Starring: Kim Novak, Jimmy Stewart, Elsa Lanchester, Jack Lemmon
Also Starring: Pyewacket
Directed by: Richard Quine
Cat Out of the Bag Alert! This review contains some spoilers for this film!
Synopsis: Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak) is a woman who runs an African curios shop in New York City underneath the apartment building where she and her aunt Queenie (Elsa Lanchester) live. A book publisher named Shepherd Henderson (Jimmy Stewart) has just moved into the building and Gillian immediately sets her eyes on him, only to find he is engaged to a rival former schoolmate (Janice Rule.) But Gillian has one advantage . . . she is a witch, and when push comes to shove she uses her powers and her familiar, a Siamese cat named Pyewacket, to bewitch Mr. Henderson into falling in love with her. But at what price?
Cinema Cat: Unquestionably one of the silver screen’s most notable cinema cats, Pyewacket is a major part of the story, acting as Gillian’s familiar and thus helping her to cast her spells. A beautiful Siamese, Pyewacket (the cat’s real name was apparently never made public) steals every scene he is in. Numerous cats were used for this film (although the exact number seems to be up for debate online.) It’s also widely reported that Kim Novak was a cat lover herself and having bonded with her feline co-star was actually given Pyewacket at the end of filming (this seems to be substantiated through later news reports about how Novak’s pet cat named Pyewacket was nearly lost during a fire in the actress’ home.)
There also seem to be some stories about abuse against the cat during shooting. But while the scene where Gillian is swatting at Pyewacket on a shelf trying to get him down is disconcerting, there’s no evidence that any cat was hurt or traumatized during production, and it isn’t even bad enough for us to feel it warrants a Kitty Carnage Warning.
Pyewacket received a lot of press even before being cast. A January 7, 1957 article in the Deseret News talks about how the film producers had launched a search for a cat actor to play the role already made famous on stage (Lady Grenadier Sarah, owned by Janet Mack, had the role on the New York stage but was too old to take on the role in the film.) The article goes on to state that animal trainer Frank Inn’s Siamese cat was being seriously considered and that Rhubarb (aka Orangey) was even considered for the role but the producers wanted a cat with “an Ava Gardner personality.”
Inn’s cat, Pyewacket, did end up with the role and even won a coveted PATSY award for the role. But not everyone was pleased with the film as it was released. According to an October 25, 1958 article in The Pittsburgh Press, some Los Angeles Siamese Cat fanciers called for a “cat-cott” of the film because, as the protest’s head Mrs. Stella Kaiser complained, Pyewacket’s melodious voice was dubbed over with some raucous alley cat meows. The filmmakers defended the dubbing, explaining how many different cats had to be used to play the one part and that they admittedly didn’t know different cat breeds made different sounds.
Dubbed or not, Pyewacket deserves a spot in the Hollywood Cat Actors Hall of Fame.
Final Mewsings: All cat lovers know that cats can cast a spell on you any time they wish!