Irene Dunne (center) stars in “I Remember Mama” (1948) but Uncle Elizabeth steals the show; RKO Radio Pictures
Irene Dunne (center) stars in “I Remember Mama” (1948) but Uncle Elizabeth steals the show Credit: RKO Radio Pictures

In honor of CatVideoFest 2022 at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre, Rebellious Magazine is citing cinematic cats, from iconic depictions of strays (The Third Man, La Dolce Vita, The Godfather) to Siamese breed portrayals, both controversial (Lady and the Tramp) and celebrated (Bell, Book and Candle; That Darn Cat!; The Incredible Journey).

Orange cats dominate the film industry — whether playing catalyst roles in live action classics (The Incredible Shrinking Man, Alien, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Harry and Tonto); appearing in film faves designed for various ages (The Cat From Outer Space, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Men in Black, Gifted, Captain Marvel, Inside Llewyn Davis); or headlining animated kids’ flicks (The AristoCats, Garfield, Heathcliff: The Movie, Puss in Boots, Oliver and Company).

That’s not to say black (Cat People, The Jungle Book, Hocus Pocus, The Matrix, Pet Sematary); white (From Russia With Love, Cats & Dogs, Doctor Sleep, Stuart Little); and a mix of both (Pinocchio, Princess Diaries, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain) haven’t lent their purrfect presence to the silver screen. Even when sporting no hair (Mr. Bigglesworth from the Austin Powers franchise), cats can add subtext to human characters while amusing and/or moving movie fans.

Here’s a few recommended films featuring scene-stealing felines.

I Remember Mama (1948) * * * *
Based on the Kathryn Forbes novel “Mama’s Bank Account” (1943), this Oscar-nominated drama follows the strengths and struggles of Norwegian immigrants in the early 20th century. Marta, the mother (Irene Dunne) is the core of the family (Barbara Bel Geddes, Ellen Corby, June Hedin, Oscar Homolka, Peggy McIntyre, Philip Dorn, Steve Brown) which includes a stray kitty named Uncle Elizabeth. When the tough tabby gets into a street fight and suffers a life-threatening injury, it’s up to Marta to fix the situation. SPOILER ALERT: A day after administering chloroform to euthanize the cat, Marta discovers the dosage was only enough to make the feline sleep it off and awake anew! This antidote anecdote shows how fate can provide surprising hope.

Born Free (1962) * * * *
Like I Remember Mama, this film is a real tearjerker. Set in Africa, the tale begins when a British wildlife warden kills a mother lion who is defending her offsrping in the wild. Since he’s rendered the cubs motherless, the warden and his wife (played by real-life couple and animal rights activists Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers) raise the big cats. Yet once the two males become too large to handle, they’re sent to Rotterdam Zoo. Seeking to provide the female cat Elsa with a better destiny, the couple prepare to release her into Meru National Park in Kenya. But since the little lioness has become domesticated, her habits (and everyone’s hearts) must be broken to free her. The film’s score and popular theme song “Born Free” received Academy Awards, while the movie won a Genesis Award for Classic Film. Although many movies showcase lions (The Wizard of Oz, Androcles and the Lion, The Chronicles of Narnia, Secondhand Lions, The Ghost and the Darkness, The Lion King, Madagascar), Elsa remains the most beautiful.

Meet the Parents (2000) * * * 1/2
Throughout his career, two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro has acted alongside Meryl Streep and Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter); Jodie Foster and Harvey Keitel (Taxi Driver); and Lorraine Bracco, Joe Pesci and the late Ray Liotta (Goodfellas). But he finds his most memorable onscreen match in the Meet the Parents/Fockers trilogy (2000-2010). As a retired CIA agent, De Niro’s character is tough until it comes to his beloved Jinx (played by two Himalayan cats). When he says, “That cat’s been like a brother to you. And we’re supposed to just let him wander the streets without food, water or toilet?,” it’s clear why the box office hit (which was shot with the approval of the American Humane Association) was named Favorite Comedy Motion Picture at the People’s Choice Awards in 2001.

Keanu (2016) * * *
Two of the most difficult feats in filmmaking are working with animals and doing comedy. Like Meet the Parents, Keanu achieves both of these goals. Written by Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens, the fish out of water romp stars Peele and Keegan-Michael Key (who is allergic to cats). Armed with Key’s medication and Key & Peele’s signature sketch humor, the action comedy includes the voice of Keanu Reeves as the titular tabby. Seven kittens were used for the shoot and all were all adopted by the end of production. Co-star Tiffany Haddish was among the new guardians, naming her famed feline Catatonic.

CatVideoFest 2022 (July 23-26) features a 72-minute compilation reel of cat coverage curated from unique submissions, music videos, and popular internet offerings. Ten percent of all ticket proceeds will go to Red Door Animal Shelter which will bring adoptable kittens to the Music Box on Tuesday, July 26.

Janet Arvia

Ms. Arvia is a Rebellious columnist and movie critic; entertainment ghostwriter; award-winning artist; and grant-winning filmmaker.