“Robbery & Murder Were Their Code of Living!” – THE CATS (1968)

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Klaus Kinski & Rita Hayworth in THE CATS (1968)

I recently dove into the Warner Archives and uncovered a cracked gem called THE CATS aka THE BASTARD (1968). If the picture I posted above doesn’t grab your attention and make your heart skip a beat you should probably stop reading now. On the other hand, if you’re anything like me and happen to enjoy watching risky bank heists, gangster driven shoot ‘em ups and romantic encounters set to a very groovy score while Rita Hayworth and Klaus Kinski chew the scenery, proceed!

This oddly paced crime thriller follows the violent twists and turns in the life of a hunky thief named Jason (Giuliano Gemma) who is double-crossed by his malicious knife-wielding brother, Adam (Klaus Kinski). Between bank heists and car chases the lawbreaking siblings fight over their ill-gotten gains while trying to win the affections of two women; their coddling booze dependent mother (Rita Hayworth) and an elusive exotic beauty named Karen (Margret Lee). Another attractive young woman (Claudine Auger) finds herself caught In the middle of this debauched drama after falling in love with the fickle-hearted Jason until a massive earthquake shakes everything up.

The film was directed by Duccio Tessari, an Italian filmmaker whose name is most often associated with A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964), which he co-wrote with Sergio Leone. I’ve only had the opportunity to see a handful of Tessari’s films myself including his popular spaghetti western, A PISTOL FOR RINGO (1965), the excellent giallo BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY (1971) and two films he made with Alain Delon, ZORRO (1975) and the action-packed crime thriller BIG GUNS aka TONY ARZENTA or NO WAY OUT (1973). Tessari’s direction can be difficult to identify since his style is rather erratic and often driven by the budget he is working with. Dramatic scenes tend to bring Tessari ‘s films to a standstill that could lull some viewers to sleep but he also has the ability to generate suspense and is skilled at directing high-impact action sequences.

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THE CATS is somewhat of an anomaly in Tessari’s filmography due to its association with Warner Bros.-Seven Arts. This intercontinental production allowed the director to shoot much of the film in New Mexico and employed an international cast. I haven’t been able to find much information about this little seen movie, which is overlooked in Hayworth biographies and only warranted a sentence in Kinski’s own autobiography, but according to Warner’s DVD packaging, Joan Crawford was originally cast as Klaus Kinski and Giuliano Gemma’s mother. Crawford supposedly wrangled with writers over the script and left the production before filming started. I can’t begin to tell you how much my mind reels at the thought of Crawford playing Kinski’s booze laden mother! But much to my surprise, Rita Hayworth was up to the task of filling Crawford’s big shoes.

A lot has been written about Rita Hayworth’s later years and the serious problems she had on various film sets caused by the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease and her lifelong battle with alcoholism. THE CATS was one of the last films Hayworth made before she retired from acting and although the redheaded beauty is seen drinking heavily in the film, I have no idea if the whiskey was real or not. She does seem to be having a hell of a lot of fun playing an ex-starlet who is now the matriarch of a crime family while trying to manage her two rival sons. Hayworth was 50-years-old when she starred in THE CATS but she was still a beautiful woman. She looks terrific in mini-dresses as she hams things up and there is no sign of the disease that would eventually kill her. I particularly enjoyed her scenes with Klaus Kinski since the two seem to be relishing each argument their characters engage in. The two are so much fun to watch that it’s easy to overlook the occasionally awkward dubbing as well as any flaws in the script and direction. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Giuliano Gemma, star of many Italian westerns, who is a rather wooden leading man. Whenever he was on screen I kept wishing that Hayworth or Kinski would appear and liven things up. The other female costars (frequent Kinski cohort Margret Lee and Bond girl Claudine Auger) are both interesting actors but neither of them is given much to do here except to stand around looking gorgeous, which they easily accomplish.

hayworthThe film takes its time getting started and some might find the character development somewhat meandering while the plot is often held together by the most tenuous threads but if you’re willing to stick with it, THE CATS offers some great rewards. Besides the inspired idea to cast Rita Hayworth as Klaus Kinski’s mother, the film makes beautiful use of its New Mexico locations. Director Duccio Tessari shot this crime drama as if it was one of his spaghetti westerns and bank heists, car chases and romantic encounters are all framed by the natural beauty of the American Southwest. The film also benefits from a lounge inspired score by composers Michel Magne and Carlo Rustichelli (NIGHT TRAIN TO MILAN; 1962, ANY NUMBER CAN WIN; 1963, KILL, BABY KILL; 1966, Etc.) that conjures up images of smoky night clubs and swinging sixties discothèques.

THE CATS might not have won any awards and it’s certainly not the type of film that will appeal to everyone but I really enjoyed it. And I’m so thankful that the fine folks who manage the Warner Archives continue to unearth these forgotten celluloid gems. Currently you can catch the film streaming on Warner Instant or purchase a copy from the TCM Shop online.
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10 Responses “Robbery & Murder Were Their Code of Living!” – THE CATS (1968)
Posted By Qalice : April 2, 2015 9:15 pm

Klaus Kinski and Rita Hayworth in the same movie?! I’m sold.

Posted By Klara : April 2, 2015 9:20 pm

I must see this!!

Posted By swac44 : April 2, 2015 10:07 pm

It’s probably just as well, a collaboration between Crawford and Kinski might have ripped a hole in the fabric of reality that could have destroyed humanity as we know it.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 3, 2015 12:16 am

Swac – You made me laugh out loud! “A collaboration between Crawford and Kinski might have ripped a hole in the fabric of reality that could have destroyed humanity as we know it” is probably the best comment I’ve ever gotten.

Posted By Steve Burrus : April 3, 2015 1:57 am

Kim do think that the whole movie acting career of Rita Cansino, aka Rita Hayworth, can be summed by one word : “Gilda”? I really find nothing more about her life, except her marriage to Orson Welles and the 2 of them in “The Lady From Shanghai”, that really interests me!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 3, 2015 5:07 am

Steve – No, not at all. I think Hayworth was wasted by the studios and they didn’t do enough with her. And if Welles is to be believed (and I think he is) she also had a lot of personal problems that crippled her career. Have you ever seen her dance with Astaire? They were great together. Watch them in YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER or YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH and you’ll be amazed! I think she was one of his best dancing partners. I really wish they had been paired up more often. She also showed a lot of depth in roles such as MISS SADIE THOMPSON. Hayworth’s really great in that & delivers a deeply touching and nuanced performance.

Posted By Emgee : April 3, 2015 7:17 am

“Crawford playing Kinski’s booze laden mother” Those two on the same set? I don’t think we would have a movie to watch.

Posted By Jenni : April 3, 2015 2:55 pm

Netflix or Amazon- are you listening? Get this film on the streaming offerings, now!

Posted By Jack B. : April 3, 2015 9:19 pm

I do wonder what kind of career Hayworth would have had if not for Harry Cohn. Except for singing (where she was almost always dubbed) she seemed extremely multi-talented. Cohn (per Kim Novak) was a man who knew good properties and gave his “stars” films the A-list treatment (even if the rest of Columbia’s product was subpar) and of course the transformation of brunette Latina Rita Cansino into redheaded Gilda Rita Hayworth was done under Cohn’s auspices. Yet…he also put her in clunker materia stuff like Affair in Trinidad, Salome, and a warmed-over “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” sequel, Down to Earth. And of course she was off-screen for three years for refusing to do a second straight Biblical epic, “Joseph and His Brethren” and prior to that off the screen for FOUR years in her prime after her marriage to Aly Khan (and when she returned for Trinidad, she was visibly not the same).

As great a star as Hayworth is, I always think of her as a “What-Might-Have-Been”. Just imagine if she had done some Technicolor musicals with Astaire in the 50s!

Posted By John : September 18, 2015 5:17 pm

Margret Lee – looks amazingly like Juliet Prowse!

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