Since writing a posting about dogs on film a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been wondering about cats’ roles in the movies- and have now come up with a few, with some photos and video clips. Individual cats might tend not to play big parts, but there are still quite a few featured in movies. Once again, these are not necessarily the best five movie cats, but just five I like – and I’d be interested to hear other suggestions. I don’t have much time tonight, but wanted to keep up my Monday series – and I will also hopefully be posting a full movie review later this week!
Alice in Wonderland (1903): My daughter, Charlotte, drew my attention to this very first film version of Lewis Carroll’s classic. Just nine minutes long, it has been restored by the BFI complete with the original colour tints. The Cheshire cat in this is a family pet and looks amazingly grumpy! It was directed by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow, and was based on Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations – and, as the BFI points out, made just 37 years after the novel was written. The film is severely damaged and not easy to watch, though I think it is worth it – but, if you don’t have time for the whole thing or can’t put up with the picture quality, the cat features at 4.56.
L’Atalante (1934): I’ve just seen this humorous and poignant 1930s French classic, directed by Jean Vigo, in a beautifully restored print at the BFI in London – and was surprised to realise just how heavily cats feature in the film. It’s the tale of a young girl, Juliette (Dita Parlo) who is desperate to escape from a village and impulsively marries a handsome young bargeman, Jean (Jean Dasté), but all too soon discovers that life on the barge is just as confined as in the village. Her new husband does the washing only once a year, bundling dirty clothes into cupboards, and also has little idea of how to entertain her. Père Jules, Jean’s older, heavily tattooed sidekick, has a cabin full of souvenirs from his travels – but his real love is cats. He is constantly accompanied by a host of cats and kittens, seeming to represent his more relaxed and generous attitude to life in comparison to the uptight Jean. I loved an early scene where Père Jules puts a kitten on his shoulder and it then clings there as he walks around – years ago I had a pet kitten which would do exactly this. Anyway, here is a special cat montage from the film made by the BFI – I especially like the clip of the cats listening to a gramophone on the boat.
The Bells of St Mary’s (1945): I watched the two Leo McCarey films starring Bing Crosby as a priest, Father O’Malley, over Christmas (they both have seasonal scenes), and enjoyed them, with reservations. Some scenes seemed forced and sentimental – blarney with the older priest in Going My Way, and feisty nun Ingrid Bergman training a bullied youngster to box in The Bells of St Mary’s, for instance. But other parts of both films rang true, and I thought the friendship/unspoken love which grows up between Crosby and Bergman in this film is especially moving, as these two lonely people reach out to one another and agree to disagree in some areas, especially over educational methods. Anyway, this film has a sweet scene with a cat early on, where Father O’Malley is giving a talk to the nuns and can’t understand why they are all laughing, worrying that he is being unintentionally funny – and not realising that a kitten is busy climbing in and out of a hat behind his back! I’ve seen this described as the original “cat in a hat” scene. I haven’t managed to find this clip online, unfortunately, but here is a still. Staying with animals, the same movie also has an amusing scene with a yawning dog in church.
Cloak and Dagger (1946): This movie released just after the end of the Second World War was directed by Fritz Lang, and has a film noir feeling about it, with moody dark cinematography by Sol Polito. I won’t recount the whole plot, but Gary Cooper stars as a brilliant nuclear scientist Alvah Jesper, who is sent on an undercover mission to wartime Italy, where he is hidden by an Italian partisan, Gina (Lilli Palmer) – and, as the couple are shut up together in a flat, they find themselves falling in love. However, Gina is much more cynical and hardened than Alvah because of all she has been through during the war, and the difference between them is dramatised by their different reactions to a cat miaowing pitifully outside their door. Gina suspects a trap and wants to ignore the hungry creature, but Alvah can’t harden his heart that much and fetches the cat in – even though he may be making them both vulnerable by doing so. I don’t think this is one of Lang’s greatest films, but it is still compelling to watch. Sorry, I haven’t managed to find a picture of the cat in this film, but it does play an important role.
Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008): OK, this is a modern film rather than a classic. This movie from Gurinder Chadra (Bend It Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice director) is a gentle British teenage romantic comedy, adapted from a bestselling book for young girls, which, as far as I remember, has nothing to do with thongs and not all that much to do with snogging! However, it does feature an amazingly talented cat – the “Angus” of the title, pictured here. Georgia Groome stars as 14-year-old Georgia, whose love of cats brings her together with a new boy in town. But the real star of the show is the cat, Angus, who is prepared to do anything from eating out of a spoon to walking on a lead, and lets Georgia’s younger sister dress him up in ridiculous outfits, looking tolerant and slightly bored!