Monday, January 06, 2014

Get Me A Cat That Can Act!: 10 Great Movie Cats (Live Action)




If you’ve seen any of the trailers, TV spots, or posters for the Coen brothers’ newest film INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (opening wide this Friday) you know that it prominently features an orange tabby cat.

As I live in a home full of cats (both our own and fosters as my wife and I volunteer for the Raleigh cat rescue Alley Cats & Angels), I thought it would be fun to kick off the new year with a good ole top 10 list, or a piece of listicle linkbaitas some cynical critics call it, this time spotlighting other felines that stole their respective movies.

Of course, some of these cat characters were played by more than one cat but as the Village Voice’s Stephanie Zacharek wrote in her review of INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, “Technically, we’re talking about several cats, but let's look the other way for the sake of movie magic.” Also, as this post’s heading indicates, I’m excluding cartoon or CGI-ed cats. So don’t go looking for Garfield or the Cheshire Cat here. No cats who have overdubbed human voices either - so sorry, Sassy from HOMEWARD BOUND.

So here are 10 Great Movie Cats (Live Action):

1. Jonesy in ALIEN (and ALIENS)



As many critics have called Ridley Scott's classic sci-fi thriller ALIEN a haunted house in space premise, it made sense that a cat would be one of the crew members aboard the commercial vessel Nostromo so that there could be some fake-out scares of the oh, it's just the cat variety. Jones, nicknamed Jonesy, was officially there to rid the ship of rodents, but he became one of the most memorable of the film's characters. This is especially because he and Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) were the only survivors of the Nostromo's deadly alien encounters, and he even made an appearance in the sequel. For those who can't get enough of Jonesy, there's this fan fiction in the form of a free e-book: Alien, From The Point Of View Of Jones The Cat by Anne Billson. 

2. Tonto in HARRY AND TONTO


When I first saw the trailer for INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, I was reminded of Paul Mazursky’s 1974 drama HARRY & TONTO, which also featured an orange tabby being carried around New York and across country (although he was often walked on a leash as well).

Art Carney’s Oscar winning role as Harry Coombes, a retired schoolteacher who goes on a cross country trip after his apartment building is demolished, is greatly enhanced by his loyalty to his cat. Interestingly, Carney was far from a cat lover before shooting, but after the film wrapped he told an interviewer that they both got along great, and that “when it was over I wanted to buy Tonto. His trainer wouldn’t allow it.” 

3. Blowfeld’s cat in the James Bond series


007’s arch enemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, portrayed by Donald Pleasance, Telly Savalas, and Charles Gray during the classic Sean Connery era of Bond, was always seen stroking a white fluffy Turkish Angora in his lap. We are never told the name of the cat beloved by the head of the global criminal organization SPECTRE, but reportedly a couple of cats named Soloman and Tiddes were used in the three films YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967), ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969, the lone George Lazenby entry), and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971).

Only once did Blofeld and his cat appear (neither played by any previous participant) in the Roger Moore era, in the pre-credits sequence of 1981’s FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, but the evil genius was never called Blofeld because of legal reasons. These same legal reasons amounted to a competing Bond movie by a rival production comapny, 1983’s NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, in which Max von Sydow’s Blofeld stroked yet another fluffy Turkish Angora. 



Showing how much of an impression the cat made on pop culture, a parody of Blofeld’s pet was included in the Mike Myers AUSTIN POWERS films (themselves parodies of the Bond series and the entire ‘60s spy genre): a hairless Sphynx named Mr. Bigglesworth, the beloved cat of Blofeld lookalike (and satiric equivalent) Dr. Evil.

4. Don Vito Corleone’s cat in THE GODFATHER 


In his commentary on the DVD and Blu ray of the 1972 gangster classic, director/producer/writer Francis Ford Coppola explains how Marlon Brando's iconic character came to have a furry friend on his lap: “It's interesting - the cat in Marlon's hand was not planned for. I just saw the cat kind of running around the studio, and I just took it and just put it right in his hands without a word. I said ‘here Marlon,’and he, uh, of course, he loves children and animals and he immediately took to the cat. And the cat took to him and it became part of the scene - not at all planned, just a random idea.

5. “Cat” in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S

  
The unimaginatively named Cat is yet another orange tabby that stole the show as Holly Golightly's (Aubrey Hepburn) cat in the 1961 classic. 

6. The Black Cat in THE BLACK CAT 


It's about time a black cat made the list, and who better than the creepy cat title character in the 1934 Universal horror classic THE BLACK CAT? As this was way before the internets, not much is known about the cat, who seemed to be suggested by the Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name. There were a bunch of remakes (even back then they were remaking the Hell out of horror flicks), but let's just stick with the first and best one.

7. This little kitten in LA DOLCE VITA



One stand out scene in Federico Fellini's 1961 classic had Anita Ekberg playing with a tiny kitten that she found walking the streets of Rome. One could say she reduces the kitty to a fashion accessory but it's a cute scene nonetheless.

8. Mr. Jinx in MEET THE PARENTS


On the audio commentary for the hit 2000 comedy, Ben Stiller asked man of few words Robert De Niro what he thought of his toilet using cat co-star, who was played by two five year-old Himalayans. De Niro: I like cats. Cats is good.” Well put, Bob.

9. Phillip Marlowe's cat in THE LONG GOODBYE



Yep, another orange tabby. Elliot Gould isn't able to hold on to his cat in the 1973 detective thriller (of sorts) for long as director Robert Altman put it on the “Rip Van Marlowe” featurette on the film's DVD: “The cat was around as long as it got fed. But he didn't get fed - that's the end of the cat.” The cat exits the apartment's window, and the film, when Elliot's Marlowe tries to pull one over on him by putting the label of his favorite food on a can of a generic brand.


10. A cat extra in DAY FOR NIGHT

The heading of this post comes from this scene in François Truffaut's 1973 Oscar winner DAY FOR NIGHT, in which a crew member on the film-within-a-film can't get a cat extra to hit its mark and orders: “Get me a cat that can act!”

More later...

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