Saturday, January 23, 2010
By Julia Williams
Although I can recall dozens of good movies about dogs off the top of my head, it’s not nearly so easy when it comes to good movies for cat lovers. The number of “felines in film” is quite limited, most likely due to a cat’s independent nature and their dislike of performing on command. Generally, felines don’t seek to please their master because they consider themselves to be the master, i.e., “top cat.” Cats certainly can be trained to do things, but not without a great deal of patience and time (cat treats help too). Dogs are far easier to train, and easier for directors, actors and film crews to work with. Nevertheless, here are a few classic cat movies that I think are worth watching.
That Darn Cat (1965)
This family-friendly cat movie from Walt Disney Productions features a wily Siamese cat named D.C. (Darn Cat) who inadvertently becomes an undercover cop for the FBI. It is laugh-out-loud funny, and good clean fun for all ages.
Synopsis: Robbers holding a bank employee hostage let D.C. into their hideout. Left alone with the cat, the hostage scratches “help” into a watch wristband and places it around his neck. D.C. returns home, whereupon the FBI decides to track the cat’s every move, in the hopes that he might lead them back to the crook’s hideout and help them crack the case.
Dean Jones stars as the good-hearted (but highly allergic to cats) FBI agent assigned to the case, and Hayley Mills plays D.C.'s doting owner and wannabe sleuth. After much sneezing, slapstick comedy and funny feline antics, the robbers are caught, the hostage is rescued, and all ends well. The feline star of That Darn Cat got rave reviews for his performance. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, "The feline that plays the informant, as the F.B.I. puts it, is superb. Clark Gable at the peak of his performing never played a tom cat more winningly.”
There was a 1997 remake of this Disney classic, also titled That Darn Cat, starring Cristina Ricci and Doug E. Doug, with a cameo appearance by Dean Jones.
This baseball comedy is an okay film that’s amusing and pleasant enough to watch. But what makes it a good movie for cat lovers in my opinion, is its outstanding feline star. Orangey was, as you might expect, an orange tabby cat. He was also a fine “actor,” garnering his first of two Patsy Awards, (Picture Animal Top Star of the Year, the animal equivalent of the Oscar).
Synopsis: an eccentric millionaire dies and leaves his fortune - and his pro baseball team - to his feisty cat. This sets in motion a comedic plot involving baseball, romance, court battles with disgruntled relatives who aim to prove that the cat is mentally unfit to control the old man’s money, and crooked gamblers who become “catnappers.”
Orangey, sometimes billed as Rhubarb the Cat and later named Minerva, was trained by the famous animal handler Frank Inn. Orangey won his second Patsy Award ten years after his breakout role in Rhubarb, for his portrayal of "Cat" in the classic 1961 Audrey Hepburn film, Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Harry and T0nto (1974)
Art Carney won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal of Harry in this great movie. Harry and Tonto was also nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture.
Synopsis: Harry, a retired teacher and widower in his 70s, lives in New York City with his best friend, an orange tabby cat named Tonto. When the building is condemned, Harry and Tonto begin an adventuresome journey across the United States. They visit his children, make new friends, and meet all sorts of bizarre characters from all walks of life.
Harry and Tonto is a wonderful film that children and adults, cat lovers, and fans of thoughtful, heartfelt movies will all enjoy. Incidentally, the other Oscar nominees for Best Actor that year included Jack Nicholson (Chinatown), Al Pacino (Godfather Part II), and Dustin Hoffman (Lenny). Many people, including Art Carney himself, were astonished that he won.
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