Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
One of the funniest recognition jokes in Joe Dante's wonderful Matinee is a hilarious
spoof of 60s Disney comedies called "The Shook-Up Shopping Cart," a film-within-a-film. The
perky leading lady's
uncle has been transformed into a shopping cart, see, which leaps around on its own and foils
the plans of clumsy crooks dressed like Beagle Boys.
That synopsis more or less describes the tone of the 1965 movie That Darn Cat!, a lightly
amusing but drawn-out and insubstantial comedy that marked Hayley Mills' final Disney appearance
of the 1960s. Basically a silly sitcom boasting good second unit work with some domestic
pets, the movie
will only hold the attention of devout Hayley Mills fans, and cat lovers. The humor is strictly
for those adolescents who will put up with squeaky-clean "wacky cut-ups" that pass
for comedy. Nowadays, I'd only try it out on kids younger than eight, and only if they aren't easily
Sisters Patti and Ingrid Randall (Hayley Mills and Dorothy Provine) hold down
the home fort while their parents are in Europe, under constant snoop-ervision by their neighbor
Kipp MacDougall (Elsa Lanchester). Patti is courted by the romantically inert, surf-crazy Canoe Henderson
(Tom Lowell) and Ingrid is pestered by her mother-obsessed carpool partner Gregory Benson (Roddy McDowall).
Gregory hates the Randall's adopted siamese cat DC (short for Darn Cat), which prowls the neighborhood
each night looking for food and tormenting the bulldog next door. But one night DC comes home with a
around its neck instead of a collar, which Patti decides is a cry for help from a kidnapped bank
teller (Grayson Hall) being held by rotten crooks Dan and Iggy (Neville Brand and Frank Gorshin).
Against Ingrid's wishes, Patti contacts in the F.B.I. in the person of handsome Agent Zeke Kelso (Dean
Jones). He's assigned to tail DC to find the crooks, even though he's allergic to cat dander!
Let me start right off by saying there's nothing particularly wrong with That Darn Cat!, a
tame but pleasant movie. At almost two hours, it's slowly paced as well. Hayley Mills has finally
outgrown her kiddie charm and is allowed to try a bit more of a mature approach, but after a while we
start to miss the way she was made to act before, with every line of dialogue punctuated by a
cross-eyed smile. Even without the kiddie mannerisms she isn't half bad, and Dorothy Provine's voice
and attitude is also attractive. It's just that there's nothing very inspired on view; the whole
enterprise has been aimed at
some unknown "family" audience that wants completely empty entertainment. The watch-as-a-cat-collar
gag is an awful lot like the message in a bottle that initiates the action in
In Search of the Castaways. The
factor is unusually high and the characters are so dull that we feel sorry for Gorshin and
Brand's crooks - in a real crime film they might at least have a chance to keep their dignity.
That Darn Cat! is a heavily storyboarded show and its best scenes by far are DC the cat's nightly
neighborhood exploits. The cat trainer deserves the highest praise for getting such perfectly
timed choreography out of the kitty, a lot of it accomplished within shots instead of with cuts.
The way DC outfoxes the bulldog is almost as stylized as an animated cartoon; I think it makes use of
some clever split screens. One of the best (and most cat-like) gags has Hayley trying to get DC to stand
up on a bed. It just keeps flopping limp in a perfect uncooperative cat way.
Pert Hayley and poofy-haired Dorothy have slightly annoying boyfriends. Roddy McDowall is an intentional
jerk of little interest, a mother-worshipping proto-Norman Bates type two years before he played a literal
Norman Bates type in a Golem movie called It!. It's presumed that Hayley is "too young to have
a real boyfriend," so twenty four year-old Tom Lowell is made to play Hayley's teen love interest as a
sexless fool. If Lowell looks familiar, he was in
The Manchurian Candidate -
as "Private Lembeck," the POW that Laurence Harvey shoots through the forehead!
What makes That Darn Cat! a prime contender in the "Shook-Up Shopping Cart" genre is the
way it handles comedy. When characters start following each other around the ever-so-spotless
neighborhood, the music goes cute and the jokes come on like panel gags in a kiddie comic book.
Tom Lowell snoops about with a silly fake moustache and gets himself caught in an automatic
garage door: Jean-Luc Godard would call that suburban justice. Some physical gags are fairly
amusing, but they don't build or have any particular point. The begin as fairly menacing for a Disney
movie - Neville Brand shoves his gun into Grayson Hall's face in close-up. They predictably turn
into silly bunglers. FBI agents become Keystone Kops and Dean Jones ends up with inky paw prints
all over himself. Savant thought this kind of stuff was
funny, at least until I turned 12. I remember being invited by a neighbor kid to see The Ugly
Dachshund at a drive-in. About a half-hour in, we asked his mother to take us home!
That Darn Cat! is formula all the way, so much so that William Demarest and Elsa Lanchester
are completely uninteresting as the nosy neighbors. Ed Wynn has only a brief cameo appearance.
I enjoyed it, but only as a kind of reverse nostalgia ... wanting to find out if there were
qualities in these popular Disney live-action pictures that I missed. Not really.
Disney's DVD of That Darn Cat! is a frustrating experience on DVD. The encoding is adequate and
the picture quality quite good, but the movie has been reformatted at 1:33. The title sequence has been
slightly squeezed and inserts of newspaper headlines chop words off on both the right and the left.
If the movie once had a compositional balance, it doesn't any more. The package says "The Original
Classic" but Disney doesn't treat it like one.
The audio is fine, with Bobby Darin singing the Sherman Brothers' so-so title tune behind shots of
the kitty cat on the prowl, some angles of which mimic the titles of
Walk on the Wild Side. I guess
a strolling cat looks great no matter what kind of musical beat one sets against it.
There are no extras, not even a plug for the recent remake. There are some difficult-to-skip
promos up front, so make sure you know where the chapter-advance button is on your remote. Savant is
really "shook-up" over studios
slapping unwanted commercials at the head of DVDs, even the insulting "don't steal" blurbs. Soon
they'll be adding local advertising and infomercials - you know, more "special features."
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
That Darn Cat! rates:
Movie: Fair ++ or Good --
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: none, meow.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 18, 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson