For some inexplicable reason, Ch5 and BBC2 decided to show both versions of Disney’s That Darn Cat between them this week, so I thought it might be fun to compare the two iterations directly, and see which one is “best”! (Yes, I’m aware I have a nerdy notion of “fun”).
For those who don’t know, these comedy-mystery movies (released in 1965 and 1997, respectively) tell the story of ‘Patti Randall’, a teenage girl whose inquisitive cat inadvertently encounters a kidnapped woman while making his nightly rounds in the neighbourhood. The woman manages to substitute her wristwatch for his collar, which tips Patti off to the fact that the woman is alive and well, and being held somewhere nearby… but can she convince the FBI to follow up on the lead, and can the contrary kitty lead them back to the cunning captive in time to save her life? Of course he can, but there are several drastic differences in how this plot plays out in the two versions…
D.C. (aka “Darn Cat”) is kind of a dick in both TDC65 and TDC97… but he’s way more brazen about it in the original. As soon as he hears a character mention having a fresh duck carcass hanging in his kitchen, the moggy dashes around there to sneak into the house and chow down, without so much as a “by your leave”! DC65’s voracious appetite is actually a major plot point, because it’s his hunger for some salmon steaks bought by one of the kidnappers that leads him up to their apartment in the first place. In the remake, DC97 just seems to enter the warehouse where the kidnapped woman is being kept because… um… the plot requires him to do so. They didn’t even bother putting a mouse in there or anything. Meh.
Verdict: TDC65 FTW!
Well, I used to have a big crush on Christina Ricci back in the day, and it’s great to see her playing such an acerbic, goth-y character again in TDC97 (when her mother asks why she wears so much black, she replies that it “matches her soul”!) Surprisingly though, her character is actually much dumber and less capable than her ‘60s counterpart! For example, when Patti97 finally discovers where the woman is being held hostage, and she’s been rebuffed by the FBI agent in charge of her case, she decides to enter the warehouse alone to untie the woman, instead of phoning the police or the fire service or something sensible like that! Needles to say, she consequently gets captured by the gun-wielding kidnappers. Idiot. Patti65 (Hayley Mills), on the other hand, guesses the significance of the watch clue a lot quicker, and has the good sense to hang back and let the trained professionals do all the heavy-lifting… until her FBI agent gets himself into a sticky situation, prompting her to intervene and tackle one of the escaping kidnappers to the ground! Patti65 also seems far more emotionally invested to the case… it’s not just about solving a mystery for her… a woman’s life is in danger, and she feels it deeply. I still think Ricci is cuter than Mills, but that’s beside the point.
Verdict: TDC65 FTW!
In TDC65, the crime story is played totally straight: The kidnappers in this case are ruthless bank robbers who took a teller (Grayson Hall) hostage to aid their getaway, and are now debating how to dispose of her. Played by Frank Gorshin and Neville Brand, these are the sort of hard-boiled hoods you’d normally expect to find in a grown-up detective series… in fact, their dialogue’s so snappy, Tarantino even ripped off one of Brand’s lines for From Dusk Till Dawn! And we frequently cut back to their cramped apartment to see how they fend off a nosy landlady (Iris Adrian), or deal with the teller’s frequent attempts to signal for help, thus building up some genuine suspense and tension. In stark contrast, the crime story in TDC97 is played for broad “laffs”: The kidnappers are a pair of bungling opportunists who were hoping to hold a wealthy trophy wife (Dyan Cannon) hostage, but ended up snatching her maid instead! Apparently they were smart enough to wear masks fitted with voice-altering gadgets while committing the crime, but not smart enough to bother checking a photo or description of their intended victim before setting off that night! GAH!!! This irritating plotline also means we have to suffer through a series of “jokes” concerning the wife’s plastic surgery and diet regime, for the first ten minutes or so of the movie! And the big Scooby-Doo-style reveal that the black-clad kidnappers were actually a seemingly harmless old couple who ran the local soda shop (Peter Boyle and Rebecca Schull) really wasn’t worth the long walk it took to get there. Old people saying and doing things you wouldn’t normally expect them to, doesn’t necessarily equal hilarity, dammit! The fact that the maid spends the whole time mutely gagged and tied to a chair waiting to be rescued also means that the remake is actually less progressive than its predecessor!
Verdict: TDC65 FTW!
In TDC65, the FBI takes the girl’s claims at face value, and treats D.C. as a valuable witness. The agent in charge of the case, ‘Zeke Kelso’ (Dean Jones), is a competent, kindly professional, who happens to suffer from a rather unfortunate allergy to cats… but he doesn’t let that stand in the way of discharging his sworn duty. His dealings with the cat are played for comic effect, but he gets the job done, and he catches the crooks! He also has access to cutting-edge technology that allows him to track D.C.’s movements, and hear whatever happens around the cat’s collar. In TDC97, the FBI humours the girl to an extent, but it’s more out of desperation than expectation. Kelso97 (Doug E. Doug), is an overeager, inexperienced idiot, who twitches like he’s tweaking out on a serious caffeine overdose. The top-brass have so little faith in him that as soon as his team cocks up the first stakeout (a plot point featured in both versions), he’s immediately thrown off the case by The Chief… but, of course, he decides to keep investigating anyway, because apparently the writers assume the audience will be too young to have seen that happen a million times before. Heck, Kelso97 doesn’t even apprehend the villains in the end… they conveniently crash their car into the office of a local security firm, after a needlessly convoluted and expensive car chase! Feh. For some reason, thirty years later, the FBI no longer has the budget for collar-mounted tracking and bugging devices either. Times is hard.
Verdict: TDC65 FTW!
Weirdly the domestic set-up in TDC65 seems far more “modern” than in it’s ‘90s counterpart: Patti65 is living with her older sister (Dorothy Provine) in the family home, while their parents are away on an extended vacation, and apparently the two young ladies are coping just fine by themselves… while Patti97 lives with her boring old folks (Michael McKean and Bess Armstrong) who worry over her not having any friends, and seem largely uninterested in the whole kidnapping thing. Patti65 also has a bizarre platonic chum/potential love interest named ‘Canoe’ (Tom Lowell), who drives a “woodie” station wagon and smokes a pipe! But Patti97 is a rebellious loner, so sadly there isn’t an equivalent there. The real problem with the supporting characters in TDC97 is that they’re all just broad, arbitrary cartoons, created to sell the joke that after dark the seemingly conservative small-town is alive with eccentricity! The sweet old lady makes rude crank calls! The competing garage owners put on ski-masks and damage their rivals’ cars! The butcher lady has a crush on the security guy, and leaves him anonymous cuts of meat as a token of her affection! None of which really has any bearing on THE ACTUAL F*CKING PLOT!!! It’s all just obnoxious wackiness for its own sake. Don’t get me wrong, the supporting characters in TDC65 were pretty silly and slap-sticky too, but they were there to function as “comic relief” from the serious, life-and-death stuff… in TDC97 it’s just wall-to-wall wackiness, which is the equivalent of eating nothing but off-brand chocolate all day (i.e., it makes me want to throw up).
Verdict: TDC65 FTW!
TDC65 is smarter, funnier, cooler, scarier and (despite the longer running time) far more engaging than TDC97. It’s superior in almost every conceivable way. Fact.