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.
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…
…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.
“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….
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!