Cage Without a Key

I had fallen asleep during the Johnny Carson show, so I didn’t see what Richard Pryor and Sean Penn had to say on October 9, 1986. When I awoke, I read an e-mail telling me that a FedEx package was on the way with information about my Super Bowl tickets. I was beginning to think that I had been forgotten. The rain came down hard at times during the morning, but I escaped to the office for a while. I watched the TV movie “Cage Without a Key,” starring Susan Dey. It originally aired on CBS on March 14, 1975. It had some bad acting in it, although it managed to show disturbing things about minors in reform school. Susan Dey is Valerie Smith, a 17-year-old who has just graduated from high school. She is on a trip to San Francisco, but somehow her friend’s car breaks down, and she accepts a ride from Sam Bottoms, who turns out to be the crazy and murderous Buddy Golenta. There are a lot of sexual advances towards Valerie, who was dumb to go on this ride, but her friend was really the biggest idiot in the world for just saying, “Go on ahead without me.” Nobody in these movies has the slightest bit of sense. The juvenile court system was a sham, with the judge being the biggest moron of all time. This reform school, called the San Marcos School for Girls, is a place where accidents happen, but the people in charge are oblivious to who the dangerous characters are. It seemed like a combination of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “The Longest Yard,” and “The Shawshank Redemption.” We do get a glimpse of homosexuality, a word that Valerie can barely get out of her mouth. I don’t recall whether this was sensationalism in 1975. Some of the message are heavy-handed, such was standard for these TV movies. The Asian woman who played Suzy Kurosawa was terrible with her acting, and worse at trying to look like a teenager. The script does have some contrived business going on at the end. Susan Dey’s character did go into hysterics at times, rather effectively, but also reminding us that the character was young and still not fully mature. I don’t know how anybody with any sense whatsoever could believe they could break out of that place and have any kind of life, and this was even before the age of information and communication we now have. The three cast members to watch are Susan Dey, Sam Bottoms, and Katherine Helmond. I thought Sam Bottoms was pretty good in this role as Buddy Golenta. He had that inability to connect with women and that self-absorption that made him despicable. Bottoms would go on to play the surfer Lance Johnson in “Apocalypse Now.” Some of his last credits were for “Seabiscuit,” “Shopgirl,” and “Sherrybaby.” He died in December 2008. Katherine Helmond has had notable television roles, and she is still alive at 86. There are some good qualities to television movies, namely that there is always a hook for the audience, something to lure them in. At least someone cares whether you’re paying attention. The bad thing is the cheap quality, with the budget cast, and the nondescript look to the production. “Cage Without a Key” was filmed at Las Palmas School for Girls in Commerce, California. I don’t remember “Born Innocent,” or how this movie was received after its airing. You would never mistake this movie for Hitchcock’s “The Wrong Man” in terms of the craft of filmmaking. Some of the people who died on January 7 include Larry Williams (1980), Trevor Howard (1988), Dizzy Gillespie (1993), Avery Schreiber (2002), and Ingrid Thulin (2004). Today is a birthday for Katie Couric (59) and Kenny Loggins (68).

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