Lady in a Cage is a 1964 American psychological thriller film directed by Walter Grauman, written and produced by Luther Davis, and released by Paramount Pictures. It stars Olivia de Havilland, and features James Caan in his first substantial film role.
When an electrical power failure occurs, Mrs. Hilyard (Olivia de Havilland), a wealthy widow recuperating from a broken hip, becomes trapped between floors in the cage-like elevator she has installed in her mansion. With her son Malcolm (William Swan) away for a summer weekend, she relies on the elevator's emergency alarm to attract attention, but the only response comes from an alcoholic derelict, George (Jeff Corey), who enters the home, ignores her pleas and steals some small items.
The wino sells the stolen goods to a fence, then visits his prostitute friend, Sade (Ann Sothern), and tells her of the treasure trove he has stumbled upon. The expensive goods George fenced attract the attention of three young hoodlums, Randall (James Caan), Elaine (Jennifer Billingsley) and Essie (Rafael Campos). The trio follows George and Sade back to the Hilyard home, where they conduct an orgy of violence, killing George the wino and locking Sade in a closet.
Randall then pulls himself up to the elevator and taunts Mrs. Hilyard with a note left behind by her son Malcolm, in which he threatens suicide because of her domineering manner. Shocked by the revelation, Mrs. Hilyard struggles with Randall, escapes the elevator, and crawls out of the house. Randall follows and, as he is attempting to drag her back inside, Mrs. Hilyard gouges his eyes, but is dragged inside by his accomplices. As she crawls back outside, the blinded assailant stumbles into the street and is run over by a passing automobile, whereupon police arrive to arrest the surviving intruders and comfort the victim.
The film was based on an original idea by Luther Davis. He was working on a play about the effect of a power outage on the inhabitants of a house in oil country in the Midwest; it turned into a battle for survival. Davis then felt he could shift the action from a house to an elevator "since like so many New Yorkers I have a sense of claustrophobia in these little automatic elevators."
Davis later had he was also inspired by the New York blackout of 17 August 1959. He knew a lady who was stuck in a private elevator on the Upper East side; she called for help and was heard by two men who raped her. Other influences were the cases of Olga Romero and Kitty Genovese.
During his research, Davis learned that all elevators in New York have to be equipped with a phone, which would have ruined the story, so the film is set in an unnamed city.
The film was announced in August 1962 with Ralph Nelson to direct and Robert Webber attached as star. Joan Crawford and Elizabeth Montgomery were being sought for the female lead. Rosalind Russell was offered the part but turned it down. In December 1962 Olivia de Havilland was announced as star. Her fee was $300,000.
By February 1963 experienced TV director Walter Grauman signed to make his feature debut a director.
Filming took place in February 1963 at Paramount Studios. It took 14 days and de Havilland called the experience "wonderful" praising the talent of James Caan.
The film was profitable for Paramount.