Review of “Shadow of the Cat” (1961)

(most of) Svengoolie’s open for The Shadow of the Cat from YouTube

This is last week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie offering. It was such a quirky view I had to write about it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a free watchable version of it. Even finding a trailer for it was an exercise. Should you come across it, though, this flick is worth the watch, with or without pizza in front of you and furball beside you. We watched it with Svengoolie.

Plot:

It was a dark and stormy night. Alone in her tower room, elderly, wealthy Ella Venable (Catherine Lacey) has just finished her last will and testament with a quill pen. She’s now reading “The Raven” to her pet cat, Tabitha (Bunkie…really). Creaks come from the stairs. Ella tells Tabitha everything is okay. It’s a funny old house, full groaning old boards.

Unfortunately for her, those boards are creaking under the feet of Andrew, the butler (Andrew Crawford). Without her glasses, Ella thinks it’s her husband, Walter (André Morell), and tells Andrew, “I’m done, Walter. I have done everything.” Andrew beats her to death while Tabitha watches from the bookcase. He then carries her body downstairs past husband Walter and the maid Clara (Freda Jackson), who makes sure no one is outside while they go bury the body.

Tabitha runs past them and takes note of where her former mistress goes into the ground, as well as who put her there.

Ella has “disappeared.” Walter wants nothing in the papers but demands Inspector Rowles (Alan Wheatley) find her.

The guilty parties know what the cat saw and hate the cat for it. For some reason, the cat won’t come near any of them. Tabitha runs into the cellar. Walter and Andrew chase after her. In the dark, Walter strikes Andrew in the arm but continues to hunt for the cat. He smashes some glass containers, then realizes he’s stepping on dead rats. Tabitha jumps on his back, screaming. Walter has a heart attack, and the doctor confines him to bed.

Round One goes to Tabitha.

Thoughts:

Beth Venable (Barbara Shelley), Miss Ella’s favorite niece, arrives. Walter has sent for her, as she’ll be the most likely to challenge the will she forced his wife to sign. He’s sure he can charm her into agreeing to the terms that shut her out. On the way to the house, she meets journalist Michael Latimer (Conrad Phillips), who gives her a heads-up on the goings-on at the Venable household.

“You mean to tell me,” she says, “an ordinary domestic cat is terrorizing three grown-ups?”

The humor here is at the expense of the conspirators. The butler is sitting up with the ailing Walter. He curls up for a nap. The camera then turns to Tabitha, sitting quietly in the same room. The next time the viewer sees Andrew, his face bears several deep scratches.

A question arises about whether the cat is really menacing the murderers or whether they are falling victims to their own guilty consciences. The conspirators each come apart at the seams. The cat remains… a cat.

Another conspiracy arises around Walter’s unscrupulous relatives and Ella’s original will, which requires the dispatching of Tabitha. Cats may have nine lives, but the conspirators and would-be cat-killers are not so lucky—or particularly bright, especially in the area of self-preservation. The unscrupulous relatives know the will must be in the house and don’t hesitate to inflict damage on a building they plan to own. In one scene, plaster dust rains down on our hero and heroine.

I enjoyed this movie quite a bit, but it’s not flawless. You could see the strings at times—quite literally. This was a way of getting the cat to move at certain times and places. One scene shows her playing with a ball of yarn. To set a sinister mood around the appearance of the cat, eerie trilling music is repeatedly played. I found this annoying. For me, it didn’t add to the tension and was, indeed, closer to parody than drama. When the director wishes to show a scene through the cat’s point of view, it is presented stretched horizontally and compressed vertically. This wasn’t intrusive.

It’s a pity this one is more readily available.



Title: The Shadow of the Cat (1961)

Directed by
John Gilling

Writing Credits
George Baxt…(written by)

Cast (in credits order) awaiting verification
André Morell…Walter Venable (as Andre Morell)
Barbara Shelley…Beth Venable
William Lucas…Jacob Venable
Freda Jackson…Clara, the Maid
Conrad Phillips…Michael Latimer
Bunkie…Cat (Tabitha) (uncredited)

Released: June 7, 1961
Length: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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