That Darn Cat: Silly Done Right

Welcome to Cat Week, or Cat Fortnight, depending on how long it takes me to write these and how long it takes you to read them. My family has been enjoying, or at least consuming, various feline-themed entertainments, and I'm back with the results.

That Darn Cat

First up is That Darn Cat! I hasten to add that we're talking about the 1965 film here. This picture stars Hayley Mills as Patti, the owner of D. C. the cat, as much as anyone can be said to own a cat this willful. Dean Jones plays an FBI man named Kelso.

The story revolves around a bank robbery committed by thugs played by Neville Brand and Frank Gorshin. The latter is best known as the Riddler from the old Adam West Batman series. They've got a big suitcase full of loot-- actually, it's comically fake-looking money. I don't know if filmmakers back in the day were more worried about inadvertently violating counterfeiting laws, or what, but the money is so fakey it undermines the dramatic tension of scenes set in the thug's apartment. And I'm serious about that dramatic tension. They have kidnapped a teller from the bank, and it's clear that they intend to kill her when they blow town. That's a little darker than you might expect from the cover of the DVD.

Anyway, D.C. the cat, wandering the streets at night, wanders into the apartment, and the teller manages to replace his collar with her watch and put him outside, and once Patti sees her cat again, she puts the whole thing together, and contacts Kelso at the FBI.

The FBI decides to put a tail on D.C. to see if he can lead them back to the robbers, and I don't know any other way to describe what happens next, other than to say "hilarity ensues."

It's not sophisticated humor. There is a lot of silliness involving Kelso's cat allergy; misunderstandings by Patti's boyfriend, Canoe; a nosy neighbor and her long-suffering husband; and a drive-in owner who ends up with most of the contents of the snack stand on his suit. I like to say that anything can be done well or done poorly, and this is silly humor done well. The characters are well-written, and much of the humor comes from how straight everyone plays their roles in contrast to the absurdity of the premise. Hayley Mills and Dean Jones, as always, are delightful to watch, and there's a nice turn in a supporting role for Roddy McDowell.

The cat himself was apparently played by several cats, and played darn well. Disney films of this era had a knack for filming animals in a way that makes scripted actions look and feel natural. These days, the cat would be CGI, 3-D, and would talk. And probably sing, too.

I can't give this four stars, because there's just not quite enough here for adults to sink their teeth into without the presence of giggling children. But this is good, old-fashioned family entertainment in the best sense of all of those words.

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