A friend of ours, Patricia Barry, has just had a book published. Julia’s Cats is about the feline companions of the late chef and TV star Julia Child. In our shameless wish to plug our pal’s book we’ve decided to look at classic movies which feature cats as co-stars.
Joe Morella and Frank Segers here to scratch the surface of a new idea. Are cats in classic films? Why not? They’re everywhere else.
Joe has thought of four films which might be considered classics which feature a feline actor.
1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s is an unqualified classic (Joe sez; Frank not so sure) and ‘cat’ –Holly Golightly’s pet — is integral to the story. Although the animal actor (Orangely) did not get billing with Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard, he did win the animal version of the Oscar, the PATSY (Picture Animal Top Star of the Year).
And it wasn’t Orangey’s first win either. He’d copped the PATSY back in 1951 for his performance in Rhubarb. In that he costarred with Ray Milland and Jan Sterling.
Rhubarb is the second of Joe’s recommendations. It’s an odd film that defies categorization, often referred to as a noir comedy based on a H. Allen Smith story about a cat who inherits a professional baseball team.
Not a great film, but worth seeing for the cast (James Stewart, Jack Lemmon, Hermione Gingold, Ernie Kovacs, Elsa Lanchester, Janice Rule and the gorgeous Kim Novak) is Bell Book and Candle, adapted from the John Van Druten play. Its cat star was Pyewackit (who won the PATSY that year), pictured below with Kim.
It should be noted that classic movies with ‘cat’ in the title aren’t necessarily about cats. Two of Frank’s very favorite classic titles are RKO producer Val Lewton’s 1942 title Cat People, directed beautifully by Jacques Tourneur, and the film’s sequel, 1944’s The Curse of the Cat People, also produced by Lewton.
The first is about a woman (Simone Simon) and a panther. The second is feline-less, focusing instead on a lonely little girl given to fantasy, the only child of doting parents. Both these movies are gems, not to be missed.
Perhaps the most cat-centered movie we know of comes from Japan. It’s The Adventures of Chartran, a mid-Eighties family-oriented adventure in which several felines were used to play the ‘lead’ part of an orange tabby cat who braves several close calls in the wild. The picture was a huge hit in Japan but was adapted for U.S. release — as 1986’s The Adventures of Milo and Otis, pairing the cat with a pug canine and attaching a Dudley Moore narration — and promptly bombed at the box office.
Another of Joe’s ‘cat as co-star in possible classics’ is Harry and Tonto, director Paul Mazurski’s 1974 film which established the then tv-only star Art Carney as a serious movie actor, and won him an Oscar. It’s about an elderly man who takes his cat along on a cross-country journey. The cat, billed as Tonto, won the PATSY.
But there was an outcry that year from dog lovers.
Higgins a mutt who’d portrayed Benji, in the 1974 film of that name, was the odds on favorite. Directed by Joe Camp, Benji tells the tale of an courageous canine who thwarts the kidnapping of two children. Higgins had been voted into the Humane Society’s Animal Actor’s Hall of Fame, the only other animal besides Lassie, who’d been so honored.
Many felt that Carney’s Oscar win had swayed voters to compliment Tonto in the same fashion. So he, not Higgins, won the PATSY.