- Marcello Mastroianni: the 1987 Interview (multiglom.wordpress.com)
Celebrated stage magician Robert “The Great Danton” Angier (Hugh Jackson) is visiting eccentric scientist Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) in Colorado in a quest for a teleportation device that will enable him to top his great rival, Alfred “The Professor” Borden.
Tesla tests the device on a top hat, and then on a black cat. His assistant (Andy Serkis), clearly an animal lover, says, “You are responsible for whatever happens to this animal, doctor.” And boy, he says it like he really means it.
There are a lot of fancy electric effects (I think we can safely assume they’re computer-generated) but the experiment appears to have been a failure. Until Angier leaves the laboratory…
Busby Berkeley‘s backstage musical was the first of his films on which he got sole directing credit (previously he had been credited as either co-director or choreographer). The highlight is the extraordinary 13-minute number Lullaby of Broadway, a standalone Expressionist mini-musical depicting the life and death of a carefree New York party girl, incorporating some of the most sinister Leni Riefenstahl-esque tapdancing ever recorded on film. Here it is – and it’s worth your time.
The cat appears twice. The first time, it’s waiting at the door in the morning when the party girl comes home from a night on the town, and she pours it some milk.
The second time we see it, there’s the milk, the saucer and the morning newspaper. But where is the party girl? Oh dear.
“No Sicilian can refuse a request on his daughter’s wedding day.” At the start of the film, during his daughter Connie‘s wedding, Don Vito Corleone sits in the semi-darkness of his study, listening to the pleas of Amerigo Bonasera, and absent-mindedly fondling the cat in his lap.
The cat wasn’t in the screenplay; it was a stray found on the Paramount lot by Marlon Brando. Like Vincent Price, Brando appeared totally at ease with a cat in his lap. And this cat, at least, seemed to like him. A lot. Its purring was reportedly so loud some of the actor’s dialogue had to be looped.
This is such an iconic scene that you can even buy a collectible of Don Corleone – complete with cat! (thank you for the tip-off, Meneer Westhoff, whose delightful video TAP CAT can be seen here)
If there’s one thing worse than being disturbed by neighbour noise, it’s being disturbed by neighbour noise and then being told you don’t have any neighbours. Cristina Raines plays a supermodel who rents, for the sort of piffling sum that ought to have made her suspicious, a magnificent apartment in Brooklyn Heights, only to discover there’s more to her fellow tenants than meets the eye.
Which is saying something, since they include John Carradine as a blind priest, Burgess Meredith throwing parties for his cat Jezebel, and Sylvia Miles and Beverly D’Angelo as evil lesbians in leotards who, when asked what they do for a living, say, “We fondle each other.”
Michael Winner’s cheesy horror film is a major cat movie. Jezebel (who appears to be played by at least two different cats) gets four big scenes:
1) A formal introduction by Burgess Meredith. “And this, on the other hand, so to speak… this is Jezebel. Say hello to the nice lady, Jezebel. That’s it darling…. She’s got indigestion.”
2) The birthday party.
3) A delicious parakeet snack, much to the heroine’s horror.
4) Leaping into the arms of the heroine’s boyfriend (Chris Sarandon) just before he gives her some extremely unwelcome information. By now, the heroine is so discombobulated by the cat that she urges him to “Kill it!”, which seems a bit unfair. But never mind, because she will get her come-uppance.
After the triple-whammy of The Conformist, The Spider’s Stratagem and Last Tango in Paris, Bernardo Bertolucci was already beginning to go off the boil (I’m afraid I’m not a fan of his later International Hotel style of film-making) when he directed this unwieldy epic spanning 50 years of Italian history.
But if you can tolerate the 318 minute running-time and one-dimensional characters, Vittorio Storaro‘s cinematography is breath-takingly beautiful, and there are some memorable moments – mostly involving Donald Sutherland as a fascist called Attila. And yes, his parents were probably asking for trouble, giving him a name like that.
This was during Sutherland’s grotesque period. He’d just played Homer Simpson (sic) in The Day of the Locust (in which he does a terrible thing – and almost immediately pays horribly for it) and was about to play the title role in the magnificent, melancholy Fellini’s Casanova.
It’s not enough that Attila is evil – we have to see him being evil. So he ties a black and white cat to the wall with his belt and head-butts it to death.
Bertolucci cuts away at the last moment, and I don’t suppose either he or Sutherland would really have killed a cat, even in an Italian co-production that elsewhere shows the unfaked slaughter of a pig and cruelty to frogs. But the cat is clearly in distress as it’s tethered to the wall, so it’s still upsetting to watch.
Incidentally, imdb-user “pascal-guimier” writes the following on the Novecento messageboards:
I recently read in French Le grand imbécile by the Italian famous writer Curzio Malaparte (1898-1957). It was written in 1943 and mocks fiercely Mussolini’s dictatorship. Malaparte describes a scene that shocked him when he was a young boy living in Prato (Tuscany). An ancient tradition taking place in August (on San Rocco’s day) was called “game of the cat”: several men with their hands fastened in their backs had to kill starved cats (tightened at wooden poles stuck in the ground) using only their shaven heads! So does fascist Attila in the movie.
Still, if you think you can’t get any more evil than that, just wait till you see what Attila does to a small boy later in the film.
Heavyweights Paul Schrader and Robert Towne were responsible for the screenplay of this cracking east-meets-west thriller – directed by Sydney Pollack in his interesting 1970s period – in which Robert Mitchum goes to Tokyo and teams up with Japanese superstar Ken Takakura to rescue an American shipping magnate’s daughter from local gangsters.
There’s a lot of double-crossing interwoven with high-toned samurai philosophising, but it all boils down to Takakura’s supercool swordplay, while Big Bob crashes through paper screens with a shotgun and – unlike Michael Douglas in Black Rain – gets to grips with the ancient Yakuza custom of Yubitsume, ritual amputation of the pinky finger.
In this picture, we see Herb Edelman (probably best known as Dorothy’s ex-husband in The Golden Girls) as Wheat, a peace-loving American expat living in Tokyo. We know he is peace-loving because he has a couple of cats, one of which he clutches in terror when Japanese gangsters break into his home and try to shoot and/or stab everyone in sight. There are several casualties but, as far as we can see, none of them are feline.
So that’s all right, then.
Danny Glover and Sean Penn unleash Kim Jong II‘s deadly black “panthers” on Joe and Sarah. But Sarah uses her mental powers (“We are not your enemy, furry ones! You will not attack us!”) to persuade the panthers to turn against Glover and Penn and devour them instead.
Cue for offal shots as the Glover and Penn puppets are pounced upon, dismembered and disembowelled. Presumably they were stuffed with tuna. Or catnip.
Elsewhere in the film, Gary makes a speech about pussies (and dicks, and assholes).
André Bourvil, one of France’s best-loved comedians, plays it straight as Commissaire Mattei (a role originally intended for Lino Ventura) in Jean-Pierre Melville‘s existential cops and robbers drama. It was to be Bourvil’s last film – he was already terminally ill with Kahler’s Syndrome, a rare form of cancer, and would die, aged 52, on 23rd September 1970 – a month before the film was released.
But it’s a smashing performance. Mattei is dapper and meticulous. At the beginning of the film, his prisoner (Gian Maria Volonté) slips his handcuffs on a train and escapes; the Commissaire’s pursuit of him throughout the rest of the film is dogged, professional, unemotional.
Meanwhile, all we get to see of his personal life are two almost identical scenes in which he arrives home, greets his cats – their names are Fiorello, Ofrène and Grifollet – and feeds them. Note the cat pictures on the wall.
Bourvil fits comfortably into the Melville acting style of minimal emotional display, yet – thanks to these fleeting glimpses of his domestic life – manages to invest his character with a rather unMelvillian warmth. In the Melville universe, the boundary between cops and gangsters may blur – but do you see Volonté and his fellow crooks, Alain Delon and Yves Montand, feeding their cats? No, you do not. It’s clear whose side we are on.
The black cat in Saul Bass‘s credit sequence for Edward Dmytryk’s film is one of the most famous cats in the movies, and rightly so. The puss emerges from a pipe and stalks the block to Elmer Bernstein’s jazzy orchestral score before getting into a scrap with a white cat, which it trounces.
Between the opening and closing credits, there’s a preposterous miscast Depression-era melodrama starring Laurence Harvey as a Texan called “Dove Linkhorn” who tracks down his lost love (played by Capucine, whom Harvey declared was “like kissing the side of a beer bottle”) in a New Orleans bordello called The Doll House run by Barbara Stanwyck as a lesbian brothel madam whose husband has no legs. Jane Fonda plays an underage tart called “Kitty Twist”. Which, I think we all agree, is a splendid name.
But at the end of the film, the cat reappears – hurrah! – and walks over a discarded newspaper revealing the fates of the surviving characters before stalking off down the street again.