Sunday, November 22, 2009
Hairball and Hairbrain
I love cats, so it's always bothered me to see them get sh*tted on in various movies and TV series throughout the years. Some examples: Ripley dropping and banging Jonesy around in his cat carrier as she runs from the monster in Alien; the Tanner's family cat constantly trying to avoid being eaten by the title character on Alf; the cat who electrocutes himself in National Lampoon's Christmas, etc. I could on and on, but the truth is, the entertainment industry hasn't treated felines very well on-screen. If they're not being the butt of jokes or tortured by brats and dogs, they're also pretty much being neglected in ways that would be considered animal abuse today.
And perhaps the worst example of this, and one that really got me riled up this weekend, is an old Art Carney movie called Harry and Tonto that PBS aired. This 1974 film is about a widower named Harry who lugs his poor cat Tonto (a Morris lookalike) across the country as he visits relatives and old girlfriends as well as new people, after his Upper West Side apartment building is demolished and he has no other place to go. It's a good thing this movie was released in the 70s, because if it came out today PETA and the ASPCA would be all over its behind. Here are some of the ridiculous myths about cat care that this movie propagates:
MYTH#1: Cats love to travel
FACT: OK, so some cats - like Cleveland Amory's Snowball in the 1987 non-fiction hit "The Cat Who Came for Christmas" - don't mind being lugged around in trains, planes, and automobiles and staying in strange motel rooms and apartments. However, that's the exception and definitely not the rule - most are smart enough to know that pulling out the cat carrier means they're going to be taken someplace they don't want to go. You also cannot bring a cat in a movie theater, a book store, a casino, or just about any other public place like Harry does in the movie.
Not to mention that not once in the film did I see Tonto using a litter box, a required accessory of any trip involving a cat. They cannot tolerate a long drive for hours at a time.
MYTH #2: Cats can survive on nothing but milk and water.
All throughout the film, Harry feeds Tonto nothing but milk and water. "Drink your milk, Tonto" he drunkingly slurs at one point outside of a Las Vegas casino. "It's got proteins and vitamins and minerals for you."
FACT: The classic scene of giving a cat milk in a movie or TV show just drives me insane. Cats are carnivores. They need MEAT and cat food (and not just the dry stuff either; that can damage their intestinal track if they receive nothing but dry food.) Certainly in the 18th century cats had to forage for their own food and were the household's official mousetrap but by the 70s we knew better - and we had the 9Lives commercials to prove it!
MYTH#3: You can walk a cat on a leash.
FACT: The cat will walk you. "Walking" a cat does not so much mean leading one, but following him or her around as they investigate their surroundings.
I don't recommend this movie for any cat lover - at the end of the film, Tonto dies. Alone in what looks like an awful mini prison for cats while Harry sings an Irish drinking song to him. We don't even see Harry bringing Tonto to a vet to find out what's wrong - and it takes one of Harry's chess mates to point out to him that "Tonto doesn't look so good." Well of course he doesn't - he hasn't been feeding him! Some concerned pet owner.
What's weird is that the critics loved this movie. This poster is full of glowing comments including a headliner from Today Show movie reviewer Gene Shalit. One critic even goes so far as to say that Harry and Tonto is "One of the best movies of the seventies so far"! In fact, Carney won an Oscar for his performance in the film, which I'm guessing was the Academy's way of recognizing him late in his career.
And poor Tonto? Well, I hope he fired his agent or at least clawed him after this dog of a movie.