Film noir’s feline stars: The cat in ‘The Long Goodbye’

More on the most famous kitties in film noir

The Cat in “The Long Goodbye” 1973

Name: Chauncey Scratchet

Character Name: Hungry Cat

Bio: Chauncey Scratchet, a.k.a. the Hungry Cat in 1973’s “The Long Goodbye,” is pivotal to the story. He is ravenous and if you ignore a such a cat, well, There. Will. Be. Trouble. As in scratched faces and bloody limbs. Or utter abandonment.

Scratchet opens the movie, mewing for food from his sleeping master, private eye Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould). Director Robert Altman lets his camera linger on the ginger-haired tabby prowling around Marlowe’s messy apartment.

Robert Altman wisely gave Chauncey Scratchet complete freedom to interpret his role.

It’s 3:00 a.m. and Marlowe has neglected to provide for his companion. So, the groggy gumshoe yawns, scratches his head and lights a cigarette, then heads to the supermarket to get the goods. Next door, Marlowe’s sexy, partygirl neighbors catch him before he leaves and ask him to bring back some brownie mix so next morning they can wake and bake. It’s 1973, after all.

At the store, Marlowe nabs the mix but fails to procure a can of Hungry Cat’s coveted Coury brand (they’re out of it). Marlowe tries to pass off some other, inferior, food, but his pet isn’t desperate enough to eat it. Instead, the cat takes off, in a departure both dramatic and understated, and we never see him again. For the rest of the flick, Marlowe pines away for his furry friend, whining about it to anyone he can.

Ironically, Chauncey Scratchet had such a good experience filming “The Long Goodbye” that he never made another movie. It was his first major role and director Altman let him have complete freedom in interpreting his character. Scratchet discovered that this approach was the exception, not the rule.

Rather than compromise on creative matters, Scratchet gave up film acting and turned to photography, quickly rising to the top of his profession and, through his Hollywood connections, shooting prominent actors, artists and musicians of the decade.

Though no longer involved in movies, he did make guest appearances on “Kojak” and “Columbo” as a special favor to pals Telly Savalas and Peter Falk. He was also friends with Keith Richards and was said to have inspired the song “Before They Make Me Run,” from the 1978 album “Some Girls.”

Currently enjoying his seventh life, Scratchet holds one-cat shows in New York, Paris, London and Rome.

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‘Cape Fear’ shows Mitchum at his most menacing, most noir

Cape Fear/1962/Universal Pictures/105 min.

From the moment Robert Mitchum appears in “Cape Fear” with his slow swagger, Southern drawl and serious mean spirit, there’s no doubt he’s a tour-de-force bad guy. In fact, he is one of cinema’s greatest psychos. His character Max Cady ranks No. 28 on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 50 villains of all time.

Gregory Peck

The plot is straightforward but it’s a story that simmers with tension. Ex-con Max Cady puts the blame for his recent stint in jail squarely on the man who testified against him: Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck, who also helped produce), a prominent lawyer in a small Southern town. Seeking revenge for the eight years he spent behind bars, Cady launches a campaign of terror against Bowden and his family that culminates in a life-and-death struggle in a moonlit swamp.

The 1962 film, still chilling today, had all the ingredients for success: accomplished director J. Lee Thompson (who also made Peck’s 1962 adventure classic, “The Guns of Navarone”), a near-perfect cast, top-notch material (James R. Webb’s screenplay is based on John D. MacDonald’s novel “The Executioners”), a Bernard Herrmann score, cinematography by Sam Leavitt, art direction by Robert Boyle and editing by George Tomasini.

Herrmann, Boyle and Tomasini were frequent collaborators with Alfred Hitchcock. Of shooting in black and white, director Thompson said, “I thought the black and the shadows would enhance the story and color might spoil it.”

The cast includes TV comedienne Polly Bergen as Sam’s wife Peggy, Lori Martin as their daughter, Martin Balsam (“Psycho’s” ill-fated detective) as police chief Mark Dutton, Telly Savalas as gumshoe Charlie Sievers and Barrie Chase as Diane, a goodtime girl victimized by Cady.

To Peck’s credit, he understood that Mitchum’s character was more dynamic than steadfast and respectable Sam Bowden. Mitchum makes even a quick line, such as, “You sweatin’ a little, huh counselor?” glow with burning malice.

Thompson says in the making-of feature in the DVD, “Greg was conscious the whole time that the villain was the colorful part and that Mitchum was playing it beautifully. And he let him run with it. … The way [Peck] played the part and the strength he showed, it became a very good battle between the two men. It was wonderful teamwork between the two.”

Thompson also recalls the way Mitchum embraced the role. “This part is a drunk, a rapist and a violent man, and I live my parts,” Mitchum told him. “It was sort of a warning that we might have some stormy passages during the making of the film … and we did have some stormy passages,” laughs Thompson. [Read more…]

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