Today's featured flick, Eye of the Cat (1969) was a bucket list movie of mine for three decades. Ever since I purchased the coffee table book “The Illustrated Who's Who of the Cinema” back in 1986 (which instantly became an irreplaceable resource for me after every movie viewing thereafter until I knew practically every person in it!), I have wanted to watch it. As an obsessed fan of Baroness Schraeder in The Sound of Music (1965), I saw that Eleanor Parker made this movie four years later and played another glamorous character, which made it a must-see. However, even though Cat had apparently been shown on TV ad nauseam in the '70s, I never, ever saw it broadcast anywhere again. Ever!
A few years ago, one of my favorite movie blogs did a tribute to the film and it was clear even from that post that this movie has yet to be given any sort of proper video release (as its webmaster always features pristine vidcaps.) It is screaming out for DVD! I had told myself that I would not view it in a blurry, sub-par print with all the hiccups, muffled sound and unclear visuals, but in the end I simply could not resist watching it. While it is far from a perfect film, it did not disappoint!
Directed by (primarily TV) veteran David Lowell Rich, Cat often takes hits from some critics and viewers for its staid, uncreative direction, but to me the movie contained atmosphere, suspense, intriguing set-ups and angles and a fluid, moving camera, so I couldn't understand what the fuss was about. While no one is Hitchcock (and this movie contains MANY Hitchcockian elements thanks to a script by 1960's Psycho author Joseph Stefano), I found this to generally be a well-handled, yet elegant, popcorn thriller for 1969 (though it must be said that I am averse to all the hepped-up, over-the-top action that dominates today's cinema.)
Reviews of Eye of the Cat often cite Parker's character as “wheelchair-bound.” She's not. It just turns out that she has severe emphysema (“two-thirds of her lung tissue is gone!”) and cannot over-exert herself. She uses a wheelchair for most of her getting around and sleeps in an oxygen tent.
As fur-covered Parker enters the salon, we meet Gayle Hunnicutt, one of the beauty operators who works there, grooming herself, cat-like, in the mirror.
Next we see the salon's flamboyant owner Mark Herron regaling Parker with some sort of tale as he welcomes her into the establishment. In an amusing bit, he takes time while walking to cover the exposed knees of a client, lest her dignity be at risk. In real life, the gay Herron was not too long divorced from his short-term wife Judy Garland! And look at the gray-haired patron in the lower right corner of the shot below, it's Poseidon's Underworld's favorite extra, Leoda Richards, almost always a sign that we're in for a fun time.
With the salon buzzing and Parker under the dryer, she takes an attack and begins wheezing and flailing in agony, dropping a prized locket of hers in the process and sending all the folks in the parlor into a tizzy. Hunnicutt, kneading a hand towel in a feline manner, had already had her eye on the pendant and happily pockets it.
After the credits roll, we see Hunnicutt on something of a mission. She drives her convertible to an out of the way, rather seedy motel with rooms rented by everything but the hour. After bribing the manager, she proceeds to one of the rooms, enters with a key and discovers a young couple in bed together, post coitus.
The girl is horrified and uses a pillow to partially cover herself, but the guy (mop- haired Michael Sarrazin) takes it in stride. As Hunnicutt practically orders him to get up and come with her, we find that he is (implied) naked except for a pair of black boots and doesn't really mind at all if the interloper sees it for herself.
Hunnicutt is one tough cookie, however, and isn't at all phased by Sarrazin's brazen manner. Soon, he's slipped on some clothes and is along for the ride with her to places unknown. The place turns out to be the salon, her place of employment, where she puts him through his paces, with a haircut, a shave, body massage and so on.
Later, a towel-clad Sarrazin reveals to Hunnicut that he is deathly afraid of cats. As a child, he'd nearly been smothered to death by one when it climbed up into his crib and covered his face. Now the mere sight of one causes an adverse reaction. (One assumes he made a habit of leaving the room during any of the prolific Morris the cat TV commercials for Nine Lives cat food?)
Just then, the same orange cat that had been skulking around Parker and the salon leaps into his lap, causing him to violently toss the feline aside (and causing it to suffer a simultaneously horrifying and perhaps unintentionally hilarious fate.) I will add here that I have been known to boycott movies in which the deaths of dogs or cats is presented as “funny.” I just found the execution – no pun intended – of this to be a bit loony!
Sarrazin thinks he's been collected and cleaned up by this self- assured, gorgeous young woman for the purposes of sex, but he's in for quite a surprise. What she really wants is for him to head back home to his aunt's mansion in order to get her will changed to himself as the beneficiary. Then she wants to kill the woman and split the inheritance. The aunt? Parker, of course!
We soon meet the little brother, who's not as little any more and is now played by Tim Henry. He's never left Parker the way Sarrazin did and we find that he is the same handsome driver who'd earlier taken her to the salon. The brothers' reunion is affectionate, yet slightly antagonistic, with Sarrazin not understanding why Henry has proceeded to stay with his aunt rather than experience the world at large.
Soon Sarrazin heads to see his aunt for the first time in years. Due to her declining health, she's established a bedroom in the first floor study rather than climb any stairs. He enters the room and finds her asleep under the oxygen tent and is at first pleased to see her, but soon realizes to his utter horror that the room is positively crawling with cats!
He bolts from the study and immediately races to Hunnicutt's apartment where he hurls her around for not warning him about all the kitties in residence at Parker's abode. She claims ignorance about them and before long has seduced him to clam his nerves. After their romp in bed, we get a look at the claws this gal is sporting as she traces his arm with one of them.
Meanwhile, Parker, who had opened her eyes long enough to glimpse Sarrazin before he ran off, is wistfully recalling him in her run-down conservatory. Thankfully, Henry has opted to do some shirtless repair work while she's waxing nostalgic, but sadly it's our only glimpse of his yummy physique. Henry, for whom Parker holds a general disdain despite his devotion to her every need, convinces her to take her daily dose of fresh air at the park across the street.
Here, Sarrazin officially meets up with his aunt again and they instantly strike up a fondness for each other that had been part of their lives when he was a youth. Part of their fun and games is his penchant for doing anything and everything he can think of you get a rise out of her, be it rapidly thrusting her wheelchair down a path or pretending to be dead in her presence!
Parker is desperate for him to return home, but he won't set foot in the place until all of those cats are gone. Parker orders Henry to lure the bevy of beasts into the car with a large bowl of meat so that he can transport them out of Sarrazin's hair.
Next, she calls her attorney that very day and announces that she wishes to change her will! The bene- ficiaries had been the cats(!), but now she wants it changed so that Sarrazin will inherit her estate. (Bizarrely, at no time does Henry ever seem to be included in the plans for her will, though he is the one who's been at her side all along!)
Just when she thinks that the cats are all gone and that Sarrazin will be back in her roost, Parker hears mewing and searches her room to locate the source! She discovers that one of her wardrobes is housing a newborn litter of tiny kittens!
She surreptitiously gathers them up and tiptoes outside with them (to do God knows what! It's never shown.) One her way back inside, she realizes that she may as well dispose of the article of clothing they were nestled in as well so she heads to the basement, but gets something of a shock. (Her garish reaction is the expression shown on the movie's poster.)
Meanwhile, Sarrazin has brought Hunnicutt into the house! After stowing her in a storage area (where they again make love), he installs her upstairs – out of Parker's reach – in a place they call the play room. There, she oversees how well her grand plans are taking place.
The lawyer (Linden Chiles) – to Parker's dismay, an associate, not the senior partner – arrives to redo her will. He listens to her requests, but informs her that the document cannot be official until it is drawn up and signed in the presence of two witnesses not listed as beneficiaries of the estate. Chiles can't even get out the door before Sarrazin begins quizzing him on how soon he would be able to spend the money and if the cats are well out of the inheritance! Chiles assures him that so long as Parker survives until the next day's signing, he will get everything that's coming to him.
Sarrazin spends more time zipping Parker around in her wheelchair, but at one point slips and sends her careening into the side of the conservatory's fountain! This brings on another one of her attacks and she's sent to bed. Realizing that he's got to keep the woman alive through the next afternoon, Sarrazin is worried that he brought on another violent breathing episode.
Later, Henry goes looking for Sarrazin and finds him soaking under- water in the bathtub. The rotten picture of this version of the movie doesn't allow us to see things completely clearly, but something or other is bobbing around in the water near his foot (in the inset) and it's not his hand or thumb. Both hands are up near his face.
This mini-tribute to Diabolique (1955) is interrupted by Henry who enters and tries to get his brother's attention. Unable to rouse him by name, he takes a back brush and pokes him in the belly with the handle of it!
In yet another instance of Sarrazin being openly naked in front of another person, he is coerced out of the tub.
He proceeds to enlist Henry to dry off his back! Needless to say, we welcome this little bit of homoerotic kink with open arms.
Sarrazin obtains the key to Parker's strongbox in order to pilfer a bit of cash to spend on Hunnicutt and to get her away from the house for a stretch. While he's rooting around in the iron cookie jar, Parker awakens and calls him over to her bedside. As they continue to bond over memories and the subject of Henry's love life, Parker rests her hand in quite a pronounced manner on Sarrazin's inner-thigh!
This bit of sensual tension includes a close-up of Sarrazin's commando crotch (accented by Parker's hand, which sports a dazzling ring on it!)
It's also punctuated by a moment of desperate sensual longing in which Parker pulls off one of the most startling lip/cheek quivers that I have ever seen! The still-lovely actress is giving this movie her all (as virtually all of the old-Hollywood pros who found themselves in similar predicaments did), regardless of the fact that this is nothing more than a glitzy, ditzy thriller with plot holes wider than some of the fault lines found in California.
Sarrazin does show Hunnicutt the town in a montage that is typical of the era before escorting her to a funky 1960s party complete with gyrating dancers, plenty of big hair & short skirts and this guy, who unleashes an amusing bon mot regarding his sexual preference. Half the inhabitants of the party are getting high, but Hunnicutt decides she's too singleminded for that. She heads off to the ladies room to freshen up.
In her absence, Sarrazin is again confronted by the first girl we saw him with, Jennifer Leak. She expresses her still-brewing affection for him, but when he reveals that he's still with Hunnicutt and, in fact, has brought her there to her place with him, she becomes unglued.
Now we are treated to an Eye of the Cat catfight, in which Leak and Hunnicutt trash the already filthy and disgusting restroom. Like alleycats in the gutter, they tear at each other repeatedly until the other folks, alternately amused and concerned, manage to break them apart.
Following her wallow with Leak, Hunnicutt has clearly decided to partake in something because she's deliriously relaxed, yet, starry-eyed and opts to seduce the easily-seducible Sarrazin in the conservatory. Unknown to them, however, Parker has heard them come in and slinks out to watch them together and hear about their plot to murder her for her money!
Next comes the movie's chief set piece, in which a now- paranoid Parker is taken for her daily airing by a grinning Sarrazin. She's told him that she knows about his plans, but has signed the will anyway. She doesn't even make it to the park when she thinks she sees someone in her bedroom window. She points it out to her nephew who, after seeing something himself, heads off to investigate.
He finds Hunnicutt in Parker's room trying to jimmy open the strongbox to be certain for herself that the new will is all signed.
Parker, resplendent in her Edith head finery, isn't content to merely wait for him and begins to roll down a steep incline slightly to see for herself what is happening in her room. Deciding to climb back up the hill, she turns the chair around.
Only, surprise! Her electric attach- ment suddenly blows up and konks out, causing her to stall and begin to roll backwards. With agonizing determination, she fights to keep from zooming backwards down the hill into heavy traffic! It should be noted that Parker previously – and very dramatically - portrayed women in wheelchairs in both The Man with the Golden Arm and Interrupted Melody, both 1955 (Melody garnered one of her three Best Actress nominations), and she's still providing A-List Face throughout this tense – yet undeniably giddy – sequence!
Sarrazin opts to try to save Parker, signed will or not, and darts out to the street, but now a cat, who seems bent on watching over Parker, is in the way, distrustful of the would-be killer. With Parker's ankle caught under the chair and her grip on the wall slipping, Sarrazin's decision to swat away the cat has perilous consequences when it lands right in her lap!
This is not the end of the movie, and there is still a fair amount of story to come, but I don't like to reveal too many key plot specifics on my site, especially regarding mysteries or thrillers. Even in my detailed tributes, I always try to leave certain things out. I will tell you, however, that the bevy of cats who resided in the house to begin with, do make a rather bloodthirsty return. In this respect, Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) is evoked to a certain degree.
Rail-thin Sarrazin was just making his mark in motion pictures. Having appeared on TV in the mid-'60s, he started to earn film roles by 1967 and soon graduated to youthful leads. 1969 also brought him the far more prestigious They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Other notable movies in which he starred include Harry in Your Pocket (1973) and The Gumball Rally (1976.) He was still a viable leading man until the late-'70s before seguing into lower-budget thrillers like The Seduction (1982) and Mascara (1987.) Only seventy when he died of cancer in 2011, he had by then amassed a substantial list of acting credits.
Texas born Hunnicutt was a tall, attractive fashion model before segueing into acting. Not unlike Linda Gray, though in my opinion even more beautiful, she married British star David Hemmings in 1968, the year her movie career began to gather steam. They costarred in 1970's Fragment of Fear, another thriller, and worked in both the U.S. and the U.K. She acted after their divorce in 1975 with regularity, but in less high-profile projects (1985's Target being one exception.) Now seventy-two, she began to slow down in the 1990s and her last TV guest role came in 1999.
Parker is one of my very favorite actresses and she received an early tribute here and a later, far more thorough one, here. Following her role in The Sound of Music, a staggering world-wide success, she nevertheless struggled to land decent big-screen roles. The Oscar (1966) was a royal hoot, but she was good in it. 1966's An American Dream gave her a brief, lacerating role as a sensual, drunken bitch. Warning Shot (1967) had initially been intended as a TV-movie.
Indeed, she began to work more in television and Eye of the Cat became her final feature film until 1979 when she had a blink-and-you'll-miss-it role in Sunburn. After departing the biz in 1991, she led a quiet life of retirement until death from pneumonia in 2013 at age ninety-one. Seeing Cat and the way her hair was sometimes styled amused me because at times it looked like she could be Baroness Schraeder's evil twin the way Serena was on Bewitched or Jeannie II on I Dream of Jeannie!
Canadian actor Henry was making his movie debut here, having only recently begun on TV in his homeland. Though he never became famous in the U.S., he worked steadily for many years and often turned up in bit roles (guards, doctors, detectives) in a multitude of projects until 2013. A handsome, effective performer, it's surprising that he wasn't able to achieve more prominent work. Most surprising of all is that he is the brother of somewhat more famous actor Donnelly Rhodes!
Chiles was a dependable presence in countless movie and TV episodes. Never gaining fame for any particular role, he amassed a staggering resume of credits that stretched from 1960 to 2014. He might even be working today if not for an accidental fall from his roof at age eighty! (“You get down from there this instant!”)
Even though I did finally get to see this long-awaited movie, I still hold out hope for a DVD release. I think I'd enjoy it even more in its widescreen ratio and with a cleaned up picture. God knows the glossy sets, glamorous costumes and garish hairstyles would benefit from a sharper image, not to mention the endless glimpses of male and female (albeit chaste) skin. Complicating things is that when it was aired on TV, the intensity and some of the violence was deliberately drained from it with reshoots and reediting. This post refers to the original release only.