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Cats Stealing Kids’ Breath

January 16th, 2011 · 2 Comments

“Portmanteau” is French for “coat rack”. Lewis Carroll appropriated the word in 1871 for Through The Looking Glass to explain two words merged into one; “chortle” is a portmanteau Carroll invented, while “Internet”, “blog” and “sexploitation” are three he did not. In the month of January, I’ll take a look at portmanteau films, where we find different coats hanging in the same closet, whether tailored by one filmmaker or the collaborative effort of several.

Cat’s Eye (1985)
Directed by Lewis Teague
Screenplay by Stephen King, based on the short stories Quitters, Inc. and The Ledge by Stephen King
Produced by Martha Schumacher
94 minutes

Less inspired than the portmanteau horror comic Creepshow (1982) but way more fun than it needed to be, Cat’s Eye is for Stephen King fans what a trick ‘r treat grab bag is for the kiddies; no good for you, yet delectable. After working with Drew Barrymore on a big screen version of King’s novel Firestarter, Dino De Laurentiis felt that the 8-year-old was going to be a star. The producer flew to Bangor to propose that King work Barrymore into pieces that De Laurentiis held film rights to, short stories appearing in the author’s 1978 terror anthology Night Shift. King adapted two of those stories — Quitters, Inc. and The Ledge — and added an original one about a little girl and a troll. The segments would be connected by the misadventures of a cat. To direct, De Laurentiis tapped Lewis Teague, who’d shot Fighting Back (1982) for the producer and knocked out an adaptation of King’s Cujo (1983).

Cat’s Eye was filmed in Wilmington, where the economics of shooting a movie in a right-to-work state like North Carolina had enticed De Laurentiis to make Firestarter there in 1983 and convinced him to build a production facility in the town. By the time it hit U.S. screens in April 1985, nine feature films had been distributed under the Stephen King brand name and in a change of pace, Quitters, Inc. and The Ledge dispense with ghosts and goblins to showcase King’s gift for pure suspense, as well as a gleeful black wit that so few of the movies based on his work have bothered with. Whether rushed for time, or realizing that the customer needed to be served, King wheels in the freak for the third segment and the result is one of the goofiest things he’s written. Deflating an hour in, Cat’s Eye is still one of King’s more satisfying forays in Hollywood: artfully written, capably cast and most of all, a good time.

After evading a rabid St. Bernard and a cherry red 1958 Plymouth Fury, a stray cat seeks refuge in a moving van and ends up in New York City, where a man picks it up off the street. In the first of three segments, nicotine addict Dick Morrison (James Woods) visits Quitters, Inc. to help him kick the habit. Not long after meeting company president Mr. Donatti (Alan King), Dick realizes Quitters, Inc. is a mafia operated tax dodge that has adopted a few of its time honored, brass knuckled tactics to help clients quit smoking. Watched day and night, or led to believe he is, Dick’s inevitable relapse has interesting consequences for his wife (Mary D’Arcy). The cat next hops a ferry to Atlantic City, where it becomes the object of a bet between casino boss Mr. Cressner (Kenneth McMillan) and one of his men when the feline is caught in the middle of a street.

Fallen tennis pro Johnny Norris (Robert Hays) attempts to flee town with the boss’s wife (Patricia Kalember), but is intercepted by Cressner’s goon (Mike Starr) and dragged to a penthouse. Norris is given a choice: prison time for heroin that’s been planted in his white Mustang … or a wager. Cressner bets cash and his wife against the athlete’s ability to walk the outside of the building using little more than a five-inch ledge. Left with no choice, Norris is game. Once the cat escapes Cressner’s clutches, it arrives in Wilmington, where a girl (Drew Barrymore) adopts it in spite of resistance by her mother (Candy Clark), who doesn’t trust the animal. The bigger problem for our girl is the troll that lives in her wall. Emerging after dark to pinch the girl’s nose shut and steal her breath, her only hope is an intervention by the cat, which she’s named General.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 6,007 users: 51% for Cat’s Eye

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available

What do you say?

Tags: Based on short story · Beasts and monsters · Dreams and visions · Gangsters and hoodlums · Road trip · Supernatural

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jeremy // Jan 17, 2011 at 7:42 am

    Thanks Joe,
    I have always had a soft-spot for Cat’s Eye, flaws and all, and really enjoyed your look at it. Hope your 2011 is going well so far. Keep up the great work…

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Jan 17, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Jeremy: A long time fan of Stephen King’s short stories — Different Seasons is a must read — I’ve always enjoyed the ones that don’t deal with monsters in the manner King is stigmatized for. Cat’s Eye shows that the man does have range. I’m not sure why it rates a 51% on Rotten Tomatoes and Children of the Corn is only at 50%. Maybe people have been eating too much corn. Thanks for commenting!

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