creature feature saturday: the black cat (edgar g. ulmer, 1934)

Once again, as is often the case with these "Creature Features", the trivia behind the film is as interesting as what is on the screen. The difference here is that The Black Cat is actually a good movie.

I saw it when I was a kid, probably on our own local Creature Features show. All I remembered of it was that someone got skinned alive. Since that didn't happen until the last couple of minutes of the movie, I started wondering if I'd misremembered (I hadn't).

This was the first film to co-star Boris Karloff (here billed simply as "Karloff") and Bela Lugosi (they eventually made eight movies together). They are both good, if you like their acting ... Karloff is ominous but restrained, Lugosi is hammy. Lugosi is nominally the good guy here, as a doctor imprisoned during WWI (or something like that ... the movie isn't clear). Karloff did bad things during that war, and Lugosi has come to make him pay. (The actors' characters have names, but why bother with them? It's Karloff and Lugosi.) David Manners and Julie Bishop (billed as Jacqueline Wells) play American newlyweds, and are properly boring. Both lead actors have odd obsessions with Bishop's wife.

The movie is quite bizarre ... Kael accurately described it as a "nutty, nightmarish mélange of Black Masses and chess games, shadows and dungeons, Satanism and necrophilia." Karloff has a bunch of dead women hanging around in some form of suspended post-lifeness. One of them is Lugosi's former wife. Meanwhile, Karloff has married Bela's daughter.

Lugosi has a deadly fear of cats ... the first time he sees a black cat, he recoils, pulls a knife, and throws it at the cat, killing it instantly. This is about as close as the movie comes to explaining the title, which was used mostly so Universal could say it was "suggested by a story by Edgar Allan Poe" (the film has nothing to do with Poe's story).

It all sounds silly, and it is, but it gets out of the way in 65 minutes, the two leads are good, and everything is atmospheric in that Edgar G. Ulmer way. Ulmer made a gazillion movies, almost all of them Grade-Z pictures, almost all of them with enough recognizable Ulmer touches that he became a favorite of auteurist film critics. The Black Cat is one of his best, but it was also a curse for Ulmer. During the making of the film, he began an affair with a woman whose husband was the nephew of the studio head at Universal. There was a divorce, and a marriage ... Ulmer and his wife, Shirley, remained married until his death. But he was blackballed, and was resigned to miniscule budgets the rest of his career. His best film was Detour, sometimes called the greatest B-movie of all time. The Black Cat doesn't reach those heights, but it is several notches above the average Creature Feature. And the scene where Karloff gets skinned alive is quite remarkable. 7/10.

 


happy birthday, six and boomer

Sisters Boomer and Six are 11 years old today. They are Bengals, or at least Bengal mutts (the latter being my personal opinion). They are interesting cats ... Robin would get another Bengal in a second, while my experience with these two tells me I never want another. But as I say, they are interesting.

Here are a couple of photos:

Boomer and six

Boomer and six 2015


how smart are cats?

They are seemingly untrainable … you can get a dog to do anything, which isn’t true with cats (although Robin taught Six to play fetch). Does that mean cats are dumber than dogs, or does that mean dogs are dumber because they do stupid shit for people?

Many nights, Robin and I watch TV on the big screen in the attic. We’ll usually watch two episodes, but sometimes only one, or even occasionally three. Sometimes we start watching at 6:00, sometimes 7:00, sometimes even later.

When we watch, Starbuck and Six usually join us. Six doesn’t much like to be alone, so she usually follows us … Starbuck likes to sit on Robin’s lap.

Boomer rarely joins us. She spends much of her day sleeping on our bed, which she seems to consider her turf.

Now, I haven’t done a study, but anecdotally, the following seems to be true. When we are done watching for the night, Robin and I will chat for a bit, and then she’ll go downstairs while I watch the end of a ballgame or something. Given that we watch varying numbers of episodes, and that we start watching at varying times, there is no fixed schedule for when Robin will head downstairs. Last night it was around 9:00 … other times it’s closer to 10:00 … rarely, we’ll start early, watch one show, and be done around 8:00 or even earlier.

Here’s the thing. Robin and I both agree that Boomer seems to know when we are done watching. She comes upstairs about when the last episode is done and we’re chatting for a bit, as if to say, “OK, time to come downstairs, Robin!” I can understand why she does this … often, Robin will go to the bedroom and read, after we’ve watched TV, and Boomer likes to join her there. But I’ll be damned if I can figure out how she seems to know when it’s time to get Robin.

starbuck on shelf

sisters licking


happy birthday, six and boomer

They are six years old today. Boomer is bigger and prettier and lazier. Six is an idiot savant who can’t be lazy because her ADD keeps her busy all day and all night. While we got them from a rescue service, and thus I assume they are the feline equivalent of mutts, they exhibit many of the traits of Bengal cats, enough that it’s clear they are at least part Bengal, probably a big part.

Bengal cats are athletic. Six is big enough that Robin often calls her Fat Cat, but she’s quite nimble. A favorite trick of hers is to climb onto a kitty condo and wait for Robin to walk by, at which point she leaps onto Robin’s shoulders.

Bengals like water. We have never had a cat that liked water. Until now. When we take showers, the two cats come into the bathroom, with Six entering the walk-in shower and Boomer climbing up the side so we can drip water on her. If they hear water in any faucet in the house, they will come running. If you want to occupy them for awhile, you can just turn the water on very gently, and they’ll climb in the sink and play with it. When Robin gets her spray bottle to spritz her hair in the morning prior to brushing it, Six will come, squint her eyes, and wait for Robin to squirt water on her face.

Six plays fetch. She really is the goofy one of the two. There are these two socks that she brings me. Only a specific two … she never brings any other socks. Those socks go up and down the stairs every day. She is especially prone to bringing them to me when she notices Robin is out of the house. Meanwhile, she plays fetch with Robin. Robin has even trained her to drop the fetch toy in a box.

Neither of these cats are particularly affectionate, although Boomer does sleep every night snuggled up to Robin. When Robin works at home, Six becomes her “administrative assistant”, laying across the work desk, getting in the way, knocking stuff onto the floor, “accidentally” pressing keys or the mouse. But she’s not a great one for sitting on your lap.

I’d say the water is the weirdest thing about them, but it must be said, Six does a dozen or so weird things every day. We’ve had cats our entire married life … we’ve seen a lot of them come and go. And we’ve heard enough stories from other people, and we’ve watched the YouTube videos, and we know that everyone thinks their cat is special. Bengal owners KNOW their cats are special. And with Six, “special” most likely refers to “special education”, which is where she’d be if she went to school.

Here are a few representative pictures, all of which I’ve probably posted here before. First, a look at them giving each other a bath. Even after six years, they get along like good sisters:

bath time

Here is the recent picture I posted of Boomer and Robin sleeping at one in the morning:

boomer and robin sleeping

And here is Six in her role as administrative assistant:

administrative assistant


six, administrative assistant

Everyone thinks their cats are weird, and everyone posts pix of their cats online, and everyone gets bored of looking at pix of cats, but I feel the need to document this.

Six is the weirdest cat we have ever had, and this is the latest weirdness. She has apparently decided that if Robin is working from home, she needs an assistant. And so, on those days when Robin is in her home office, Six climbs on the desk and lays there pretty much until the end of the workday. It’s especially odd since Six seems to have ADHD … she is very easily distracted … but in her new role as administrative assistant, she remains vigilant.

administrative assistant