Cat (with his trainer, Frank Inn) is part of the opening credits – that’s pretty good! Deserved, I think, he’s an integral part of the plot, after all. And he appears only five minutes into the film, waking up Holly Golightly from her respectably single-bedded sleep when the doorbell rings. They’d met by the river one day, and they just took up together, as you do, but he can’t have a name from Holly until she feels settled, until the mean reds are banished by real life. It’s quite existential, thinking about it.
The cat’s almost as big a character as Holly. She swans off to visit Sally Tomato in Sing Sing, and meanwhile Cat is sitting in the kitchen sink, watching the world go by.
Cat is an absolutely brilliant metaphor for Holly – they’re both taking part in life, but doing their own thing, and absolutely unbound by any conventions or rules that others adhere to. Cat is at the party, but he sits on a top shelf, and the only thing that interests him is taking a swipe at the cigarette perched at the end of Holly’s cigarette holder. That cat is impeccably trained – he’s reliable enough to be in a panning shot, just sitting there being a cat, when all the extras below him are buzzing about yelling over the music, just like a real party.
Interesting that the love interest, Paul Varjak (played by George Peppard, well before the A-Team) has written a book whose name is Nine Lives. And when Paul starts to write his next book, which is why he’s there in the first place, what does he write? “There was once a very lovely, very frightened girl. She lived alone except for a nameless cat”. And then Holly’s history starts to appear: just like a cat, any cat, she’d drifted from a bad situation to a better one, and then a better one, but staying self contained, never giving her heart. Not yet, anyway.
That’s what people don’t understand when they try to keep her safe; if you try to love a wild thing, if you give your heart to a wild thing, because they’re hurt or broken, they get stronger and stronger, and then they fly away.
And either that trainer deserved an Oscar, or Audrey was covered in catnip for some scenes, because in spite of the fact that she’s playing drunk (really well, actually), Cat is definitely following her around, and nuzzling at her legs.
The cat references keep on coming! When they steal “something” from the five and ten as a dare, what does Holly steal but a cat mask. Cat strongly objects to the one Paul steals, which is a dog mask, oops.
There’s one scene that absolutely wouldn’t be allowed these days; Holly receives a telegram telling her that her beloved brother Fred has been killed, and she trashes her apartment in her grief. But as part of that, she rips the dressing table mat from under Cat’s feet, and he really does go flying; and in the next shot, someone has obviously thrown the poor cat at the shutters on the window, he lands on his feet, of course, and hangs onto the slats; then the final shot of him is his jump down to get away from the crazy lady. He obviously wasn’t harmed, but he must have been very scared. I’ve seen criticism of him as a “mean cat”, but really, given that they did things like this to him, I’m not in the least surprised he was mean sometimes.
Still, at the beginning of the next scene, there he is again, up near the ceiling – this time on the stuffed head of a cow, referencing the herds of beef that Holly’s fiancé-of-the-moment owns in Brazil.
And he’s brought in the taxi, when Holly gets bailed out of jail. This time, he’s been wrapped in a towel – I suspect he’d had enough of being chucked around, and this was the only way he’d stay still. But he’s still “a poor, no-name slob”.
He’s really not a decoration this cat – he’s a solid character all the way through, and he must be onscreen as much as Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard, which is saying something. Holly rejects him too, from her grief at her isolation and her fear of Paul’s love: as she prepares to throw the cat out of the taxi in the pouring rain, she says “What do you think? This ought to be the right kind of place for a tough guy like you, garbage cans, rats galore. Scram!” The poor cat is obviously extremely reluctant to go out into the wet, and when he’s pushed off the verge of the car door, he trots off smartly, hopefully to where his trainer is sitting, calling encouragingly. The seemingly last sight we have of him is of him wet, bedraggled and lost, with his front paws draped over a railing, and the rain is still lashing down. Paul is so horrified at this that he pays the driver off, gets out of the car, and delivers the turning point speech to Holly: that she’s scared, of life, of love, of happiness, that her fear of being bound is already keeping her in a cage, she just doesn’t know it.
And that’s it. She runs after him, to find that he’s gone back to find the Cat. She searches for him, in the sopping, grimy entryway, and just when everything seems lost, and she and Paul are looking mutely at one another, Cat miaows, and they’re together again, huckleberry friends just like in Moon River. Both sopping wet, but they’re two drifters who’ve found one another, never to be parted,.
The lovely ginger moggy was named Orangey, and he made a TV serial and almost a dozen films, including My Favourite Martian and The Incredible Shrinking Man, though the names of the three dozen or so cats who went by the name of Orangey, and the names of the cats he played, have got a bit mixed up over the years, but the basic name is Orangey. He’s also (uniquely) the winner of two Patsy Awards, the Animal Oscars, one of which was for this film. Bless. And Orangey himself, whichever cat he was onscreen, is said to be remembered at Forest Lawn Memorial park, in Hollywood Hills.