‘Stare into these eyes if you dare!’
The Shadow of the Cat is a 1961 British horror feature film about a cat that witnesses its owner murdered and becomes ferociously bent on revenge.
Directed by John Gilling (The Plague of the Zombies; The Reptile) from a screenplay by George Baxt (The City of Horrors; Circus of Horrors) the BHP Films production (ostensibly a Hammer film) stars André Morell, Barbara Shelley, William Lucas, Freda Jackson and Conrad Phillips.
The eccentric soundtrack score was composed by Mikis Theodorakis, his only venture into horror music.
Walter Venable (André Morell) is a terrible husband. In the opening moments of The Shadow of the Cat, Walter – in collaboration with his butler, Andrew (Andrew Crawford), and his maid, Clara (Freda Jackson) – murders his wife, Ella (Catherine Lacey), in order to steal her fortune.
Just before her untimely demise, Ella had been forced to alter her will leaving everything to Walter instead of her loving niece, Beth (Barbara Shelley). Walter and his cronies bury Ella corpse in forested grounds, but watching on is Ella’s beloved cat, Tabitha: the only witness to the murder of her mistress!
Morell is the definite standout, but he is surrounded by capable thespians. Barbara Shelley is lovely in what could have been a sickly sweet role. Vanda Godsell is a lot of fun as the frustrated wife of Walter’s scheming nephew. Alan Wheatley also deserves a special mention in his small but enjoyable role as the police inspector.
Tabitha makes the lives of the greedy murderers’ hell, attacking them at any given opportunity. The butler tries to capture the cat but to no avail. Tabitha is quick to hide in the swamps. The maid attempts to poison the cat, but Tabitha refuses her food. The only person Tabitha doesn’t run from is the innocent Beth. Beth appears at the estate to comfort Uncle Walter after the strange disappearance of Aunt Ella, which is being investigated by a suspicious Inspector Rowles (Alan Wheatley) and newspaperman, Michael Latimer (Conrad Phillips).
Driven to madness and desperation, Walter calls on his horrible brother (Richard Warner) and nephew (William Lucas), fresh out of prison for fraud, to capture and slaughter the vengeful feline.
The Shadow of the Cat is a tightly scripted tale of family greed, full of deliciously evil characters, and even a few complex ones. Walter, for instance, conveys a genuine sense of guilt over the death of his wife; this is perhaps more credit to the incredible acting abilities of André Morell rather than George Baxt’s script.
And then there’s Tabitha the cat. Tabitha is a truly excellent animal performer. Director John Gilling has his feline star feature in difficult scenes of action in what would appear to be troublesome shooting locations. Tabitha skips along with floating logs in swamps, walks along building rooftops, and swipes at everyone in sight.
It must be said that Gilling does not succeed in presenting Tabitha as a physical threat. To make a cat appear scary is an impossible task. (Take Strays for instance.) No matter how much hissing or face-scratching Tabitha does, she is still a nonthreatening house cat. An early scene where Morell is sent into a panic while being stalked in the basement by the cat is, quite frankly, hysterical.
Yet, in a way, Tabitha’s absence of intimidation works in the film’s favour. Tabitha is, after all, the heroine of the film. We want to see the cat take down Ella’s murderers one by one. And that she does. With style.
While the cat is not exactly frightening, it’s enjoying the way Tabitha’s presence looms over the estate. There are several shots of the furtive feline peeking in through curtained windows, often with glowing eyes, and her silhouette sometimes lurks in the background of the frame. Other times, we do not see her and only hear her grumbling vocals.
The Shadow of the Cat is a breezy seventy minutes. While it’s not going to change your life, it’s competently made, well-acted, and very satisfying. It’s nothing more than a slice of entertaining nonsense, but that’s fine. Meow!
Dave Jackson, MOVIES and MANIA
“It boasts some excellent performances, saturated gothic hues courtesy of production designer Bernard Robinson, a Lewton-esque atmosphere thanks to Arthur Grant’s monochrome cinematography, and some occasional inspiration from the director.” The Celluloid Highway
“Sadly, a solitary tabby cat is not the easiest creature to make frightening, nor can we swallow vague suggestions that “it’s become a sort of evil symbol.” The film works better as a playful and blackly humorous portrait of a conniving and mean-spirited Victorian family systematically destroying itself through greed.” Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic, Reynolds & Hearn, 2004
” …the idea that people might be frightened at the thought of vengeance from a cat is a little silly, and even though there are moments here that play up the humor of the situation, there are other moments that are unintentionally funny. Nonetheless, there are enough interesting touches here that it makes for a decent watch…” Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Musings and Ramblings
“Well worth your time, The Shadow of the Cat is an unjustly neglected slice of macabre fun that deserves to keep delighting fans who stumble across it.” For It Is Man’s Number
“Eccentric, absurd but never dull for a moment and full of that charm you don’t get to see very often these days, The Shadow of the Cat barely counts as a horror movie considering the total lack of chill it installs in the viewer […] Though perhaps best considered as an experiment, it’s a thoroughly pleasant diversion…” Horror Cult Films
“You mean to tell me that an ordinary domestic cat is terrorising three grown-ups?”
Cast and characters:
- André Morell … Walter Venable – The Mummy’s Shroud
- Barbara Shelley … Beth Venable
- William Lucas … Jacob Venable
- Freda Jackson … Clara, the Maid
- Conrad Phillips … Michael Latimer
- Richard Warner … Edgar Venable
- Vanda Godsell … Louise Venable
- Alan Wheatley … Inspector Rowles
- Andrew Crawford … Andrew, the Butler
- Kynaston Reeves … The Grandfather
- Catherine Lacey … Ella Venable – The Sorcerers; The Mummy’s Shroud
- Rodney Burke … Workman (uncredited)
- Vera Cook … The Mother (uncredited)
- Angela Crow … The Daughter (uncredited)
- John Dearth … Constable Hamer (uncredited)
- George Doonan … Ambulance Man (uncredited)
- Peter Evans … Constable (uncredited)
- Henry Kendall … The Doctor (uncredited)
- Howard Knight Howard Knight … The Son (uncredited)
- Charles Stanley … Dobbins (uncredited)
- Fred Stone … Ambulance Man (uncredited)
- Kevin Stoney … Father (uncredited)
- Tabitha … Cat (uncredited)
Bray Studios, Down Place, Oakley Green, Berkshire, England