A UFO is stranded on earth and impounded by the US government. Its pilot, a cat with a collar that has special powers, including the ability to allow the cat to communicate with humans, has eluded the authorities and needs the help of a man named Frank in order to reclaim and repair his ship to get back home.
Ken Berry ... Dr. Franklin 'Frank' Wilson
Sandy Duncan ... Dr. Elizabeth 'Liz' Bartlett
Harry Morgan ... General Stilton
Roddy McDowall ... Mr. Stallwood
McLean Stevenson ... Dr. Norman Link
Jesse White ... Earnest Ernie (the Gambling Dealer)
Alan Young ... Dr. Wenger
Hans Conried ... Dr. Heffel
Ronnie Schell ... Sgt. Duffy / Voice of Jake the cat
James Hampton ... Capt. Anderson
Howard Platt ... Col. Woodruff (as Howard T. Platt)
William Prince ... Mr. Olympus
Ralph Manza ... Weasel
Tom Pedi ... Honest Harry
Hank Jones ... Officer
Wow, now this is certainly a rarity – a talking animal flick that doesn't rely on that moving-mouth-n-lip-synch gimmick which has really been dogging the genre of late (bad pun on my part, I know). Sure, the only thing we can attribute this merit to is its age – as others round here have already pointed out, were this movie shot in this day and age the overused and overplayed technique would have undoubtedly been employed. I also imagine that, at some point during the running time, they'd have Jake spit up a big slimy hairball, mark his territory over some sucker's flowerbed, and stick a leg in the air so he can lick at his crotch – along with any other animal bodily function they could swipe a gag out of. It's one of those reasons why, for all its skimpy production values, 'the Cat from Outer Space' is now such a refreshing blast from the past – in an era swamped by crude, flashy animal movies made exclusively for the under-12 market, this is comes across as quite a pleasant piece of nostalgia, harking back to the good old days when the humour was always clean, and any critter who wanted to wrap their tongue around the English language did so the conveniently telepathic way. (Yikes, I'm starting to sound like a right old whinger here, which really I'm not, but that's just how jaded I am).
As a stand-alone film, TCFOS is very much a cheesy but warm-hearted affair and, for fans of all things sublime n' feline like myself, this was a childhood classic growing up in the 1980s. Back then, it always qualified as my runner-up pick for Disney's coolest live action feature, second only to the original 'Incredible Journey' (yeah, I *did* watch Mary Poppins', but never really got much further than the animated sequences – it just got boring after that). I happened to come across it on my shelves recently, having left it undisturbed for several years, and decided it was time for a revisit.
The worst thing about it is inevitably the title (which just screams 'B Movie!', don't it?), only just managing to pip some of the flat and, quite frankly, irritating human characters on display to the post, who've more-or-less accepted that churning out even Oscar-worthy performances ain't gonna spare them from being upstaged by the four-legged favourite. Sandy Duncan in particular portrays a bimbo so staggering it'll make your jaw drop that she even made it into the paranormal research department (plus, she believes all of Frank's lame excuses – yikes, how dumb is she?). Then there's that spy character who insists on speaking with such loathsome smarminess not seen since 'the Shop Around the Corner', you could break your TV screen trying to sock him one in the mouth.
The best things about TCFOS, oddly enough, owe a lot to the retrospectives we have after 26 years. Jake is definitely entitled to feel smug that he was getting himself stranded on planet Earth, amongst all the typically hostile folks, and making his human ally's bicycle fly *four freakin' years* before ET showed up on the scene (is that uncanny or what?). Not to mention the casually conniving fashion in which Jake goes about trying to secure his way back home, somehow managing to involve rigged sports games along the way; ethics so dodgy by today's standards that really you gotta love it. And the special effects are now so crude and outdated that, well, they're cute! Jake is undeniably the star of this vehicle, churning out all the better lines of dialogue, and this is such an endearing story deep down that it's all too bad that the script never delves particularly deeply into his friendship with Frank (after all, ET's major trump card was always his lump-in-the-throat relationship with Elliot), choosing instead to skim through the character interactions at such a pace that the film never really has the chance to deliver any true emotional wallop.
I did also get a kick out of reading the previous comment concerning the body language of the feline double act playing Jake, and will verify it all the way – pay close attention to the climax in particular, and note that the poor kitty currently on the scene looks positively bewildered!
Sure, it's imperfect and now that I'm older I can see where the faults lie a lot more than I used to – but still, it's a likable and evocative romp, and personally I'd much rather be subject to this than to recent animal conspiracy theory trash like 'Cats and Dogs' or 'Good Boy!', any day. A real treat for cat lovers everywhere.
While this isn't the best Disney movie I've ever seen (You would think being made 19 years after Darby O'Gill the graphics would be better, Gill being ahead of it's time for 1959) it's so obviously a silly movie made for kids! While it's true that the special effects and quality of the picture leave something to be desired, you don't really notice until someone points it out. It's an "entertaining" movie with a cast full of familiar faces, plots children can understand, flashing lights, and hi jinx involving a talking cat. To dissect this movie as if it were up for an Oscar is a mistake and setting up what is just supposed to be a fun family film, for failure. Kids do like it and it is entertaining enough that you don't mind watching it with your children.
In regards to the comment "...if this movie is called THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE then why couldn't they have dubbed the cat with a voice that sounds feline ?" because why would they? it doesn't take away from the plot or the climax or any of the characters if the cat talks in a regular voice, there are actually a few scenes when people overhear him and thinks someone else said something. Bottom line : it's silly, fun, sometimes cheesy and definitely not a movie to watch if you take all of your movie watching too seriously.
I really can't say why, but this movie's premise just cracks me up. Seeing that cat emerge from the UFO and stroll so gracefully down the plank has the same effect on me now as it had when I saw the movie as a kid – I just start laughing really hard for a good half minute or so. It's not a bad movie, actually, and the humor is deliberate. I think it's even funnier because the spaceship and the alien cat's mission are treated with such seriousness from the get-go, leaving all the goofy humor to the human characters.
Part of what makes it so great of course is just the fact that they picked a cat. With a dog this movie would be in the words of one character, "Dumb. Very dumb." But cats are just that way… no matter where you put then, they pretty much look and act as if they own the place. So you put that cat with his magic collar on a UFO and darned if he doesn't really belong there, which I think is what makes it so bizarre.
It's great how, without computers, they were able to get that cat to react in appropriate ways in scenes with the actors… what I wouldn't give to be a fly on the all (or, a cat on the couch!) in that editing conference. The human actors, even people with loads of talent like Roddy McDowell and Harry Morgan, don't stand a chance of upstaging this feline extraterrestrial. I love how Jake (that's the cat) is more realistic and down to earth than his human scientist buddy, Frank (Ken Berry). Berry doesn't have much screen presence, but would the movie actually be better if it was Steve McQueen? Sandy Duncan on the other hand I thought was very engaging and had a real flair for deadpan humor. She reminds me of other great 60s film comediennes like Goldie Hawn and Debbie Walley.
As a side note, I kind of felt Spielberg's "E.T." borrowed some elements from this film. You have the friendly misunderstood alien, the glowing collar instead of a glowing finger, and even a flying bike! The whole framework of having an alien befriend the humans is old-hat nowadays but actually was pretty unusual before E.T. (you had a few in the 50s… "Day the Earth Stood Still" and "Space People", but not much in the mid/late 60s or early 70s).
One thing that's interesting watching the movie now in the 21st Century is how other than the cat every major character is an adult. You would never see a kids' film these days that doesn't even have children in it. Speaking as one who saw the movie as a child (though not when it was released… probably a decade later when I was 12 or so), I never had a problem with that and it never would have occurred to me at that time. So I think modern family filmmakers are probably guilty of underestimating the imagination of children and their ability to empathize with adult characters.
This film never aimed to be high art, but it's still noticeable how well it does accomplish its limited goals – a tiny dose of sci-fi/fantasy, a good deal of action, and a lot of slapstick and situational humor. The special effects, by the way, are actually pretty good for their time. The digital graphics on the UFO's display screens and the control panel itself are more convincing than the computers you see in stuff like the original Star Trek series or "Logan's Run" which just came out a few years before this film. All of this detail greatly adds to the humor of seeing this domestic animal placed in this environment.
Cats have always been known for their inscrutable stares and associated with divine wisdom. This film has strong charm despite being limited by its own ambition, and maybe even more so in retrospect since nowadays these things are done with effects instead of real animals. I wonder if kids really can connect to a computerized image of a cat in the same way they can relate to a real cat like the ones in their neighborhoods.
* Jake the cat was played by two different Abyssinian cats--Rumpler and his sister, Amber.
* 'Morgan, Harry' plays an eccentric general and McLean Stevenson plays a harried doctor. In Harry Morgan's first appearance on "M*A*S*H" (1972), he played an eccentric general; McLean Stevenson was a regular in the role of the harried doctor in command of the 4077th.
* Ronnie Schell, who provided the voice of the title feline, was also given the small part of an army sergeant. In post-production, it was decided that his voice was too easily recognizable, so the on-screen role was re-dubbed by another, unidentified actor.