Stereotypically cats have been called aloof, sneaky, and manipulative. In reality, felines are independent, mischievous and self-aware. They are also smart, loving, affectionate and without trying very hard do some of the oddest, funniest things at the most unexpected times. Nothing against dogs, they are loyal, obedient, loving and always happy to see you; jumping around excitedly whenever you arrive back home. On the other hand, cats may lift their head up as if to say, “Oh it’s you.” That is, unless it is time to eat and you are late coming home. Dogs are anxious to please while cats, well cats play it cool. Want to find the most comfortable chair in the house? Just check where the cat is sitting.
I never had a pet as a kid except for a parakeet for what turned out to be a short period. One summer my parents left it with my grandmother while we went on vacation. Then one day my dear grandmother let the bird out of the cage to give it a little flying time. Unfortunately, she forgot one of the windows was open and well, it was bye, bye birdie!
I never had a dog or cat, never wanted one. Dogs were for other people: friends, relatives and strangers. Cats? Well, other than strays I would see in the streets I had no contact with them, that is, except for Sylvester from Looney Tunes Sylvester and Tweety cartoons.
Many years later, I met the woman who would become my wife and I had my first close encounter of the feline kind. Not just with a cat, but cats. Not one or two, but four furry felines! She told me, “If we were going to become serious I was going to have accept her feline family.” Like a woman with kids, it was a package deal. I quickly found myself living with four little furry felines that to not only my surprise, but to just about everyone who knew me, I fell in love with. I became an animal lover. I could tell you a lot more, but I will only add that we still have cats today.
With that let us move on to the films…
Cats have sometimes been given a bad rap in movies, viewed as menacing (Eye of the Cat) or associated with the occult (The Black Cat). Then there are the cats who are seen associating with the criminal element. Infamous thugs like the notorious James Bond nemesis Blofeld who always had a white Angora cat snuggling in his lap. That little dude made multiple appearances in many Bond films including From Russia with Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever and Never Say Never Again. The image of Blofeld and his cat has become so much a part of pop culture it was parodied by Mike Myers in the Austin Powers films with the wicked Dr. Evil and Mr. Bigglesworth, his Sphynx breed kitty. Then there is The Godfather, where Don Corleone holds a cat in his lap early in the film during his daughter Connie’s wedding to Carlo. The cat was an unexpected addition to the scene not in the original script. Director Francis Ford Coppola found the stray on the lot and thought it would add a nice human touch to the mob boss. In both these cases the addition of a cat added another level reflecting the opposite poles of the villain’s persona; warmth and affection on one hand, yet like the claws of a cat ready to attack if necessary.
In a better light cats are often viewed as companions in films like Romancing the Stone or Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Like dogs, they are part of the family. Let’s face it, and you pet parents have to admit this; how many of you talk to your pets and look at your four-legged family members as a source of comfort and unconditional love. Though there are times I ask myself, who’s really in charge here!
I have limited this list of some of my favorite cat films to those featuring real cats, meaning it excludes the animated ones pumped out by Disney, Pixar and so many others over the years. So don’t look for The Cat in the Hat, Simba, Felix, Figaro, Garfield, Fritz, Puss in Boots or any other ink, pencil or computerized feline. That’s another post.
Cats have been in movies since almost the beginning of cinema. The oldest I could find was The Boxing Cats (1894), a vaudeville act from someone named Professor Welton. The film was made by the Thomas Edison Black Maria studio. It’s a harmless, though a bit on the cruel side, scene of two cats in a small boxing ring with miniature gloves on their paws punching it out. The gloves at least stopped either of the cats from getting hurt.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) Coen Brothers I love this film for many reasons. There’s the pre-Dylan 60’s Greenwich Village folk scene which the Coen Brothers are spot on in recreating. The lead character is an asshole but Oscar Isaac’s performance still makes you care for him and he has a cat! Hell bent on keeping his artistic integrity intact, Isaac’s Davis, not the cat, he comes from nowhere and goes nowhere. Musically, Lleywn is stuck between being true to his personal vision or producing crass lightweight, Kingston Trio, type folk music like the film’s, Please Mr. Kennedy. This being the Coen Brothers, the humor ranges on the absurdist side of the street. I know some will disagree but this might just be the Coen’s best film since Fargo. I am not sure what the character’s or the Coen’s purpose was for the cat but he travels with Lleywn wherever he goes. Is he some kind of lifeline or support? Not sure but it adds just another level to an already interesting film.
HARRY AND TONTO (1976) Paul Mazursky
Directed by Paul Mazursky this warm and charming “buddy” movie stars Art Carney as Harry Coomes who along with his cat, Tonto, is evicted from their New York City apartment. Struggling with old age and the harsh life of city living, Harry decides to travel across the country with Tonto always by his side. Making various stops along the way, he visits his daughter, a former girlfriend, and befriends a teenage runaway before settling in California with his feline buddy. Carney won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance. He admitted at the time he did not like cats but also admitted he and Tonto got along well during the making of the film.
THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) JACK ARNOLD
One of the 1950’s best sci-fi films. Exposure to radiation and insecticide causes Scott Carey (Grant Williams) to slowly begin to shrink. Based on Richard Matheson’s classic novel this existential tale of a man’s battle against made man elements is B-filmmaking at its best. Scott continues to shrink, fighting the elements he once dominated, yet during this journey, which will lead to his non-existence, he becomes spirituality and mentally stronger. One of his threats is his household cat who now towers over him. Scott has decreased in size so much he is now lives in a doll house with the cat now the equivalent size of a prehistoric monster growling at him; sticking a gigantic claw through the doll house window attempting to capture his now mouse like size prize. The cat is played by Orangey, the award winning red Tabby and the only cat to win two PATSY awards (animal version of the Oscars). He first won the award for his performance in Rhubarb (1951). His second award was won for our next film on the list.
BREAKFAST AT RIFFANY’S (1961) BLAKE EDWARDS
Orangey is given the unimaginative name of CAT in this Blake Edwards film based on Truman Capote’s novella. Its human stars are Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard. By 1960, the feline superstar had already appeared in the aforementioned The Incredible Shrinking Man, Rhubarb, This Island Earth and Visit to a Small Planet. Later on he would be cast in Comedy of Terrors and Village of the Giants. On TV, he played Minerva in the Eve Arden TV show Our Miss Brooks. Having achieved this high level of screen success, Orangey continued to expand his horizons with his role in this off-beat love story. We have the rain filled ending with Hepburn frantically searching for CAT, his emotional meows, the reunion as she picks him up and soon he is squeezed between Hepburn and Peppard as the couple kiss with Moon River playing on the soundtrack. This remains one of the most romantic and touching endings in film. No wonder Orangey won a PATSY for his performance! And let’s face it, this was his sexiest part to date. He got to sleep with the lovely Ms. Hepburn. What a lucky boy!
MEET THE PARENTS (2000) JAY ROACH
Robert De Niro is the tough matriarch of the family and he has a cat, a beloved Himalayan cat named Mr. Jinx. De Niro, as we all know, played a young Don Corleone, another matriarch in another “family” who in his later years after he morphed into Marlon Brando held a beloved cat in his lap (see above) as he welcomes visitors to his inner domain. Coincidence? What does this mean? Well, nothing really, but the connection just struck me as I am writing this. Anyway, even when Mr. Jinx is not on screen his presence in Meet the Parents is felt. There’s a scene where De Niro’s Jack questions Focker (Ben Stiller) on why he doesn’t like cats. Focker explains, it’s not that he does not like cats, he is just more of a dog person. He goes on to say how he likes it when you come home and dogs wag their little tail. How they are oh so happy to see you. Jack’s response? Well, cats aren’t pushovers like that, they make you work for their affection, and they don’t sell out so easily like dogs. Mr. Jinx is all over this film. And of course he pees sitting on the toilet!
BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE (1958) Richard Quine
This is an entertaining and charming film thanks to a good cast (Kim Novak, James Stewart Jack Lemmon, Elsa Lanchester, Ernie Kovacs, Janice Rule and Hermione Gingold) and a beautiful Siamese named Pyewacket. However, it’s Pyewacket who’s the real star of this film as Gillian Holyrod’s (Kim Novak) feline buddy. Gillian is a modern day witch living in Greenwich Village. She develops a crush and falls in love with her neighbor, James Stewart. As the romance deepens Gillian faces the obstacle of losing not only her witchy powers but her cat who splits the scene as the love between Gillian and her mortal man gets serious. Pyewacket won the Oscar animal equivalent PATSY award that year. Nine different cats actually portrayed Pyewacket so I wonder how the award was split up? Novak, a well-known animal lover, must have had a ball working with all these feline friends.
There are plenty of other films with cats, way too many to list. Do you have you own favorite cat movie? Well, let’s hear it!
This is my contribution to the Animal in Film Blogathon. Click on the link below for more excellent entries.