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What is a Catguffin? Which type of cat would be more likely to rip your throat out in a movie – a Catzilla or a Pussilla? What is the difference between a Catagonist and a Heropuss? And what exactly was Jones the cat getting up to while the crew of the Nostromo were trying not to get killed by the xenomorph in Alien?

All these questions and many others are answered in CATS ON FILM, the definitive work of feline film scholarship, in which critic and novelist Anne Billson explores the narrative functions of cats in one hundred films, and incidentally shows how they are much more varied and interesting than the narrative functions of dogs.

Read about the true nature of Harry Lime’s relationship to the kitten in The Third Man, and why the film should perhaps have been retitled The Third Cat. Find out which are the most upsetting Catrifices in the movies, and learn how the White Cat of Evil launched his career as Blofeld’s lapcat in the James Bond franchise.

Read more about your favourite cats from the CATS ON FILM blog, and meet a clowder of newcomers, such as cosseted Bleecker from Gone Girl, nomadic Ulysses from Inside Llewyn Davis, and heroic Binx from Hocus Pocus. Read about lots of cats you already know… and discover a few you might not have heard of!

CATS ON FILM. No cat-loving film fan can afford to be without it.

Now available in mobi (kindle), epub and PDF formats from smashwords.

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The paperback print edition of CATS ON FILM, with more photos (but also more expensive – sorry!), is now available from all the amazons.



STOP PRESS! Because the paperback was so expensive (even with my royalties shaved down to almost nothing), I made a special budget paperback version of CATS ON FILM, the difference being that all the pictures are in black and white instead of colour. This took some time to prepare, as every colour picture had to be adjusted so it didn’t come out sludgy grey. But I think the results repay the time and care I spent on it.

You can buy the budget paperback of CATS ON FILM from

or from

or indeed from any of the other amazons around the world. Or – since amazon is evil – you can order it from your local bookshop, or library.


“possibly the greatest book ever”

“great insights & erudite movie snark”

“fantastic… the perfect book for cat lovers”

“purr-fectly done… includes My Day by Jones aka Alien from the cat’s PoV. Fun!”

“Just as it is impossible not to see a cat and not want to stroke it it is impossible to pick this book up and not read it from cover to cover”

“A brilliant book”

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Posted in A Major Cat Movie, Catagonist, Cataphor, Catguffin, Catpanion, Catperson, Catrifice, Catscallion, Catshock, Catzilla, Heropuss, White Cat of Evil | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments



This uneven but always fascinating adaptation of David Mitchell’s bestseller consists of six different stories from six different genres set in six different time periods and featuring six different sets of characters. But they’re all connected!

Instead of replicating the novel’s Russian Doll-like nesting structure, the film-makers (Andy and Lana Washowski, and Tom Tykwer) opt for a cinematic collage in which the ebb and flow of the narrative extends across the different time periods, which are linked by recurring motifs such as a birthmark shaped like a comet, a musical sextet, and by the same actors playing a wide range of different characters, sometimes swapping race and gender.

It’s an astonishing technological and logistical achievement (read more about it here) and a triumph of editing. But for the purposes of Cats on Film we shall home in on just one scene, from what in the novel is the fourth story, The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, set in 2012 (the year in which the film was made) and, genre-wise, a comic mash-up of Kingsley Amis, Tom Sharpe and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Sixty-five-year-old publisher Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) has fled London, where the thuggish brothers of one of his clients are looking for him. On his way to seek refuge at an address recommended by his brother, he stops off to gaze at an ivy-covered house and reminisce about losing his virginity there with a young woman called Ursula. There’s a flashback to (presumably) the 1960s.

Believing her parents to be in Greece, the young couple have been spending the weekend in bed and are on the point of engaging once again in serious amorous manoeuvres when the door opens and Ursula’s parents enter the room! Young Cavendish (Robin Morrissey) leaps to his feet, naked, and grabs the nearest thing to hand to cover his genitalia – which happens to be the grey tabby glimpsed earlier minding its own business next to Timothy’s leg (on which can be glimpsed the same comet-shaped birthmark we have seen on characters in the other stories).

IMG_0052Young Cavendish has just time enough to say, “Sir, Madam, I assure you this is completely innocent…” before the cat, understandably miffed at being seized and commandeered as an impromptu codpiece, sinks its claws into his private parts. With a yell, the young man hurls the animal across the room and falls backwards out of the bedroom window to land on his back in a shrub. We are not told what happens to the cat, but it almost certainly lands on its feet and immediately wanders off down towards the kitchen, in search of food.

Cavendish’s voice-over takes over the story as we return to his older self in the present. “Two sprained ankles, one cracked rib. Official cause of accident, listed on the hospital form? Pussy.”

Thus the cat’s role is brief, but memorable. It starts out as a snoozy CATPANION, morphs into CATZILLA (scratch!) before quickly displaying elements of CATSHOCK (shriek!), CATGUFFIN (causing someone to fall out of a window) and CATSCALLION (general all-round unpredictability).

Or perhaps we need a new category – THE MODESTY CAT.*

IMG_0058 IMG_7031*A tip of the hat to Maitland McDonagh for “Modesty Cat”. This CAT OF THE DAY is dedicated to the memory of her very wonderful Chip.

Posted in Catpanion, Catscallion, Catshock, Catzilla, Tabby Cat, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments



If you only have to watch one Lars von Trier film with “nymphomaniac” in the title, make it the first part of his episodic diptych in which a woman called Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) tells an asexual intellectual (Stellan Skarsgård) the story of her sex life.

The results are funny, naughty, non-pc, playful, sloppy, seductive, educational (there are digressions about fly-fishing, and trees), with music by Rammstein, Bach and César Franck. In short, an arthouse film that is fleetfooted fun, whereas Part 2 is heavier and more troubling, more like medicine.

I’m not going to make the obvious joke about pussy, but another point in Vol I’s favour is that it has a cat in it. The film is divided into chapters, and in Chapter Five: The Little Organ School, Joe compares one of her many, many lovers to a cat (“When he finally turned up and I opened the door, he didn’t immediately enter, the way a cat doesn’t when you let it in.”)

At which von Trier inserts a  shot of a brown mackerel tabby staring into the camera. It doesn’t do anything, but the shot is held long enough for us to see it narrowing its eyes.

But then cats don’t actually have to do anything much for us to go “aaaah”.

I would call this a classic Catscallion, the equivalent of the Joker in a pack of cards, the mark of a confident player who knows he already has the game won. Voilà! This is my film. And here’s a cat!


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nightoftheeagle01CAT OF THE DAY 108: NIGHT OF THE EAGLE (1962)

The premise of Fritz Leiber’s terrific supernatural thriller Conjure Wife (1943) is one to rank alongside William Burrough’s iffier assertions about women being “the principal reservoir of the alien virus parasite” – and a lot more fun. It’s that all women are witches, and covertly working to further the interests of their husbands in a small New England college town. It’s a brilliant read and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

It also, incidentally, introduced me to the music of Alexander Scriabin via his Black Mass sonata.

Happily, Sidney Hayers’ 1962 film (known in the U.S. as Burn, Witch, Burn!) is just as good as Leiber’s novel. The cracking screenplay was written by Charles Beaumont, who died of “a mysterious brain disease” at the tragically early age of 38. (Beaumont’s own stories are well worth reading; Dean R. Koontz called him “one of the seminal influences on writers of the fantastic and macabre.”) Hayers also directed Circus of Horrors (1960) and Payroll (1961), a shamefully underappreciated British hardboiled crime thriller starring Michael Craig and Billie Whitelaw, as well as episodes of many popular TV shows, including The Persuaders!, Magnum, P.I., and The A-Team.

Peter Wyngarde (who, rumour has it, insisted on wearing such tight-fitting trousers that he frequently had to be filmed from the waist up) plays psychology professor Norman Taylor, who is discombobulated to find his wife Tansy (Janet Blair) has been routinely practising witchcraft to further his career and protect him from the envious machinations of the other campus wives, led by the malicious Flora Carr (Margaret Johnston, wonderful). Being a pig-headed rationalist, he declares it all superstitious nonsense, insists she cease forthwith, and destroys all the charms and hoodoo knick-knacks she has hidden around the house.

Big mistake. Almost immediately, things start to go horribly wrong.

Of course, no witch worth her salt is without her feline familiar. When Norman arrives home after a hard day on campus, he is greeted by a handsome black puss. Later, the cat watches from a comfy armchair as he burns Tansy’s magic charms, and lets out a yowl, as if warning of the catastrophes to come.

nightoftheeagle02 nightoftheeagle03(But is the cat we saw on the stairs the same cat as the one on the armchair? You tell me.)



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heat01CAT OF THE DAY 107: THE HEAT (2013)

There are more movies in which male cops are partnered by dogs than there are female buddy cop movies, which makes Paul Feig’s comedy a very rare bird indeed. Sandra Bullock plays a hotshot but friendless FBI agent sent from New York to Boston, where she is partnered in a case against a local drug kingpin by shambolic but streetwise local detective Melissa McCarthy.

It’s the classic fish-out-of-water, snob vs slob, uptight vs hothead set-up seen in everything from 48 Hrs to Dragnet to the Lethal Weapon and Beverly Hills Cop franchises, and sticks to the traditional buddy formula of mutual antagonism giving way to grudging tolerance blossoming into affectionate respect. Except that this time, the buddies are women.

The mismatched buddy movie deals in well-worn clichés, but the film-makers are sufficiently aware of this to kick off with a slightly grimy 1970s retro opening credits sequence, which slyly hints at the political incorrectness to come, as well as acknowledging the throwback nature of the humour and a plot that also incorporates a few touches of unexpectedly vicious 1970s-style violence.

Feig and co have clearly decided that now is not the time to subvert the form, but that it’s two actresses, instead of two actors, gives the overfamiliar material a fresh twist. It also helps, of course, that both Bullock and McCarthy are experienced, sometimes inspired comic performers.

theheatframedpictureThe results are hit and miss. I found the repeated gags about the albino FBI agent laboured and unfunny, for example, though they’re clearly a dig at the Killer Albino Trope, an example of which occurs in a film being screened on Bullock’s TV – Foul Play. But the gags come so thick and fast that enough of them stick.

And one of the smartest involves Pumpkin, a big gingerpuss who performs the CATPANION function of giving Bullock someone to talk to when she’s alone at night, watching TV, thus helping to establish her character’s loneliness before she has even left New York. The CATPANION, we hardly need to be reminded, is the classic signifier of a single woman.

But the joke is on the viewer. In a nice reversal of expectations, we hear Bullock’s neighbour shouting, “Pumpkin! Here kitty, kitty, kitty! Are you at the neighbour’s again?” Yes, Bullock is too lonely and friendless even to have a cat of her own! She reluctantly lets Pumpkin out, after which we heard the neighbour again: “Pumpkin! I told you to stay away from that weird lady!”

theheatmelissaThe cat also helps the two mismatched cops to bond. Halfway through the film, as the mutual antagonism  starts to thaw, McCarthy spots a framed photograph of her partner with Pumpkin. “I see you have a cat… Is he around? Cos I’d like to kind of, you know, pet him and stuff.” Bullock mutters that the cat ran away before she left New York, and McCarthy, concluding her new partner is even more pathetic than she’d thought, but showing the first signs of sensitivity towards her, says, “That fuckin tabby is an asshole, that’s what he is. Fuck you!” – this last remark directed at the cat’s picture.

But wait! For Pumpkin also provides the film with a late-breaking punchline during the end credits, no longer faithful CATPANION but transformed into CATSCALLION. After the case has been solved, and in a gesture intended to cement their friendship, McCarthy presents Bullock with a surprise gift – a cardboard box containing none other than Pumpkin, for whom she has been to New York, searched high and low, and who has finally been picked up (naturally enough) outside Bullock’s old address.

Pumpkin (played by “Skylar” and “Tylar”) is a big fluffy docile gingerpuss who doesn’t seem to mind being cathandled by the two stars. He steals both his scenes – as well as another in which he appears only in a picture – simply by looking pusslike and adorable.

And he pops up again in the end credits – twice.

theheatcredits1 theheatcredits3


Posted in Catpanion, Ginger Puss, Tabby Cat | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment



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