Rhubarb (1951)

Rhubarb poster

Paramount Pictures
Starring:
 Ray Milland, Jan Sterling, Gene Lockhart
Also Starring:  Orangey
Directed by: Arthur Lubin

Cat Out of the Bag Alert!  This review contains spoilers for this film!

Synopsis: Based on the novel by H. Allen Smith.  A feisty, independent feral cat becomes the prized possession of enthusiastic millionaire Thaddeus J. Banner (Gene Lockhart) and ends up inheriting the man’s fortune and baseball team.

Cinema Cat: This is one of the most iconic cat movies ever made and notable for launching the impressive career of cat actor Orangey, who made such an impact in this film he was often called Rhubarb afterwards.  We will be posting a Feature Story on the behind the scenes casting of Orangey and his illustrious career in a future article, as it’s far too detailed to include in this review.

Rhubarb - Rhubarb Orangey tabby cat roaring animated gif

The story revolves around eccentric millionaire T.J. Banner and his interest in a mangy, tough feral cat who has been stealing golf balls from a nearby course.

Rhubarb - Rhubarb orange tabby cat on golf course with golf ball

Banner thinks the cat’s spirit and spunk is worth admiration and orders his publicist, Eric Yeager (Ray Milland), to catch the cat.  This he does with some effort, using a crazy contraption baited with a golf ball.

Rhubarb - Rhubarb orange tabby cat looking into trap baited with golf balls

Brought to Banner, the cat freaks out, and Banner tells him to “Stop that rhubarb,” thus coming up with the name Rhubarb.  Eventually Rhubarb calms down and lets the rich man hold him, even purring.

Rhubarb - Rhubarb orange tabby cat held by Thaddeus J. Banner Gene Lockhart

They become companions and Rhubarb undergoes an impressive transformation, at least in appearance if not in demeanor.

Rhubarb - Rhubarb Orangey tabby cat before and after animated gif

Some years later when Banner passes away he ends up bequeathing his fortune to Rhubarb, including a down and out baseball team the media and fans have dubbed the Brooklyn Loons.  Banner’s will also stipulates that Eric will be the cat’s guardian.

Rhubarb - Rhubarb orange tabby cat held by Eric Yeager Ray Milland

As one would expect this does not sit well with Banner’s daughter Myra (Elsie Holmes).

Rhubarb - Rhubarb orange tabby cat held by Eric Yeager Ray Milland with Myra Banner Elsie Holmes

Rhubarb becomes famous and Eric uses him to inspire the baseball team to play better, convincing them that Rhubarb will bring them luck if they pet him.

Rhubarb - Rhubarb orange tabby cat with Eric Yeager Ray Milland and Brooklyn Loons baseball team

Rhubarb becomes a regular and fan favorite at the ballpark when the team starts winning.  One woman named Mrs. Thompson (Madge Blake) even brings her cat Sue Lynn (not sure of exact spelling) to meet Rhubarb, explaining she has two sisters as well.  Disturbingly enough the female cat appears to be wearing eyeliner and false eyelashes!

Rhubarb - Rhubarb Orangey tabby cat and Sue Lynn white girl cat flirting animated gif

Complications arise for Eric when it turns out his fiance, Polly (Jan Sterling), is allergic to Rhubarb.   And Rhubarb faces danger from Myra who would like nothing better than to get rid of the cat.  She tries one time to grab him but is interrupted by Eric, who throws her out of the house.

Rhubarb - Rhubarb Orangey tabby cat held up by Ray Milland animated gif

Later Myra takes Eric and Rhubarb to court, claiming the real Rhubarb is dead and Eric has replaced him with an imposter.  During the proceedings, three other orange tabby cats are brought out to prove that Eric doesn’t know one from the other.  This is when Polly’s allergy ends up coming in handy!  This was also a unique opportunity for all of the cat actors playing Rhubarb to be seen on screen together.

Rhubarb - Rhubarb orange tabby cat held by Polly Jan Sterling

After finally getting the court case cleared up Rhubarb is kidnapped by a group of local bookies who are betting against the Loons in the World Series.  A frantic search is launched but Rhubarb sees Sue Lynn on the television and manages to escape on his own.

Rhubarb - Rhubarb Orangey tabby cat escaping through transom animated gif

Rhubarb runs through the streets of the city to get back to the stadium.  At one point he is crossing the Brooklyn Bridge and the scene of him running is strangely animated (probably because they couldn’t actually film Orangey crossing the bridge).

Rhubarb - Rhubarb Orangey tabby cat running animated gif

Rhubarb arrives at the stadium in time to inspire the Loons to win the game.  He also is reunited with Sue Lynn.

Rhubarb - Rhubarb orange tabby cat and white long haired Sue Lynn held by Mrs. Thompson Madge Blake

In the end Eric marries Polly and Rhubarb is seen walking beside them on a leash.  Trailing behind are Sue Lynn and her two sisters plus a huge group of kittens (actor Paul Douglas observes the clowder and comments with awe, “A Litter from Three Wives” which was a reference to his film A Letter to Three Wives).

Rhubarb - kittens running through scene animated gif

Final Mewsings: A true rags to riches cat story!


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