Take Five: Cats on Film

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.

Bing Crosby and the 'cat (or kitten) in the hat'

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!

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14 thoughts on “Take Five: Cats on Film

  1. John Greco

    Aaaaah Judy! Cats, my favorites! CLOAK AND DAGGER is a Fritz Lang film I have yet to see. Will have to look out for it. Anyway here are a few of my favorite feline flicks.

    Breakfast at Tiffany’s
    Harry and Tonto
    The Incredible Shrinking Man
    Bell, Book and Candle

    The feline in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’s was a cat named Orangey who made his film debut in RHUBARB back in 1951. Orangey also appeared in THIS ISLAND EARTH AND THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN. What a career!

    Reply
    1. Judy Post author

      Thanks very much for those, John, and for the info about Orangey’s amazing career. I was meaning to watch ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ before doing this posting, as I have it in an Audrey Hepburn box set and I knew it featured a cat, but time ran out… however I will definitely watch it soon! I knew you were a cat expert.:)

  2. Judy Post author

    Here’s another video my daughter showed me, a clip from a 1903 British short comedy, ‘The Sick Kitten’, with two children looking after a kitten (it doesn’t look sick at all to me!) which laps milk from a spoon. The little boy is dressed as a doctor, with a top hat. The picture quality is much better on this than on ‘Alice in Wonderland’ from the same year.

    Reply
  3. CagneyFan

    Count me as another cat lover! What a great post, Judy. And such fun, too. I enjoyed seeing the Alice in Wonderland cat. You’re right. He looked so very grumpy. I also watched the cat montage, and I must say it really cracked me up. So did the “sick kitty” short. The other cat (the one that didn’t get the “medicine”) in that vid had such pretty markings.

    Agree with John on the cat from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He comes to mind first when the subject of cats and film come up.

    Other cat actors I’ve recently seen include a very sweet white cat featured in Lady on a Train w/ Deanna Durbin and a pair of Siamese type cats in The Mask of Dimitrios.

    BTW, did you know that James Mason was a cat lover? In the late ’30s or early ’40s he and his wife wrote a book about cats. Mason himself did the illustrations which capture the essence of cats very well. I don’t have the book, but I’ve seen scans of his illustrations.

    Very much enjoyed this post!

    Reply
    1. Judy Post author

      Glad you enjoyed those classic movie cat videos, CagneyFan – I couldn’t believe it when I saw how many cats there were in l’Atalante, and was amused to see that the BFI has even christened its cats montage ‘C’Atalante’!

      Thanks for mentioning the other cat movies – I also just recently saw a key scene involving a cat at the end of ‘The Palm Beach Story’. Thanks also for mentioning James Mason – I had heard this and have also seen one or two of his illustrations, which I remember captured the essence of cats, as you say, though I don’t have the book either.

  4. Colin

    I’m not really a cat person but Bell, Book and Candle & Breakfast at Tiffany’s immediately sprang to mind when I read the post title. This Gun for Hire is another movie where a cat is used to symbolize Alan Ladd’s repressed humanity.

    Cloak and Dagger is probably Lang’s weakest Hollywood movie – not exactly bad but not particularly inspired either.

    Reply
    1. Judy Post author

      Colin, thanks for suggesting ‘This Gun for Hire’ – it’s one (of the many!) I’ve been meaning to watch. Interesting to hear about the cat representing a repressed side of Alan Ladd – this has now reminded me of the dog that Bogart looks after in ‘High Sierra’, which I’d forgotten about when I put together a previous posting on dogs in films, which also suggests a more human side to the character.

      I rather liked ‘Cloak and Dagger’ though I agree it isn’t one of Lang’s best – interesting to see how much he could do with two people closed in a room waiting for something to happen.

  5. ellenandjim

    I’ve become a cat person. I’ve read through this month’s blogs here. I liked some very much. I’ve the same problem of not being able to write a short blog. But you are appreciated.

    Reply
  6. Sam Juliano

    Well Judy, I am also a lifelong cat lover. Lucille and I presently own four (two were saved from an animal shelter; two others were offered to us as small kittens).

    There were cats all over the home of the Cat Woman in Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, but the murder that followed their showcasing wasn’t pleasant. Then there was the leopard in Hawks’s BRINGING UP BABY; Figaro in PINOCCHIO, the “cats” of THE LION KING, and “Tonto” in HARRY AND TONTO with Art Carney.

    Of course the most famous property of all containing cats is the aptly named “Cats” the theatre hit by Andrew Lloys Webber, which has still be make its movie debut.

    But I much enjoyed so many of the great choices here on Judy’s post and in the comment section.

    Vigo’s film is my favorite of all of these.

    Reply
    1. Judy Post author

      I saw ‘Bringing Up Baby’ recently – I’ve read that Cary Grant didn’t want to get too close to the leopard, and can’t say I blame him! An interesting list of suggestions there, Sam – I wonder if the musical Cats will ever be filmed now. Thanks very much for this!

  7. mndean

    There is the black cat roaming around in the silent comedy You’d Be Surprised, even heralding Raymond Griffith’s arrival.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: Super Bowl Champion Giants, The Kiss, Pretty Poison, The Innkeepers, Chronical, The Woman in Black and Kill List on Monday Morning Diary (February 6) « Wonders in the Dark

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