The Shadow of the Cat, as its name suggests, is a Major Cat Movie. It’s also a Hammer film in all but name (the official production company was BHP), having been filmed in some of Hammer’s favourite stomping grounds – Bray Studios and Black Park.

It was directed by John Gilling, who would go on to direct Hammer’s celebrated Cornish diptych, The Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile, and features such Hammer stars as André Morell (who played Professor Quatermass in the original TV serial Quatermass and the Pit, as well as Doctor Watson to Peter Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes in Terence Fisher’s The Hound of the Baskervilles) and Barbara “We are the Martians now” Shelley.

The very fine black and white cinematography is by Arthur Grant, another Hammer stalwart.

Spot the tether holding the cat in place on the stairs!

Spot the not-so-subtle tether holding Tabitha in place on the stairs!

The film begins with elderly Ella Venable (Catherine Lacey) being clubbed to death by Andrew the butler (Andrew Crawford), at the behest of her greedy husband Walter (Morell). But the murder is witnessed by Tabitha, her beloved tabby cat.

Tabitha is a classic CATAPHOR in that she acts as the guilty conscience of the murderers and their accomplice, and they become obsessed with killing her as well. It’s even spelt out: “If someone thinks a cat is looking at them with accusing eyes,” says one of the non-villains, “they’re only seeing a reflection of their own conscience.”

“You’ll have to get her now, Andrew,” says Morell. “She knows.”

Tabitha does indeed know, and leads the conspirators a merry dance while they try to unearth Ella’s original will, which leaves everything to her innocent niece Elizabeth (Shelley), who will clearly be next on their Hit List. But even when the miscreants succeed in capturing the elusive cat…

shadowofthecat16_2…Tabitha manages to turn the tables by escaping from the sack and luring Andrew into a swamp, where she watches him drown with her special distorted cat-vision, which we glimpse from time to time whenever the camera is supposed to represent her point of view.


Aaagh, I’m drowning!


Do I look like I care?

“It’s like a demon!” says Clara, the maid, shortly before Tabitha makes her fall downstairs, with fatal results. (You really do have to watch your footing on the stair when there’s a cat around, as any cat-owner will tell you.)

“It’s evil, I tell you, evil!” says Walter, who is confined to his bed after a heart attack. But suddenly….

Aaagh! A terrifying sight! Tabitha appears at the bottom of Walter's bed and gives him a second heart attack, this time fatal.

Aaagh! A terrifying sight! Tabitha appears at the bottom of Walter’s bed and gives him a second heart attack, this time fatal.

As you can see from these pictures, Tabitha is an adorable puss, and even though cast in a classic CATZILLA role, is not remotely scary. “You seriously mean to tell me that an ordinary domestic cat is terrorising three grown-ups?” asks Elizabeth, and you can see her point. In fact, the wickedest thing Tabitha does is leave muddy pawprints all over some clean sheets, something to which all cat-owners can relate – not that they’d ever go as far as screaming at the sight, as the maid does.

But there’s so much feline footage that cat lovers will enjoy watching her getting the better of the ailurophobic villains – one of them falls off the roof while chasing her; another, provoked into trashing the attic while trying to catch her, is crushed by a falling beam.

Cat lovers may not be so happy to hear that at one stage the cat actor was “persuaded” to jump by giving it a small electric shock. The animal got its own back, however, by releasing its bowels all over the technician who was holding it at the time. Serves him right!

Go, Tabitha!

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CAT OF THE DAY 105: PROOF (1991)

“Hello Ugly!”

The first dialogue in Jocelyn Moorhouse’s writing-directing debut, a well-reviewed film in the Australian post-New Wave, is addressed (affectionately) to a stray tabby cat. The speaker is Andy, an easy-going kitchen hand (Russell Crowe), who feeds the animal scraps in the alleyway behind the restaurant where he works.

The film’s central character is Martin (Hugo Weaving), a blind photographer with profound trust issues and an intense love-hate relationship with his housekeeper (Geneviève Picot). Andy will be the catalyst whose presence in Martin’s life will initiate the drama and lead to the film’s resolution – but how to get two characters from such different worlds to meet?

Simples. Getting people together is what CATGUFFINS do.

proof08While walking down the alleyway with his white stick, Martin accidentally knocks over some crates, crushing the cat. For while, it looks as though poor Ugly will be an early CATRIFICE.

Andy (accusingly): You killed Ugly. I think you broke his neck.

Martin (without emotion, after touching the cadaver): It’s not dead.

Andy: Aw shit. Sorry, Ugly.

The two men take Ugly to the vet, where there’s a long scene with the limp cat and other animals in the waiting-room. Meanwhile, the blind photographer takes photographs of Andy with the unconscious cat (so limp it looks suspiciously like a lifeless stand-in), and continues to take them in the vet’s surgery, where the animal is (happily) revived. Hurrah!

proof04Ugly’s task is done, so from this point on he cedes Chief Animal Role in the Film to Martin’s guide dog, a Labrador called Bill, who also has an important part to play.

It’s an absorbing, unusual film which has funny moments (the absurdity of a photographer being blind is never forgotten) but has interesting things to say about human interdependency and is not generally played for laughs. Plus there are likeable early performances from Weaving and Crowe, two future Antipodean superstars – and what a pleasure it is to see young Russell interacting with Ugly.

Bill is played by Corey. We’re not told who played Ugly, which is a shame.

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In Moonrise Kingdom, writer-director Wes Anderson killed off a dog, but mercifully let the young heroine’s kitten survive to cathood. Will he be equally indulgent towards Jeff Goldblum’s Persian cat in The Grand Budapest Hotel, a baroque but ultimately poignant yarn about Gustave H, the legendary concierge (Ralph Fiennes) at a grand hotel in the East European republic of Zubrowka?

“Every now and then it’s nice to bring some animals into the equation, I guess,” Anderson told Linda Barnard of The Star. “I don’t own a cat but I don’t have any negative feelings.”

Deputy Kovacs (Goldblum) is the official representative of the hotel’s mysterious owner. We first see him climbing out of a taxi with his cat, which he hands to the concierge, who immediately hands it to his lobby boy. For those who haven’t yet seen the film, there are BIG SPOILERS – in the form of text and pictures – after the next screengrab.

GPHDafoeandcat01The cat comes to a sad end, alas. The incorruptible Kovacs is also executor of the estate of the late Madame D, and insists on performing his duties according to the letter of the law (she has left a valuable painting to Gustave H), much to the fury of her son Dimitri.

To illustrate his employer’s displeasure, Dimitri’s sinister black leather-clad henchman Jopling (Willem Dafoe) throws Kovacs’ cat out of the window. The disbelieving lawyer looks out and sees the corpse of his beloved pet splatted on the ground, with a passer-by (who presumably only just missed being hit on the head with it) looking back up at the window. It’s a typically Anderson-esque symmetrical composition. Even the animal’s corpse is symmetrical.

GBHcatsplatIn real life, of course, the cat might well have landed on its feet – I’ve heard more than one story about cats surviving multi-storey falls from high windows or balconies with barely a bitten tongue. But perhaps Kovacs’ cat is so pampered (we only ever see it being held by people, never acting of its own volition) it has lost that particular survival instinct.

In truth, the image of the dead Persian is so distant and stylised that it’s hard to get too upset about it, but the incident does effectively show Jopling’s ruthlessness, which is important for the next sequence. At the end of the working day, Kovacs exchanges a cloakroom ticket for a small bloodstained sack containing the cat’s cadaver, but when he notices Jopling following his tram on a motorbike, he gets off at the next stop in a panic, dumps the sack distractedly in the nearest rubbish bin, and seeks refuge in a museum.

To find out what happens next, you’ll have to see the film. But the cat has performed its function as CATRIFICE and established Jopling as a horrible person who will stop at nothing. It’s also good for a wicked visual gag, Anderson’s favourite kind – a written one.



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Mario Bava’s last film in black and white is often cited as the first giallo, though it’s probably more of a giallo leggero, since it’s more lighthearted than more typical examples of the genre, which kicked into full sadistic gear with the same director’s Sei donne per l’assassino (aka Blood and Black Lace) the following year.

The film’s English title also suggests one of Hitchcock’s early yarns in which plucky young women investigate mysteries. The black and white cinematography is so unfailingly gorgeous (even when watched on a crappy old French transfer) that it almost makes you wish the director hadn’t switched to colour. There’s a beautiful scene in which the heroine rigs up a booby-trap for the assassin with string and talcum powder. The trap goes comically wrong, but it’s still a rather lovely bit of business.

girlwhoknewtoomuch05Letícia Román (who as her name indicates was born in Rome) plays Nora David, a young American who arrives in Rome to stay with her ailing Aunt Ethel. Nora’s first sight of Ethel doesn’t bode well – the old lady is in bed, covered by a sheet, with a huge cat lying at her feet. But the sheet turns out to be part of some last-ditch health cure. For Aunt Ethel is not dead… not yet, anyway.

And that is one enormous cat. Just look at it.

girlwhoknewtoomuch04But the old lady does indeed pass away that very night, during a full-on Gothic thunderstorm. The moment of her passing is marked by the cat reaction shot at the top of this page. It’s really not much of an actor; it seems to be backing into the chair, as though someone had plonked it down there and it was too fat to adjust its position to make itself comfortable.

A short while later, though, the cat does what it was put in the film to do – namely, it pushes the side of the bed to make a knocking noise. Nora, already spooked by her aunt’s demise, is so frightened she dashes out into the night to fetch the doctor (that nice young John Saxon, to whom she had been introduced earlier) and immediately gets mugged on the Spanish Steps. Knocked unconscious, she wakes up just in time to witness a murder…

Yes! Once again a cat has done the heavy lifting by performing Catguffin manoeuvres to set the entire plot into motion. Give that puss some extra tuna!

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legomovie02_3CAT OF THE DAY 102: THE LEGO MOVIE (2014)

Everything is awesome, and there is a perceptible feline thread running through this superior slice of product placement masquerading as jolly family animation, manufactured almost entirely out of Lego™ bricks. As Emmet Brickowski passes through his neighbourhood on his way to work at a construction site, he greets Sherry Scratchen-Post, the Cat Lady, and her cats – Jasmine, Dexter, Angie, Loki, Bad Leroy, Fluffy, Fluffy Junior, Fluffy Senior and Jeff – as they emerge meowing from her house and climb into her van.

After work, when Emmet falls into a hole and touches the mystical Piece de Resistance, he has a psychedelic hallucination, during which we fleetingly glimpse the face of a kitten.

legomovie03_3At the story’s climax, Emmet is captured and immobilised by the film’s villain, Lord Business. All seems lost. But the ghost of the wizard Vitruvius appears and tells Emmet “the only thing anyone needs to be special is to be believe that you can be. I know that sounds like a cat poster. But it’s true.” And lo and behold, when Emmet falls into the Real World, we actually get to see that cat poster…

legomovie06_3Meanwhile, Lord Business prepares to attack Sherry the Cat Lady and the other Lego folk with his Kragle superweapon. (Sherry can later be glimpsed driving a chariot pulled by cats, but the cats are so out of focus that I didn’t take a screengrab of it.)

legomovie04_3And we must not forget Princess Unikitty, a unicorn-kitten hybrid (voiced by the very wonderful Alison Brie), a major supporting character from Cloud Cuckoo Land who becomes one of Emmet’s staunchest allies, finally allowing her suppressed aggression to overcome her implacable sweetness, which enables her to launch an attack his enemies at a crucial moment. Here she is introducing herself to Emmet:

legomovie08_3Cats rule, even in the Lego universe. And especially when they’re cross-bred with unicorns.

Posted in Animation or Anime, Cartoon Cat, Cataphor, Catpanion, Ginger Puss, Kitten, Multicat | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment


nightonthegalactic04CAT OF THE DAY 101: NIGHT ON THE GALACTIC RAILROAD (1985) (銀河鉄道の夜 aka GINGA TETSUDO NO YORU)

When Sugii Gisaburô, the Japanese anime maestro, was adapting Kenji Miyazawa‘s children’s classic (posthumously published in 1934) for the screen, he realised the character designs weren’t working. So he changed them all into cats.

Not that there’s anything catlike about the behaviour of young Giovanni, his friend Campanella, or any of their classmates or the other inhabitants of a small Greek-looking village. They just look like cats. With Italian names. And all the chapter headings are in Esperanto. Just because Miyazawa liked Esperanto.


Gisaburô’s film, like Miyazawa’s book, is much loved in Japan, but hardly known in the West. Giovanni is an outsider, teased at school by everyone but Campanella; on the night of the village festival, when all the other villagers are having fun together in the square, he is running errands for his sick mother, and stops to take a breather in a field.

Out of nowhere, a train pulls up in front of him. He climbs aboard and embarks on a mystical voyage through the Milky Way, travelling from the Northern to the Southern Cross. In between, Giovanni meets other travellers (including his friend Campanella) sees cosmic phenomena, and encounters drowned passengers from the Titanic (the only characters in the film who are not depicted as cats), and strange, slightly alien symbols of Christianity (Miyazawa was a devout Buddhist), that play into the themes of life, death, spirituality and self-sacrifice.


It’s a film with a unique atmosphere: dreamlike, surreal and quite melancholy, enhanced by an otherworldly score from Yellow Magic Orchestra founder member Haruomi Hosono. And it takes its time – perhaps to a degree that will be maddening to viewers more accustomed to the rapid movement and editing of today’s cinema. It’s at least half an hour before Giovanni even boards the train; prior to that there is a lot of not just scene-setting but an odd (and now nostalgic) sequence set at a printer’s, where Giovanni sets hot metal type to earn extra money. The scene adds nothing at all in terms of plot, but contributes to the sense of Giovanni’s solitude, and to the film’s oneiric quality.


The pulse rate is also slowed, quite deliberately, by Gisaburô’s animation technique. He joined the Toei Animation Company at the age of 18, in 1958, and worked with Osamu Tezuka on the seminal TV series Astro Boy (aka Tetsuwan Atomu aka 鉄腕アトム) (1963-1966) before founding Group TAC in 1969. He also worked as Animation Director on Eiichi Yamamoto’s Kanashimi no Belladonna (哀しみのベラドンナ) (1973), a psychedelic adaptation of Jules Michelet’s non-fiction history of witchcraft, La sorcière (published in 1862), which incorporated imagery inspired by artists such as Beardsley and Klimt, and the underground comics art of the late 1960s.

In Masato Ishioka’s 2012 documentary Animeshi Sugii Gisaburô, Gisaburô says, “Not all animation has to move”.  Sometimes the movement can be entirely in the camera, panning across or moving in to or out from a still image. The technique of slow panning is known (according to this blog) as Jiwa-pan; slow camera movement in close-ups is Jiwa-yori; and paused motion is Tome-e. These techniques contribute to the deliberate, almost mesmeric pacing and rhythm of Night on the Galactic Railroad.



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insideld01 2

The big cat movie of late 2013/early 2014 is, of course, the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. To tie in with the film’s UK release, I wrote a piece for the Telegraph about ten of my favourite CATS ON FILM performances. Regular visitors to CATS ON FILM may already be familiar with these films, and the cats in them. But do you agree with my choices?

“The film doesn’t really have a plot,” Joel Coen said of Inside Llewyn Davis. “That concerned us at one point; that’s why we threw the cat in.” Coen and his brother Ethan have learnt one of the truisms of the seventh art – that there are few films that are not improved by the presence of a cat.

Here, then, are ten of my Favourite Feline Film Performances. I have deliberately excluded films in which the cat is a protagonist. But in the following examples, the cat steals scenes and has an identifiable character – even if more than one animal is used during filming, which is generally the case. As Ethan Coen admitted to “There were several cats. As the animal trainer said to us, a dog wants to please you; a cat only wants to please itself. So that’s a problem in terms of getting it to do a specific thing… You then just shoot a lot of film, because 99.7 per cent of it is the cat doing what you don’t want it to be doing.”

To read on, please click on one of the pictures of Llewyn Davis holding Ulysses the ginger cat on this page to be whisked directly to the Telegraph website.

insideld02 2

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alien06CAT OF THE DAY 100: ALIEN (1979) & ALIENS (1986)

To mark our 100th CAT OF THE DAY, here’s one of the most popular cats in movies – Jones, from Alien. This handsome ginger puss performs multiple cat-functions. He is not just a CATGUFFIN, providing a pretext for characters to go wandering off by themselves, but also CATPANION to Ripley, giving her someone to talk to when all her crewmates have been killed off, provides several moments of CATSHOCK when he suddenly jumps out at people, and is furthermore a CATSCALLION, because you’re never quite sure, even at the end of the film, if he has been somehow been infected by the alien. (See CATEGORIES for further clarification.)

In fact, by the time we get to the sequel, seven years later, it’s quite clear Jones is an imposter, because look what 57 years of hypersleep have done! Entirely different ginger puss. Maybe the film-makers thought we wouldn’t notice.


In the event, though, it’s not Jones who turns out to have an alien inside him – the film-makers were fooling with you! – but Ripley herself. And it all turns out to be a horrible nightmare anyway.

I think we’re all agreed Prometheus would have been vastly improved by the presence of a cat.


So that’s 100 cats in 100 days (or nearly 100 – I was obliged to skip a couple when away from home and discovering, too late, that WordPress’s iPad application is useless). It has been harder work than I’d envisaged – the original idea was simply a picture with a caption, but I would sometimes get carried away – but it has also been a lot of fun. Also a pleasure reading your comments here, or on Twitter or Facebook, or even (hi Anne-Maree!) Google+.

But now CAT OF THE DAY is going on semi-sabbatical. It will continue – because I doubt I’ll ever run out of films with cats in them – but no longer on a daily basis. Possibly more like a weekly one, but I’m not going to impose a rule on myself. The cats will happen when they happen, and I hope you’ll look out for them.


In the meantime, since blogging brings in no money whatsoever, I shall try once again to flog my short story MY DAY BY JONES to you. If you ever wondered what the events of Alien looked like from Jones’s angle, here – at last – is a short story (approx 2200 words) that gives you the cat’s-eye view.

This e-story costs 99 US cents (or approximately 60 UK pence or 0.76 Euros) to download in any format, and the price also includes samples of my other work (novels and film-writing that have previously been published elsewhere in traditional non-e form). Click on the ginger puss below to be taken to smashwords for further details. (It’s also available on amazon, but with DRM.)

Posted in A Major Cat Movie, Catguffin, Catpanion, Catscallion, Catshock, Ginger Puss | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments



Kiki’s Delivery Service is a Major Cat Movie directed by Hayao Miyazaki just after My Neighbour Totoro. Kiki is a 13-year-old trainee witch. It’s traditional for witches of that age to go it alone for a year, so Kiki leaves her parents’ village and flies off on a broom with her black cat Jiji. After much flying, and an interlude in a train, they come to Koriko, a bustling city by the sea, which is where Kiki decides to stay. A friendly baker allows her to live in an empty attic over the bakery, and encourages her to start a delivery service.

Jiji is a talking cat. In the original Japanese version the character is voiced by Rei Sakuma, whose voice doesn’t sound particularly female – just catlike; in the American dub distributed by Disney, she was voiced by the very masculine-sounding Phil Hartman. (I know many people love this version, so apologies to them, but I tried watching it once and didn’t get very far; maybe you have to be a fan of Sabrina the Teenage Witch to enjoy it.)



There’s an amusing episode where Jiji has to pose as a stuffed toy, and while Kiki is growing and learning and meeting people, Jiji starts hanging out with a white cat a couple of rooftops away. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, they’re growing apart. The part of the film that completely demolished me is when Kiki doesn’t just lose her powers of flying, but finds herself unable to communicate with Jiji anymore.

Kiki learns to fly again, but the days of talking to Jiji are over. The idea of having a lovely talking cat, but then not being able to talk to it any more, is more than I can bear; even just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. I guess that means I don’t want to grow up.


Today’s cat is dedicated to Edith.

Other Cats of the Day from Studio Ghibli:



Posted in A Major Cat Movie, Animation or Anime, Black Cat, Catagonist, Cataphor, Catpanion, Catscallion | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments


bellbook06CAT OF THE DAY 098: BELL BOOK AND CANDLE (1958)

The stars of Hitchcock’s Vertigo reunite for a romantic comedy with a supernatural twist. Kim Novak plays Gillian Holroyd, a Greenwich Village witch; James Stewart is Shep Henderson, the mortal publisher whose personal life she decides to wreck – initially to settle an old score with a former enemy – by casting a spell to make him fall in love with her.

This was Stewart’s last romantic role, and he does seem a little mature for it; the 25 year age gap that worked perfectly within the context of Vertigo’s romantic obsession seems off-kilter here; we’re asked to believe an unconventional young woman of independent means would be attracted to someone not just old enough to be her father, but whose very demeanour is altogether quite fatherly. (Of course it might be precisely this fatherliness to which she is attracted, but that’s another matter entirely, and one for another kind of film.)


One might conceivably have accepted an equally mature Cary Grant in the role; Grant has the sort of ageless insouciant appeal that Stewart lacks, dapper and personable though he is. I’ve been trying to think of other actors I might have cast, ones adept at light comedy, but nearer Novak’s age. Rock Hudson? James Garner? Tony Randall? It’s tricky, and of course the other light comic actor of the era par excellence – Jack Lemmon – is already in the film, playing Novak’s warlock brother Nicky.

Some SPOILERS coming up after the picture.


What is incontrovertible is that Bell Book and Candle is a Major Cat Movie, and quite possibly a key proto-feminist film as well. Despite the presence of warlocks such as Nicky and the owner of the Zodiac Club, the world of the Greenwich Village witches is very obviously a matriarchy, presided over by the magnificently batty Hermione Gingold as Bianca de Passe, who charges Shep $1000 for a love charm antidote.

Gillian’s Siamese cat, Pyewacket, is not just her familiar – she casts her spells with its help – but also a symbol of her power. (I won’t make the obvious “pussy” references, but you know they’re there.) When she falls in love she loses her powers and Pyewacket deserts her. Love is not presented as a positive force but a negative one, an emotional state heralded by the first tears Gillian has ever shed. When her unrepentantly spinster Aunt Queenie (Elsa Lanchester) asks what it’s like, Gillian replies, “It’s awful.”


Portrait of a blissed-out Pyewacket.

Yes, Gillian gets her man, but has there ever been another romantic comedy in which the climactic clinch felt quite so melancholy? It’s the flipside of screwball; instead of a repressed male character loosening up, the female character must learn to repress her free-spirited urges in order to live in a world without magic.

In other words, Gillian has had to give up her identity, and the film itself (directed by Richard Quine) can’t seem to get over this; in the last scene, we leave the not-so-happy couple embracing in Gillian’s shop, and instead go outside into the street to latch on to Nicky, Queenie and Pyewacket, all no doubt destined for the further witchy adventures that Gillian herself has renounced.


PS It’s clear the cat playing Pyewacket loves Novak – whenever she’s fondling it, it gets so blissed out it’s hard to find a moment where its eyes are open.

Posted in A Major Cat Movie, Cataphor, Catguffin, Catpanion, Catscallion, Siamese Cat | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment