Disney+ Retro Style: That Darn Cat! (1965)
“While the city sleeps, ev’ry night he creeps
Just surveyin’ his domain
He roams around like he owns the town
He’s the King, he makes that plain
He knows ev’ry trick, doesn’t miss a lick
When it comes to keepin’ track
Some city slicker, no one is quicker than
That darn cat…”
The theme song for Robert Stevenson‘s That Darn Cat! (1965) was written by the Sherman brothers (Richard M. and Robert B.), with vocals by Bobby Darrin. It’s a very catchy tune to introduce us to a charismatic kitty named D.C. in the popular Disney classic, That Darn Cat!
Take a peek at the intro:
Recently, our family decided to sign up for one of this year’s most anticipated new streaming services, Disney+. We don’t exactly fit the typical demographic for this new platform. Our four kids are all grown up and we’ve never visited a Disney park (although I very much hope to someday). Our main interest to explore Disney+ was simple and singular. We wanted to see the Star Wars series, The Mandalorian. But after further exploring the site, I discovered a treasure of Disney family classics from my youth, including a collection of live-action films with a focus on our furry friends.
The Disney studios were riding a high of success when Mary Poppins (1964) and its director Robert Stevenson received both critical acclaim and box office gains. Based on the 1963 novel “Undercover Cat” by Gordon and Mildred Gordon, this is a family classic with a feline twist on the crime caper.
“D.C.” (an acronym for Darn Cat) is an independent-thinking Siamese tomcat who swaggers about the neighborhood. On his nightly constitutional, this curious kitty runs into a criminal hideout, where a bank teller Margaret Miller (Grayson Hall) has been kidnapped by bank robbers. D.C.’s home is with the Randall sisters, Patti (Hayley Mills) and Ingrid (Dorothy Provine). When DC comes home one night with a gold wristwatch around his neck with a potential cry for help scratched on the back, super sleuth Patti seeks out help from the FBI. Agent Zeke Kelso (Dean Jones) takes on the case, tracking DC’s every move as a madcap adventure ensues.
If you’ve never seen this film, or if it’s been a few decades as it was with me, it may seem that this is just a simplistic, overly saccharine, juvenile yawn. But I encourage you to give it another look as this fun flick has a lot going for it, including a packed cast of familiar faces.
Dean Jones as G-man agent Kelso provides the perfect balance of stalwart straight man, romantic lead, and roll-with-the-punches slapstick comedian. This was his very first Walt Disney film, which he followed with continued success into the next decade. Jones went on to make other popular light-hearted Disney comedies including The Love Bug (1968) and The Ugly Dachshund (1966) with a focus on a family of cute canines, co-starring Suzanne Pleshette.
In contrast, this was Hayley Mills’ last Disney film as a juvenile. Her next Disney film came along in 1986 as a sequel in The Parent Trap II. Mills as Patti Randall is thoroughly charming as D.C.’s main human. Along with her sister, Ingrid (Dorothy Provine), the Randall sisters have the house all to themselves as their parents are vacationing in Italy. You may recognize Provine as Emeline who first spies the buried treasure in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and as Lily the swingin’ singer in The Great Race (1965).
Ingrid has her daily routine where neighborhood fussbudget Gregory Benson (Roddy McDowall) picks her up for their daily carpool, constantly praises his mother, and bemoans the habitual meddlings of D.C. Patti is bored with her humdrum teen life, and her surfer pal Canoe (Tom Lowell). There is a funny, insider joke moment between Patti and Canoe when she complains of their typical drive-in surfer flicks. This was a cheeky nod to Walt Disney’s disapproval of his star Annette Funicello’s beach party films.
Patti doesn’t remain bored for long. Soon, news of a local bank robbery brings D.C. right in the center of an FBI investigation. Upon his nightly constitutionals, D.C. runs into the bank robbers (Frank Gorshin as Iggy and Neville Brand as Dan) and the kidnapped bank clerk, (Grayson Hall) Margaret Miller. Ms. Miller leaves a clue, her wristwatch with a partially inscribed cry for help, on D.C. Amateur sleuth Patti wastes no time putting the clues together and marches right into the FBI office, wherein agent Kelso goes undercover at the Randall home.
The mayhem in this caper kicks into high gear as the FBI, despite Kelso’s allergic reaction to D.C., pursues D.C. as their key witness. For me, in addition to the many slapstick moments as they clumsily follow an independently-minded feline, a big highlight are the grouchy neighbors. Elsa Lanchester as the overly curious Mrs. MacDougall and William Demarest as Mr. MacDougall adds to the storyline. It’s a reminder that Disney knew the power of character actors as an enrichment to any film, especially a light comedy.
Not to discount this silly comedy as mere fluff, this film also garnered six award nominations, including the 1966 Best Written American Comedy award from the Writers Guild of America. I encourage you to take a break from the world’s worries and take a nostalgic trip to a silly, simpler cinematic escape with That Darn Cat!
–Kellee Pratt for Classic Movie Hub
When not performing marketing as her day gig, Kellee Pratt teaches classic film courses in her college town in Kansas (Film Noir, Screwball Comedy, Hitchcock, Billy Wilder and more). She’s worked for Turner Classic Movies as a Social Producer and TCM Ambassador (2019). Unapologetic social butterfly, she’s an active tweetaholic/original alum for #TCMParty, member of the CMBA, and busy mom of four kids and 3 fur babies. You can follow Kellee on twitter at @IrishJayhawk66 or her own blog, Outspoken & Freckled (kelleepratt.com).