No biography of Patrick McGoohan is complete without mentioning THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA, and The Beat is no exception. The movie was on Hallmark the other day. We DVR’d for later viewing and, wow, was this full of surprises. A movie about a lovable tot who dresses her kitty in a bonnet? Yes, but also, in the Disney tradition, a gut-wrenching exploration of what happens when beloved pets die! Crying, tantrums, turning against family. I have vague memories of watching this movie as a kid and the scenes of Mary and [SPOILER] her dead cat must have turned me into a quivering puddle.
Everyone mentions how good McGoohan, Susan Hampshire and future Poppins poppets Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber are, but my praise is reserved for Thomasina herself. This cat is the Meryl Streep of feline thespians — no kitty has ever displayed such range on film. Plus technically, it’s a marvel. There are goddam TRACKING SHOTS of the cat! Running out a door and up a tree; sneaking through a market, looking to see if anyone is around, then darting forward to grab a tasty fish! How in the hell did they do it?
There are some signs that this may have been a pre-Humane Society approved film. I don’t want to know how they did shots of Thomasina falling through limbo over and over, claws splayed, hind legs twisting. Or how she stayed so docile while wearing a bonnet, sitting in a baby carriage and talking to a German shepherd. Cats are notoriously difficult to work with on film, part of the reason there are so few of them in cinema, at least compared to dogs. Cats had to wait for YouTube to come along to become the stars they were always meant to be.
Thomasina also rectifies (along with THAT DARN CAT! and the rather feeble ARISTOCATS) Disney’s anti-cat bias that really only ended with THE LION KING. Figaro aside, cats in Disney films were usually sneaky, tricky and awful — Lucifer, Si and Am, the Cheshire Cat.
Except for Bagheera. He was cool.
There is much else to love here — rugged Scottish scenery creatively used in matte shots, English actors who show they are Scottish by saying “Aye” and “Och” every once in a while; a scene where a child wrestles a wounded badger into a blanket. And did we mention Patrick McGoohan in jodhpurs? Anyway if you are looking for a well shot family film that will first sadden the shit out of, then delight your children, THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA should do the trick.