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Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Live-Action Edition. That Darn Cat!

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. We are moving on to live-action and partially animated films. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: That Darn Cat!

Year: 1965

Source materials: Based on the 1963 novel Undercover Cat by Gordon and Mildred Gordon.

Box office: $28,068,222

Plot: “Darn Cat” or “DC” is a wily, adventurous Siamese tomcat who lives with young suburbanite sisters Ingrid “Inkie” and Patricia “Patti” Randall and enjoys wandering around town and teasing a local bulldog named Blitzy. One night, DC follows bank robber Iggy into an apartment where he and his partner Dan are holding bank employee Miss Margaret Miller hostage. Miss Miller uses the opportunity to replace his collar with her watch, on which she has inscribed “HELP,” and releases him to go home to the Randalls’.

that-darn-cat

Patti discovers the watch on DC and suspects that it belongs to the kidnapped woman. She goes to the FBI and tells Agent Zeke Kelso of her discovery, and Supervisor Newton assigns Kelso to follow DC in the hope that he will lead them back to the robbers’ hideout. Kelso sets up a headquarters in the Randalls’ house and assigns a team to keep the cat under surveillance, but, despite multiple attempts and a bugging system, DC eludes them in humiliating and comedic ways, culminating in a chase where he leads Agent Kelso through a several back yards and a drive-in theatre.

As DC ends up trying to open a pidegon cage and is discovered by the owner Gregory Benson who is also Ingrid’s carpool and chases DC and Kelso and out of frustration tells Ingred he quits being her carpool. The next day agent Kelso’s supervisor Newton shuts down the operation, considering the evidence of the watch not hard enough, but Patti disguises herself as the hippie niece of her friend Mr. Hoffsteddar the jeweller and persuades the FBI that the watch was indeed hard evidence. Patti and Kelso rescue Miss Miller and bring the robbers to justice.

Subplots involve a romance between Patti’s sister Ingrid and Kelso as he becomes her new carpool, and a romance between Patti herself and a surf-obsessed slacker neighbor, Canoe Henderson, and the meddling of nosey neighbor Mrs. MacDougall and her disapproving husband. At the end, it is revealed that the gray cat in the opening sequence and DC are taking their kittens on a prowl, having started a family.

Background: The exterior neighborhood scenes were filmed on The Walt Disney Studios backlot in Burbank, California. One of the cats used for the film belonged to longtime cat breeder Edith Williams, a member of the Stud Book Fanciers Association. One of the feline actors also starred, along with two dogs, in Disney’s 1963 film The Incredible Journey.

Songs: The title song was written by the Sherman Brothers and sung by Bobby Darin.

Cast: Hayley Mills makes her final appearance in a Disney film as Patricia “Patti” Randall. Elsa Lanchester returns as Mrs. MacDougall and Ed Wynn returns as Mr. Hofstedder the Jeweller.

Dean Jones 1 as FBI Agent Zeke Kelso. He appeared in Somebody Up There Likes Me, Jailhouse Rock, Imitation General, Never So Few, The Ugly Dachshund, Blackbeard’s Ghost, Million Dollar Duck, Snowball Express, The Love Bug, Other People’s Money, Beethoven and Clear and Present Danger. He was famously cast as Bobby in Stephen Sondheim’s Company before quitting after opening night. Dorothy Provine 2 as Ingrid Randall. Provine had a starring role in two television series, The Alaskans and The Roaring 20’s. Her films included It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Good Neighbor Sam, The Great Race, Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die, Who’s Minding the Mint?, and Never a Dull Moment.

Roddy McDowall 3 as Gregory Benson. He is best known for portraying Cornelius and Caesar in the original Planet of the Apes film series. For portraying Augustus in Cleopatra he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. Other titles include The Longest Day,The Greatest Story Ever Told, Inside Daisy Clover, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Poseidon Adventure, Funny Lady, The Black Hole, Class of 1984, Fright Night, Overboard, Shakma, and A Bug’s Life. McDowall played Mordred in the musical Camelot and won a Tony for Peter Brook’s The Fighting Cock. His numerous voice-over credits include Batman: The Animated Series, Red Planet, The Tick, Gargoyles, Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man, and Pinky and the Brain. Neville Brand 4 as Dan. He is probably most well known as Al Capone on the television series The Untouchables. His many roles include Man Crazy, Riot in Cell Block 11, The Lone Gun, Return from the Sea, Love Me Tender, The Way to the Gold, The Lonely Man, The Tin Star, Cry Terror!, and Badman’s Country.

Frank Gorshin 5 as Iggy. His most famous acting role was as the Riddler on the series Batman. He had a memorable role on the original Star Trek series. Film roles include The Meteor Man and 12 Monkeys. William Demarest 6 as Mr. Wilmer MacDougall. He is best known for playing Uncle Charley in My Three Sons. Film roles include The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Hands Across the Table, Pardon My Past, On Our Merry Way, and The Far Horizons. He received a single Academy Award nomination, for his supporting role in The Jolson Story.

Critical Reception:

  • Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, “The feline that plays the informant, as the F.B.I. puts it, is superb. Clark Gable at the peak of his performing never played a tom cat more winningly. This elegant, blue-eyed creature is a paragon of suavity and grace”, and concluded, “…it’s an entertaining picture. Even a king might profitably look at That Darn Cat.”
  • Variety said, “Walt Disney comes up with a novelty charmer in this lilting translation of the Gordon’s [sic] whimsical tale of a Siamese cat who helps the FBI solve a kidnapping case.”
  • Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times stated, “As a detective story, ‘That Darn Cat!’ is strictly for juveniles and the juvenile-minded. It contains little of the step-by-step development which in good detective stories brings out the sleuthing in all of us, being content to settle for a series of gags in which that darn cat, a brownish Siamese, leads the FBI and others on a number of false scents till he and we finally barge in on the criminals.”
  • Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post declared, “‘That Darn Cat’ is a dandy Christmas present for everyone except the Scrooges. Children will enjoy its pranks, adults its whimsy, cat-lovers its Siamese and even J. Edgar Hoover won’t mind this use of the FBI.”
  • Brendan Gill of The New Yorker called the film “a typical product of the giant Disney flapdoodle factory, which for many years now has devoted itself to grinding out lavish falsifications of contemporary life.

Legacy: The movie was remade in 1997 with Christina Ricci and Doug E. Doug

My take: This movie is rather light-hearted and fun. It has a solid cast with great turns from the veterans

Next Week: The Gnome-mobile