Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corporation
Starring: Gibson Gowland, Zasu Pitts, Jean Hersholt
Directed by: Erich von Stroheim
Cat Out of the Bag Alert! This review contains some major spoilers for this film!
Synopsis: Based on the book McTeague by Frank Norris. The epic story of John McTeague (Gibson Gowland), a slow-minded dentist who falls for Trina (Zasu Pitts) and sets out to make her his wife, not foreseeing that she would win a lottery that ultimately causes grief and tragedy for them and her former beau Marcus (Jean Hersholt).
Featured Feline: von Stroheim revels in the use of visual metaphors in his work and in this film he uses cats twice in this way. McTeague presents his wife with a pair of golden birds on their wedding night. The birds come to represent the state of their marriage throughout the film. Marcus was Trina’s cousin and boyfriend and even introduced her to McTeague. When Marcus learns that McTeague is in love with her, he graciously steps aside. But this graciousness turns sour when Trina wins a $5,000 lottery. Marcus has finally thrown this in McTeague’s face but then shows up on the couple’s doorstep, acting demure. As they invite him into their home, a tabby cat is seen sneaking in as well.
As Marcus explains to the couple how he is leaving and will bother them no longer, we see several shots of the cat looking longingly up at the birdcage holding the two birds.
The cat’s image is even superimposed over Marcus, showing that he is jealous of what they have and yearns to cause discord in their marriage.
Many close ups of the cat are shown during this segment.
In the following scene, McTeague receives a letter from the dental association stating he is practicing without the proper authority. As he reads the letter, the cat reappears from outside an open window.
The cat leaps onto the birdcage and hangs on for dear life. The cat leaping onto the cage may have been achieved by pulling the cat off the cage and running the film in reverse.
McTeague swipes at the cat until it jumps down and runs back out through the window. When Trina finds out about the letter she is certain that Marcus is behind it. We see more shots of the cat as she realizes this.
Kitty Cameo: Closer to the end of the film Trina has taken a job as a scullery maid in a school. A black cat is also present in the school and runs through one scene quickly.
We see the black cat more clearly as Trina is scrubbing the floors one night.
The cat is sitting beside her but runs away when it hears a noise outside.
McTeague has found Trina and bursts into the school and attacks her. The black cat is seen running occasionally throughout the scenes in which he kills Trina, likely to symbolize death. The cat may also have represented Trina’s wish to be as far removed from McTeague and her marriage as possible, a black cat being about as opposite as two golden birds as one can get.
Final Mewsings: Cats may be greedy but they don’t get crazy about it.