Saturday, January 28, 2017

Top 5: Cats in Old Hollywood Movies


Here's a list of the top five cats in old Hollywood films. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), starring Audrey Hepburn and a tabby named Orangey, is on the list.

From Lassie to Rin Tin Tin, dogs have always been old Hollywood's pet of choice, but, ever since the movies began, cats have had their place on the silver screen.

Cats were everywhere in silent films -- the early movie The Sick Kitten (1901) is a turn-of-the-century precursor to today's YouTube videos filled with cute kittys (you can watch it here) -- and stars like Mary Pickford, Clara Bow, and Charlie Chaplin enhanced their appeal with audiences by featuring felines in their films. Pioneering filmmaker Mack Sennett even had his own cat star, a Maltese named Pepper, who appeared in 17 films and became so popular that she was often featured in fan magazines.

Carole Lombard in a glamorous photo shoot with a black cat.
Cats appeared less often in sound movies. They are most memorable in animation: Tom of the Tom and Jerry cartoons is probably the most famous cat in all of cinema, not to mention Sylvester in the Looney Tunes cartoons and Walt Disney's array of famous felines (Lucifer in Cinderella, the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, The Aristocats). Also, cats, or at least the image of cats as temperamental, devious creatures, were often used as a potent symbol. That's why Elizabeth Taylor's spirited Southern belle in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1957) is nicknamed Maggie the Cat, and why Cary Grant plays a former jewel thief known as The Cat in To Catch a Thief (1955).

Today's list will consider cats in films who are companion animals. They appear in a diverse array of films from a beloved family musical to a groundbreaking film noir. So without further ado, here's the list of movies and where you can watch them.

L'Atalante (1934), dir. Jean Vigo

Pere Jules (Michel Simon) with one of his beloved cats in L'Atalante (1934).
Director Jean Vigo's profound masterpiece, L'Atalante, is about love lost and won, but it is also the cattingest movie of all time. According to legend, Vigo, a lifelong feline lover, was born in a cat-filled attic, and he filled the film with dozens of cats from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. As you can see from this clip, the cats had the run of the barge on which the movie was filmed (the big-hearted Michel Simon, who plays an uncouth barge hand, adopted the kitten that is riding on the phonograph). Streaming on Filmstruck. Blu ray, DVD, and video on demand.

I Remember Mama (1948), dir. George Stevens

Philip Dorn, Irene Dunne, and June Hedin (holding Uncle Elizabeth) in I Remember Mama (1948).
Director George Stevens warm family drama about a Norwegian immigrant family living in turn-of-the-century San Francisco features a somewhat scraggly tomcat called Uncle Elizabeth, who is the beloved pet of the family's youngest child, Dagmar (June Hedin). When Uncle Elizabeth gets badly injured in a cat fight, it leads to one of the best resurrection scenes in old Hollywood history (I don't want to give away too much, but apparently DIY euthanasia was quite common in aughties America). TCM at 1:15 a.m. Feb. 12. DVD and video on demand.

The Wizard of Oz (1939), dir Victor Fleming


This beloved family musical's alpha feline is Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion, but a Siamese cat has a memorable cameo in a pivotal scene. The Wizard (Frank Morgan) is giving his farewell speech to Oz's citizens, when a cat in the crowd attracts the attention of Dorothy's dog Toto (played by cairn terrier, Terry). The scrappy pup can't resist chasing the feisty feline, which leads to a premature exit for the Great Oz. FYI: The actress holding the cat is sometimes identified as Lois January, while other sources say it isn't her. DVD, Blu ray, and video on demand.

The Third Man (1949), dir. Carol Reed

Joseph Cotten and a cat on the Vienna set of The Third Man (1949).
The bombed-out ruins of postwar Vienna in director Carol Reed's British noir are filled with stray cats, and they all seem to have an affinity for arch-criminal Harry Lime (Orson Welles), which leads to one of the most iconic reveal scenes in all of cinema. In reality, Reed had a terrible time getting any cooperation from the typically finicky felines, and he finally had to slather sardine oil on Welles' shoes to get the shot he wanted. TCM at 9:45 p.m. Feb. 26 and 2:15 p.m. March 23. DVD, Blu ray, and video on demand.

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), dir. Blake Edwards

Audrey Hepburn and Orangey in a scene from Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961).
New York City party girl Holly Golightly's orange tabby, Cat, is a symbol of her independent nature: "We belong to nobody, and nobody belongs to us," Holly says at one point in the movie. Cat was played by a feline actor named Orangey, who was owned by legendary animal trainer Frank Inn. He made his film debut in the sweet film, Rhubarb (1951), about a cat who inherits a fortune, but his most famous role is probably in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Orangey was a real pro -- he won the animal Academy Award, the Patsy, twice -- who could spend long hours on the set, but he was known to be temperamental, sometimes running away and/or biting and scratching his human co-stars. TCM at 8 p.m. Feb. 4 and 5:45 p.m. April 26. DVD and video on demand.

Feel free to jump in and comment on your favorite cinematic cats in the comments section.




16 comments :

  1. What about "That Darn Cat" and "Thomasina"!! Also, the kitten paperweight in "You Can't Take it With You" ;)

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    1. Thank you. I meant to ask people to make their own choices in the comments section, but forget (It's added now).

      Great choices all, although it's been literally decades since I watched those Disney movies.

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    2. My sister watches them on a weekly basis so I have them practically memorized ;)

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  2. What about Blofeld's cat in several James Bond films?

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    1. Donald Pleasence with that cat is both menacing and hilarious

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  3. Also missed Meet Me In St. Louis.

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    1. I almost picked that movie instead of The Wizard of Oz

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    2. I thought of that movie, and Gigi.

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  4. "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1945) turns on the statue of a cat, Bastet, one of the gods of ancient Egypt, which, Lord Harry Wotton [George Sanders] warns his friend Dorian Gray [Hurd Hatfield], just might be able to grant him his wish. Not only is the statue of the cat in the portrait, but it also appears in many scenes, presiding, if you will, over the story.

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    1. That's a great example of cats being used in movies as symbols of supernatural power.

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  5. There's no story in Bell, Book & Candle without Pyewacket.
    (not to mention that's my favorite cat name)

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  6. "Alien" might not (yet) meet the definition of classic, but there's some great cat action in it, and at least some of the sequels. There's also a great cat-boy relationship in "Mrs. Miniver," which is unquestionably classic.

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    1. I usually cut off at 1970, just because you have to end somewhere, but Mrs. Miniver is an excellent choice.

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  7. Some great picks! I probably would have included THOMASINA and the Siamese cats from LADY AND THE TRAMP.

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    1. "We are Siamese if you please. We are Siamese if you don't please." So funny!

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