Friday, 9 January 2009


Cary Grant Goes To Cat Heaven holds a unique place in the faux-canon: It's legacy was a completely transformed industry, so much so that Gilbert Adair called it the 'Jean-Marc Bosman of film'.1

It was the movie that began the Great Footage Debate of the early nineties, which saw Humphrey Bogart posthumously advertising cleaning products('Here's Looking At You, Jif') and the work of Paul McCartney (who of course had died in a bicycle crash in 1967) being used without clearance to suggest that airlines were the safest way to travel (Wings' 'Jet' the so-literal-it-is-nonsensical choice). Paul's lover Linda, who survived Paul and spent years promoting vegetarianism and World Peace, sued Virgin Airlines (the offending company) saying that Paul 'would rather have died than have his music whored like this'. Virgin's lawyer, Rick McMinn, replied 'why not have both? Oh, and by the way, whores get paid.' Linda won the case, which caused devastation in the worlds of advertising and film (a period of disruption known to posterity as The Linda Effect or Linda-rance), as numerous productions were halted and companies sued. A series of sequels to Cary Grant Goes To Cat Heaven were canned (including Jimmy Cagney Contemplates the Elephant's Graveyard, Robert Ryan Witnesses The Neon Aviary Afterlife and Klaus Nomi on Pigeon Street), and the original was taken from the shelves of video stores for years.

The movie itself? Why, it is delightful. It is effectively a treatise on the virtues of wise sampling. Footage of Cary Grant from various Hollywood movies is cut together with footage of kittens and clouds to create a dreamy ambiance of loveliness. It is a miracle beyond the earlier Who Framed Roger Rabbit (, 1988), for no actors could be manouvred and no cartoons drawn; sure, the kitten stars are perfectly wonderful playing angels (in Cat Heaven all cats are kittens of course), and all deliver fine performances. But the real genius lies in the directorial discretion of which Grant clip to use at which point. This also results in a patchwork of famous and lesser Grant moments, and much fun is to be had from spotting the pilfered originals.
The delightful thing is that it is not just obvious candidate Bringing Up Baby that is pillaged:
Look! See the reaction shot of Grant as CK Dexter Haven in The Philadelphia Story looking at Hepburn, Katherine, contemplating a marriage proposal from Stewart, James. See it here used to suggest Grant's hopeful confusion as he enters the Gates of St Peter. We see, in effect, a Grant megamix, the mythical burden reconfigured in new contexts and found to be intact: Solid gold performance runs throughout, and the consistent selection means that say, a sentimental pairing of a beyond-cute kitten and maudlin strings is anchored by the tanned wonder himself goofing off delightfully.
Alex Cox called Cary Grant Goes To Cat Heaven it 'the hip-hop of film'2. 'Hollywood re-uses plots and cliches; why not footage? cried Salman Rushdie in a defence of 'sampling' in an essay entitled Everybody Calls Their Wife 'Baby', Why Can't I?3

Grant Goes To Cat Heaven Directed by John Doanon Prduced by Jeff Litbarsky Written by Doanon Starring Cary Grant Film Four Pictures Release Date UK: Jan 1990 US: N/A Running Time: 103 mins Tagline: 'In Our Dreams'

1. When The Downs Go Light Penguin Putnam, 1997
2. Sight and Sound interview, June 1991
3. Atlantic Monthly, August 1993


  1. Either you are losing the plot, Fictional Film Club, or you have clandestinely been browsing lolcats.

    But this film will work on me. I am a sucker for teh kittehs.

  2. Either you are losing the plot, Fictional Film Club, or you have clandestinely been browsing lolcats.

    But this film will work on me. I am a sucker for teh kittehs.

  3. Either you are losing the plot, Fictional Film Club, or you have clandestinely been browsing lolcats.

    But this film will work on me. I am a sucker for teh kittehs.

  4. I think this was the first FFC entry designed to appeal specifically to certain people, and one in particular, mentioning no names, but la Calise is a likely candidate. In fact it is her.

    Consider this posting my 'Isn't She Lovely'. The critics will maul it, but I'll insist on resurrecting it well into my dotage.

    Can blogs jump the shark? Let's try.

  5. A year and a half later, and la Calise is coming to your rescue. Indeed, you know I love Cary Grant and I love kittens, so I would definitely watch "Cary Grant goes to Cat Heaven" :) and of course, it earns you extra brownie points.

    However, I am defending it because I think you really hit the nail on the head with the way we evolve popular culture in the strangest ways. No-one could have predicted hip-hop sampling. There are numerous "home-edited" slideshows and manipulated movie clips, such as the "Downfall" fuhrer/Michael Jackson clip on YouTube and I know that this is already happening in adverts for real, so I won't be surprised if it really happens in movies.

    Just think of the money they'll save on the already existing million-dollar budgets! Pay an editor a few grand, and splice up a film out of studios' already owned backstock, et voila!

    I know I'll be a sucker in line buying a ticket for "Cary Grant Goes To Cat Heaven". As will you.

  6. P.S. I want to hear more about the fuzzy kittens! xxx

  7. Trust me Mrs Savage. More cats are coming.