CAT OF THE DAY 092: THE COMEDY OF TERRORS

comedyofterrors12_3CAT OF THE DAY 092: THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963)

The Comedy of Terrors is a very broad horror-comedy produced by Samuel Z Arkoff at AIP, and recycles some of the cast and elements from Tales of Terror (1962), on which Arkoff was Executive Producer. It was directed by Jacques Tourneur from a screenplay by Richard Matheson, and stars horror veterans Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff (originally hired to play Rathbone’s role, but severe arthritis limited his mobility) and Basil Rathbone. It also stars Rhubarb (also known as Orangey) the cat, who gets billed above Rathbone and “special guest star” Joe E Brown on the poster.

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The film takes place in one of those all-purpose 19th century settings familiar from AIP’s Poe movies. Price plays an undertaker who resorts to murder to boost business, Lorre is his assistant, Rathbone their landlord, and Karloff plays Price’s ailing father-in-law, whom Price has been trying to poison. Price and Lorre try to murder their landlord, unaware that he suffers from narcolepsy; Joe E Brown, in his last film appearance, plays the cemetery keeper who witnesses one of Rathbone’s repeated returns from apparent death.

Everyone hams it up and, while it’s always a pleasure to watch these actors at work, the humour is somewhat laboured. But it’s an important movie from a feline point of view. Rhubarb plays Cleopatra, a marmalade cat whom we follow downstairs into the basement at the start of the film to get our first sight of Lorre, who is attempting to cobble together a coffin. The cat often acts as the audience’s eyes and ears; he is a classic CATAGONIST. He drinks from Karloff’s teacup, curls up on Karloff’s chest, and is shown responding to events – there’s a comic cut to his reaction as Lorre falls off a roof, he gives a visible “gulp” when he hears Price talking about poison, and covers his ears with his paws to block out the sound of Price’s wife singing.

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The cat even provides the punchline to the film when he triggers an allergic reaction in the narcoleptic Rathbone. But Rhubarb’s finest moment comes during the final credits.

Each of the principal players gets a picture credit comprising a brief fragment of their performance framed by a funeral wreath, but when it comes to Rhubarb’s turn… in a moment strangely prescient of the climax of Ringu, he apparently breaks the Fourth Wall by stepping out of the wreath, and proceeds to stalk around the set while the technical credits continue to unspool over him.

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Either Cleopatra is played throughout the film by the same cat, or the film-makers found some impressive doppelgingers (sic). Rhubarb aka Orangey is quite the star, gets his own entries on imdb.com and Wikipedia, and won two “Patsy” (Picture Animal Top Star of the Year) awards, one of them for his performance in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

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CAT OF THE DAY 003: The Three Musketeers

CAT OF THE DAY 018: Tales of Terror

CAT OF THE DAY 068: The Incredible Shrinking Man

CAT OF THE DAY 079: The Tomb of Ligeia

CAT OF THE DAY 084: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

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CAT OF THE DAY 091: THE ADVENTURES OF MILO AND OTIS

adventuresofmiloandotis01CAT OF THE DAY 091: KONEKO MONOGATARI 子猫物語 (aka THE ADVENTURES OF MILO AND OTIS) (1986) 

Cute family film, not such a cute behind-the-scenes story. The adventures of Milo, an adorable ginger and white kitty, and Otis, a pug, were originally edited together by director Masanori Hata and his associate director, Kon Ichikawa (yes, the celebrated director of The Burmese Harp and Tokyo Olympiad) from over 40 hours of footage, shot over a period of four years.

The film was re-edited for the English-speaking market, and given a new title, a jaunty score, and a voice-over narration by Dudley Moore. Although the American Humane Society gave its seal of approval, it has since been alleged that over 20 kittens died during production, and that a producer broke a cat’s paw to make it seem unsteady on its feet.

Although such claims have never been verified, it’s clear when watching the film (which I did for the first time only recently) that the cats played Milo are in acute distress at numerous points. For example, swept in a small crate over a waterfall, or threatened by a bear, or attacked by seagulls, or falling (being thrown?) off a high cliff into the sea. Humane film-makers simply would not place cats in these situations.

I watched a few moments of the following clip of out-takes of the cat trying to scrabble back up the cliff (try starting at around 7:52 if you’re in a hurry), and that was more than enough for me. You may be made of stronger stuff. Whether or not any cats were actually killed during production, this is a horrible, horrible film.

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MINI JAPANESE LESSON!

(Once again, should I inadvertently make any howlers, I am relying on more experienced linguists to correct me.)

The Japanese title for this film is Koneko Monogatari: 子猫物語. In English – KITTEN STORY.

If you absorbed your mini-Japanese lesson from CAT OF THE DAY 041, you will remember that 猫 (neko) is Japanese for cat.

子 (ko) signifies child (though the word for child in speech is 子供 – kodomo) and you will often see this Kanji added to children’s or girls’ names, as a diminutive suffix. For example, 洋子 (Yoko); 京子 (Kyoko); 玲子 (Reiko); 春子 (Haruko)

Hence 子猫 (koneko) means child-cat. In other words, kitten!

物語 (monogatari) is a word you will encounter many times if you are interested in Japanese culture. The first Kanji 物 (mono) literally means stuff or things, and the second Kanji 語 (gatari) literally means language, or words. Put these two kanji together and hey presto! you have monogatari, the word for written stuff, or STORY.

Thus we have the famous film by Mizoguchi Kenji – 雨月物語 (Ugetsu Monogatari), literally Story of the Rain and Moon.

Another Mizoguchi film – 平家物語 (Shin Heike Monogatari) – usually known in English as Tales of the Taira Clan.

Yet another Mizoguchi classic – 近松物語 (Chikamatsu Monogatari) – A Story from Chikamatsu (the name of an 18th century dramatist), a film better known in English as The Crucified Lovers.

Then there’s the celebrated 11th century novel (perhaps the first novel, in the modern sense of the word, written anywhere in the world) by Murasaki Shikibu – 源氏物語 (Genji Monogatari), The Tale of Genji.

語 (gatari) which as we have seen above can mean either language or words, can also be pronounced as go, as in 英語 (eigo, prounced eh-ee-go) which means English.

So if you’re looking for a Japanese DVD in English, or with English subtitles (字幕) keep your eyes peeled for the word 英語.

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OTHER MINI-JAPANESE LESSONS

CAT OF THE DAY 041

CAT OF THE DAY 061

CAT OF THE DAY 081

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CAT OF THE DAY 090: THAT DARN CAT!

tdc018CAT OF THE DAY 090: THAT DARN CAT! (1965)

CLASSIFIED FILE FYEO
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION
FROM THE OFFICE OF REDACTED
CC: REDACTED 
CASE ID: 1965-TDC (pending)

SYNOPSIS: use of subject as informant in aforementioned case; investigation of suitability for involvement in further covert operations; assessment of political and social allegiances.

FUNCTION IN NARRATIVE: CATAGONIST. HEROPUSS. CATPANION. CATSCALLION.

NAME: DC

CRYPTONYMS: That Darn Cat, Puss, Mister C, De Kat, Die Katze, Cat Man, Le Chat, Matou, El Gato, Kotchka, Pusa, Kissa, Kedi, Neko, Mao, Ko-Yang-Ee, REDACTED.

AGE: Exact age unknown, but subject is evidently a fully mature male.

DESCRIPTION: Seal-Point Siamese. [ETA Subject’s Asian ancestry and possible links to regimes in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea to you, Agent Kelso) and Myanmar require further investigation.] Eyes blue. Exhibits enhanced abilities in areas of physical engagement such as leaping, prowling, hiding, scratching and miaowing; it has yet to be established whether or not subject underwent black ops training at REDACTED.

PRINCIPAL CAN-OPENERS: “Patti” and “Ingrid” Randall (Hayley Mills and Dorothy Provine). To the casual eye, bubble-headed and boy-mad, but their unusual autonomy (parents allegedly “abroad”) and, in the case of “Patti” (hitherto to be referred to as Can-Opener One) an unfeasible willingness to embroil herself in an ongoing felony investigation and – in particular – her use of an alias when contacting the FBI, strongly imply the girlish scattiness is a disguise; the possibility that Can-Opener One is a very dangerous young woman and in the pay of foreign agencies ought not to be summarily dismissed.

Subject discusses strategy with Can-Opener One and Can-Opener Two.

Subject discusses strategy with Can-Opener One and Can-Opener Two.

TRANSCRIPTION EXTRACTS:
“Well actually, he isn’t my cat. He isn’t anybody’s cat.”
“You don’t own someone like DC – he’s family.”
“DC’s a cat, he can’t help his instincts. He’s a hunter.”
“Miaow.”

DETAILS: Subject is adept at stealing food, hiding under the bed and outwitting stupid dogs. He has been observed breaking and entering private premises in order to help himself to food, exhibiting scant regard for property in the process (see attached file containing crime scene photos of damaged crockery). He has also been observed interacting with cats of the opposite sex, with whom he has clearly REDACTED, but which neverthless has reassured our CIA contacts that he has no affiliation whatsoever to the Cambridge Five.

Subject is in possession of ninja skills and should be approached with caution.

Subject is in possession of ninja skills and should be approached with caution.

Subject has also exhibited extreme anti-social behaviour, such as stealing a duck, and subsequently opposing Can-Opener One in a game of tug o’ war with aforementioned duck. Subject is furthermore alleged to have molested Benson’s prize albino fantails, left muddy pawprints all over Benson’s freshly-washed car and dug up Mrs Benson’s tulip bulbs. Agent Kelso reports that subject deliberately exacerbated his cat allergy, refused to cooperate by allowing his pawprints to be taken and showed evidence of ninja-like skills in evading surveillance.

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Subject insolently disrupts a drive-screening of Night of the Surfer by playing pat-a-cake.

COMMENTS: Subject is a formidable and cunning feline who in future could prove very useful to us in the area of REDACTED, in particular when the REDACTED is in the REDACTED and we don’t want REDACTED to find out. His primary motivation appears to be an ongoing quest for food, and he will stop at nothing – stalking, theft, dog-bothering and destruction of property – to obtain it.

Although, in the case that brought the subject to our attention, he was instrumental in leading to the apprehension of a brace of dangerous armed robbers and kidnappers, his role in the drama is, at best, ambiguous. Subject’s character, in fact, appears to be totally amoral, so that one could well imagine an alternative scenario in which his actions might have benefited rather than thwarted the criminals.

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Subject exhibits preternatural ability to nap, and a complete lack of moral scruple.

CONCLUSION: 1965-TDC is rare case of a Disney project featuring a feline protagonist who is not in the least bit anthropomophised. Subject behaves in a catlike manner throughout the investigation in which he is a primary informant, seemingly heedless of the chaos he sows in his wake and indifferent as to the fate of the agents assigned to tail him; whether or not this is incidental or a sophisticated tactic expressly designed to throw us off the scent is REDACTED.

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CAT OF THE DAY 089: DRAG ME TO HELL

dragmetohell03CAT OF THE DAY 089: DRAG ME TO HELL (2009)

Sam Raimi, who made his name directing the Evil Dead films before going mainstream with Spider-Man, returns to his schlock-horror roots with this fullblooded shriek-fest about a timid bank loan officer (Alison Lohman) who tries to impress her boss by refusing to renew a gypsy woman’s mortgage, only for the enraged old woman to damn her to hell. (Literally: we’ve already seen a fiery chasm opening in the ground to claim an earlier victim.)

It’s an updated variation on the set-up of Night of the Demon (which also has a cat in it), the very fine adaptation of MR James’s Casting the Runes. Can our heroine find a way of lifting the curse before her allotted three days are up? And will all this escalating demonic activity spoil that dinner where she’s hoping to impress the posh parents of her fiancé (Justin Long)?

Raimi alternates genuine shocks with tongue-in-cheek humour, a dash of social comment and a fat streak of cruelty. Yes, I’m afraid the kitten does get it. We have a CATRIFICE on our hands.

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We, like Raimi, are aware that cats invariably come to sticky ends in horror movies (see CAT OF THE DAY 076, for example) so as soon as Christine learns a blood sacrifice is required to get the increasingly terrifying demon off her back, the director doesn’t even need to show us what happens to this kitty. All we see is Christine looming over it with a large knife, followed by a cut to her burying a fleetingly glimpsed furry corpse in the garden.

Interestingly, the scene was originally filmed in a more graphic way before being edited down, though it’s sufficiently stylised to be not very upsetting. Nevertheless, if you are very softhearted you should probably not watch this clip…

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CAT OF THE DAY 088: AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY

AP02[1]CAT OF THE DAY 088: AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY (1997)

“I have gathered here before me the world’s deadliest assassins, and yet each of you has failed to kill Austin Powers. That makes me angry. And when Dr. Evil gets angry, Mr. Bigglesworth gets upset. And when Mr. Bigglesworth gets upset… people DIE!”

Mr Bigglesworth is cryogenically frozen alongside Dr Evil. Alas, due to an error in the thawing-out process, he loses his fur, and is henceforth played by a Sphynx cat called Ted NudeGent.

AP04PS. In the first sequel, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, we are introduced to Mini-Me, Dr Evil’s miniature clone, who has a tiny cat called Mini-Mr Bigglesworth.

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CAT OF THE DAY 007

CAT OF THE DAY 074

WHITE CAT OF EVIL

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CAT OF THE DAY 087: TRUE GRIT

truegrit01CAT OF THE DAY 087: TRUE GRIT (1969)

Rooster took my cup and put it on the floor and a fat brindle cat appeared out of the darkness where the bunks were and came over to lap up the milk. Rooster said, “The General is not so hard to please.” The cat’s name was General Sterling Price.

                                                        from True Grit by Charles Portis

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“He was fully clothed under the covers. The brindle cat Sterling Price was curled up on the foot of the bed.” Or not.

Henry Hathaway’s True Grit, adapted from the novel by Charles Portis, felt like the last gasp of the traditional western when it first opened in the US, just one week before The Wild Bunch. Kim Darby plays the stubborn young miss who hires drunken one-eyed marshal Rooster Cogburn to help her catch her father’s killer; Glen Campbell, with rockabilly hair, plays a Texas ranger who rides alongside them.

Hathaway makes good use of landscape, allows his characters room to breathe, and sneaks in some unexpected violence. John Wayne’s Oscar-winning performance as Cogburn may not be his best, but it’s certainly one of his broadest; supporting actors (including young guns Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall) try their damnedest to out-ham him.

But they’re at a disadvantage; they have neither eye-patch nor cat.

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The rat was a mess. I went over and picked him up by the tail and pitched him out the back door for Sterling, who should have smelled him out and dispatched him in the first place.            

EYE-PATCHES IN THE CINEMA: an article I wrote for the Guardian a few years ago.

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CAT OF THE DAY 086: TREACLE JR.

treaclejr03CAT OF THE DAY 086: TREACLE JR. (2010)

Treacle Jr is the name of the ginger and white kitten in this low-budget mismatched buddy movie written, directed and co-produced by Jamie Thraves, one of Britain’s most inexplicably underrated and overlooked film-makers. His 2009 adaptation of Cry of the Owl, starring Paddy Considine and Julia Stiles, is one of the best Patricia Highsmith adaptations I’ve seen, brilliantly capturing the tone of the author in a way few bigger budgeted productions have pulled off, yet was allowed to go straight to DVD in the UK.

Anyhow, see Treacle Jr. if you get a chance. Tom Fisher plays Tom, a family man from the suburbs of Birmingham who, apparently impulsively, leaves his wife and child and travels to London, where he throws away his phone and credit cards and starts sleeping rough. Aidan Gillen (a long way from his roles on The Wire and Game of Thrones) plays Aidan, a maladjusted Irishman who starts tagging along with him and refuses to be shaken off.

Gillen’s character starts off by being incredibly annoying and, like Tom, you want him to get lost. But as the film goes on, you start feeling protective towards him, especially when he gets a cute kitten, even though his horrible girlfriend is allergic to cats.

It’s an exemplary slice of low budget cinema about a couple of misfits who help each other, performed to perfection by the two leading actors, and expertly shot from the hip by a natural born film-maker who deserves wider recognition.

Also, did I say there’s a kitten?

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CAT OF THE DAY 085: CAT’S EYE

catseye02CAT OF THE DAY 085: CAT’S EYE (1985)

This portmanteau film, directed by Lewis Teague and written by Stephen King, consists of adaptations of two short stories from King’s Night Shift collection and a third story written expressly for the film. As indicated by the title, it’s a Major Cat Movie, the stories being linked rather tenuously by a wandering feline, a Handsome Tabby.

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The first segment, Quitters, Inc., is set in New York City and features James Woods as a nicotine addict who discovers the “firm” he has hired to help him stop smoking is none other than the Mafia. The cat is placed on an electrified grid and subjected to minor shocks to demonstrate what will happen to his wife if Woods continues to smoke. (Teague reportedly explained in his director’s DVD commentary that they “persuaded” the cat to jump by blowing air at it. Hmm.)

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The Ledge, the second segment, is set in Atlantic City. Kenneth McMillan plays a high-rolling gangster who sadistically puts his wife’s lover (Robert Hays) through a frightening ordeal. The cat is pretty much an onlooker here.

Throughout the film, Handsome Tabby has been hearing the disembodied voice of a little girl pleading for help. He stows away on a train and, in the final segment, arrives in a suburb of Wilmington, North Carolina, where little Drew Barrymore (then 10 years old) is being menaced by a toothy troll (NB, a real troll, not the internet kind) which is stealing her breath at night, the way cats were supposed to do according to old wives’ tales. She calls the cat “General”.

SPOILERS! after the picture.

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SPOILERS! Barrymore’s parents are so stupid they think it’s General which is endangering their kid, and sent him to the animal shelter to be put down. But General escapes and fights the troll to the death. Guess who wins. Hurrah!

PS Of course cats won’t steal your breath, but my cat Tiger was perfectly capable of sitting on my head and half-suffocating me out of sheer stupidity (at least, she wanted me to think it was stupidity mwah ha ha! see CAT OF THE DAY 077). So if you ask me, it’s probably not a good idea to leave them alone with babies.

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CAT OF THE DAY 084: BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S

breakfast02CAT OF THE DAY 084: BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961)

Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly may get the lion’s share of the attention, but it’s her cat that is the true star of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a Major Cat Movie. I’m not the only one to think so; Alex de Costa wrote on YouTube, “Obviously the cat was the best part of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, so I took the trouble of editing out every scene without him.” Unfortunately Paramount, as is their wont, has blocked the results – Breakfast Cat Tiffany’s – on copyright grounds. Spoilsports.

But the results (a little over six and a half minutes, plus a lot more miaowing than you might remember) were a vast improvement on Blake Edwards’s film, especially since they excise Mickey Rooney’s embarrassing performance as Holly’s Japanese neighbour, Mr Yunioshi. They do nothing, however, to improve the frankly unconvincing ending, in which Holly and George Peppard as the Truman Capote substitute (the narrator’s voice in the novella) embrace ecstatically in the rain, all but crushing the poor sodden pussy between them.

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The cat is referred to throughout the film as simply, “Cat”. “Poor slob! Poor slob without a name!” He might not have a name, but he’s a thumping great CATAPHOR, one that is bludgeoned home not just in the film but also in Capote’s original text, some of which is quoted verbatim in the film’s dialogue.

“Poor slob,” she said, tickling his head, “poor slob without a name. It’s a little inconvenient, his not having a name. But I haven’t any right to give him one: he’ll have to wait until he belongs to somebody. We just sort of took up by the river one day, we don’t belong to each other: he’s an independent, and so am I.”

And then, a little later on in the movie, when we find out more about Holly’s origins…

“I’m not Holly. I’m not Lulu Mae, either. I don’t know who I am! I’m like the cat here, a no-name slob. We belong to nobody, and nobody belongs to us. We don’t even belong to each other.”

Yes, yes, all right, we get it. You’re no-name slobs. You belong to nobody, and nobody belongs to you. Enough already.

Rather less obvious is the identity of the cat playing Cat. In the opening credits, he’s billed simply as “Cat” (with a nod to his trainer, Frank Inn). On imdb he’s credited as “Putney”; but elsewhere on imdb, a marmalade cat called Orangey, star (billed as Rhubarb) of The Comedy of Terrors) is described as having won a P.A.T.S.Y. (Picture Animal Top Star of the Year, the animal equivalent of the Oscar) for Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The same cat was also credited, elsewhere, as “Jimmy” and “Minerva”.

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The truth, one suspects, is that multiple lookalikes were used, as is invariably the practise when filming animals (it’s mentioned elsewhere in imdb.com, evidently given to contradicting itself, that around nine different cats were used). However, when the cat plays as big a role in the film as does Cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it serves publicity purposes to preserve the illusion that the performance is the work of a single feline, rather than a small army of doppelmoggies.

And it’s pretty obvious that at least one, and perhaps all, of these cats have been declawed. Just look at that picture at the top of the page; do you really think Paramount Pictures would have let unsheathed claws anywhere near the naked back of its $750,000 star?

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CAT OF THE DAY 083: THE ENIGMA OF KASPAR HAUSER

enigmaofkausperhauserYTCAT OF THE DAY 083: JEDER FÜR SICH UND GOTT GEGEN ALLE (aka THE ENIGMA OF KASPAR HAUSER) (1974)

“She can’t walk on two feet!”

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