through because it is willing to make fun of all sorts of people. The most obvious and easiest target is women. Inside the self-contained community, we observe women with barely any clothes on, sometimes fully nude, as they go about their business in the field and in their bunks.

It is so unafraid to be so silly that one of them, who eventually becomes one of my favorite characters, blonde giantess Karen (Karen McKevic), applies chicken fat all over her body and runs around with nothing but her birthday suit in order to finally get her hands on her rival. As she sprints across the grassy terrain, men and women touch every inch of her body—supposedly attempting to stop her—but the acting is so bad that it comes across like playtime. That scene is so pointless and out of nowhere but I laughed with it because it was something I had never seen before. In retrospect, it can almost be considered an outtake.

But its target is not just women. Two of the guards (Vic Díaz, Subas Herrero) are portly homosexuals. Like Django’s men, they also crave sexual companionship. In order to infiltrate the prison, Django eventually must pretend to be a rookie guard who happens to be gay. And while some of the guerrilla leader’s interactions with the guards might be interpreted as offensive, I digested the images on screen as a part of a good time.

Since everything is poked fun of, even down to racial slurs, not only does the playing field comes across even, the film gives the impression that just about anything can happen. I did not feel hatred or mean-spiritedness emanating from the material. People who will enjoy this film most are those with an open mind to experience everything as is.

Furthermore, Grier’s performance has to be commended because she brings gravity into the film. She is not always front and center but when it is her turn to speak and wield a gun, our attention is on her only. I wished that Grier is given more to do or that the writer-director has given her character a more in-depth background because the film really comes alive when it is her turn to put what she has to offer on the table.

Blossom eventually takes on the role of a liberator. It would have been more interesting if the audience knew what that job means to her—or does not mean to her—as, not just any woman, but as a black woman trying to survive in a foreign country that equates dark skin as less than.

“The Big Bird Cage” is an unexpected goofy delight despite the sleaze. Look closely and try to keep a straight face as the actors attempt to pronounce their lines, accents and all, with appropriate solemnity.

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