smoking holes illo

smoking holes illo

Monday, August 31, 2015

Classic Cartoon: UNDER THE COUNTER SPY (1954)

The cartoon opens with a very important message, that one would do well to bear in mind at all times:


In what begins as a parody of the popular TV series Dragnet, police detectives "Thursday" and "Al" are on spy detail... when they get a call, reporting a "498-PS" --sneaky enemy agent "The Bat" has stolen the top-secret experimental "Formula 7 3/8" from a government research lab. While evading the authorities under cover of night, The Bat reaches through the open window of a first-floor apartment and quickly stashes the ill-gotten prize on a nearby tabletop... right next to some health tonic, housed in a bottle of identical size and shape. When the threat of capture quickly passes, The Bat accidentally retrieves the wrong bottle and flees.

The next morning, a sickly-green Woody Woodpecker is barely able to muster enough strength to drag his pathetic carcass out of bed. Guess it's time to take some of his tonic! Unaware of the shenanigans that took place while he was asleep, Woody gulps down what is actually Formula 7 3/8, and suddenly gains Hercules-level physical power! After a series of "doesn't-know-his-own-strength" sight gags and superheroic feats, Woody learns that the formula's effects are temporary. 

"Tonight's episode: "D'oh!" is the Door Prize..."
"Hulk SASH!!!"
"Aw, crap! To fix this, I guess I'm gonna have to prop the rest of the building up on stilts!"
"Ah, here comes that intolerable jerk, Baby Huey... I'll settle his hash!"

He also sees a TV news report about The Bat, which also clears up why his health tonic is suddenly so ridiculously effective. Like any good law-abiding citizen, Woody tries to return the stolen formula to the authorities... but The Bat has other ideas. The malefactor sets up a false route that takes the bird, instead, to The Bat's secret hideout, inside a creepy mansion... 

Woody seems a bit unsure as to whether this is indeed the British Film Institute...

Great stuff! The Dragnet material is pretty funny, parodying the original, 1950s incarnation of the popular TV series, although the "enemy spy" plot derives more from Cold War-oriented programs, like I Led Three Lives (1953-56) and the film (and subsequent radio series) which inspired it, I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951). I love how (Joe) "Thursday" is so laconic --slouching in his swivel chair, hands in his pockets, his feet propped up on his desk-- that he answers the office phone with his foot.

The character designs and backgrounds are quite nice, if a bit more prosaic and spare than what was typically seen in the Woody Woodpecker cartoons of the 1940s. I particularly like the silhouette design of The Bat; simple and cartoony, yet menacing. He truly takes his moniker to heart. What really sells the cartoon, however, is the animation, which is very smooth, expressive and funny, overcoming any deficiencies in the toned-down, "cuter" Woody design (which was underway a few years before this particular short was made), or the somewhat-crude look of some of the minor human characters Woody interacts with in the film. On the flip side, the intentionally-limited animation of Dragnet surrogates, Thursday and Al, effectively satirizes the deliberately stiff, straightforward style of Jack Webb's TV show.

Walter Lantz
While never quite up to the level of the best of Warner Bros' Looney Tunes output, the cartoon studio of animation pioneer Walter Lantz --which began in 1929 (around the time the earliest Looney Tunes commenced) and ended as one of the very last shorts-oriented animation factories in 1972-- had a pretty good run, up to the mid-1950s. During Lantz studio's "golden" period of the 1940s and early 1950s, you can attribute most of the superior work to four animation directors in Lantz's employ: James "Shamus" Culhane (a very talented animator, who'd worked during prime periods at Fleischer, Ub Iwerks' studio, Disney and a brief stint at Warner Bros), Dick Lundy (another Disney veteran, who'd later move to MGM), Tex Avery (a short run of four cartoons, made after his successful years at both Warner Bros and MGM) and the least-recognized of the bunch, Don Patterson, the director of Under the Counter Spy.

Don Patterson, found in a detail of a large group photo of Charles Mintz Studio animation staff, circa 1933.

Don Patterson (1909-1988) began as part of the animation staff at the Charles Mintz studio, along with his younger brother, the equally-great animator Ray Patterson, working anonymously on Krazy Kat, Scrappy and various other cartoons that were distributed by Columbia Pictures. In the late 1930s, Don was hired by Disney, animating on shorts (Boat Builders, Mickey's Trailer, The Brave Little Tailor, Mother Goose Goes Hollywood (all 1938), Donald's Garden (1942))  and features (Fantasia (1940, assisting with the Pterodactyls swooping in "The Rite of Spring", animating a torrent of ghosts and ghouls in "A Night on Bald Mountain"), Pinocchio (1941), Dumbo (1941), The Three Caballeros (1944)), moved to MGM (Tom & Jerry, Barney Bear), before going to work for Walter Lantz, where he animated on a batch of cartoons directed by Lantz himself, before rising to the position of animation director on 15 shorts, beginning with The Great Who-Dood-It in 1952, and was also responsible for the studio's only cartoon short to be filmed in 3D, Hypnotic Hick (1953). When director Tex Avery arrived at Lantz from MGM, Patterson shifted back to animator to work on Avery's quartet of shorts, and remained in that role for the remainder of his tenure at Lantz's studio, animating for directors Paul J. Smith and Alex Lovy. He also did some TV commercial work for Lantz, such as animating this energetic commercial for Kellogg's Rice Krispies:

(Credit the great cartoonist/animator, Mike Kazaleh, for  identifying Patterson as this 
commercial's primary artist. His eagle-eye for pinpointing who in the classic-era cartoon
world animated what, particularly in regards to vintage TV commercials, is semi-regularly
on display at Jerry Beck's amazing Cartoon Research blogsite. He and his peers there
have forgotten more about classic animation than you and I will ever learn.)

Here's a nice sampling of some of Don Patterson's theatrical animation work from the late-1930s through the mid-1950s, at Lantz, MGM and Disney, prior to his long TV career at Hanna-Barbera (where he animated for Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick-Draw McGraw, The Flintstones, Jonny Quest, etc, from 1959 to 1988):

Lantz probably would've had a much stronger legacy of cartoons through the balance of the 1950s, had Patterson remained as director. Instead, we got a few decent early cartoons from Lantz workhorse Paul J. Smith (himself an extremely skilled animator, but who proved to be a largely lackluster, though prolific, director) and some handsome work from Alex Lovy, who had previously guided several cartoons for Lantz from 1938-1943 (including the debut shorts of Lantz stars Andy Panda and Woody Woodpecker). Before long, though, the general Lantz output became, with few exceptions, cheaper and less-inspired; essentially the same sort of bland, cookie-cutter approach taken by Hanna-Barbera on most of its TV fare a few years later, albeit with some fuller, more fluid animation. In fact, Lantz became something of a way station for theatrical animators eventually transitioning to TV work at the Hanna-Barbera cartoon factory. Patterson's films were a sort of "last hurrah" of the Lantz studio's near-greatness.

Homer Brightman
Story and gag-man Homer Brightman (1901-1988), like Patterson, spent the mid-1930s through the 1940s at Disney, beginning with devising gags for the Mickey Mouse-Donald Duck-Pluto short, Alpine Climbers (1936), and eventually contributing story and gag input to Saludos Amigos (1942), The Three Caballeros (1944), the "Casey at the Bat" segment of Make Mine Music (1946), "Mickey and the Beanstalk" from Fun and Fancy Free (1947), "The Wind in the Willows" half of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) and Cinderella (1950). In the 1980s, Brightman wrote a book (which I haven't read) about his Disney experiences, Life in the Mouse House, which was eventually published, posthumously, in 2014 by Theme Park Press.

 He's credited with stories/gags for 10 of Patterson's films at Lantz, and continued at the studio through the 1960s, while also doing some work at MGM in the late 1950s, for director Michael Lah's unit, making the last batch of theatrical shorts starring Tex Avery's Droopy, including the Oscar-nominated One Droopy Knight (1957). For television, he wrote for UPA's Dick Tracy (1961), the animated Bozo the Clown (1962), The New Three Stooges (1965), and the DePatie-Freleng superhero spoof, The Super Six (1966). Brightman once got to appear on TV himself, on the Walter Lantz-hosted Woody Woodpecker Show, showing young viewers a storyboard pitch for one of the Woody cartoons he wrote, To Catch a Woodpecker (1957), directed by Alex Lovy:

Helping Patterson and Brightman bring this cartoon to life was a team of three lead animators:

Ray Abrams (1906-?) started animating at Disney in 1927, as an in-betweener on the new Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts that Disney and animator Ub Iwerks were making for Universal, and was among the staff who were subsequently lured away from Disney by producer Charles Mintz, who took possession of Oswald, and formed a new animation company to make them. Mintz was soon ousted by Universal, and the unit was given to Walter Lantz, for whom Abrams worked steadily through the late 1930s. He moved to MGM in 1940 to animate on a couple of Hugh Harmon and Rudolph Ising shorts, before joining Tex Avery's new MGM cartoon unit, and staying there through most of the 1940s, helping to animate some of the greatest cartoons ever made, such as Red Hot Riding Hood (1943), Who Killed Who? (1943), Northwest Hounded Police (1946) and King-Size Canary (1947). Toward the end of his time at MGM, Abrams (along with Don Patterson) helped animate a trio of good Barney Bear shorts co-directed by Preston Blair and Michael Lah: The Bear and the Bean (1948), The Bear and the Hare (1948) and Goggle Fishing Bear (1949). Abrams returned to Lantz in 1951, and worked steadily at the studio through 1965. From there, he joined Hanna-Barbera, working for them from the mid-1960s through the 1970s on such kiddie fare as Secret Squirrel, Frankenstein, Jr. & The Impossibles, The Herculoids, The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of GulliverScooby Doo, Where Are You?, The Cattanooga Cats, Scooby's Laff-A-Lympics and Captain Caveman.

Herman Cohen
Herman Cohen (1905-1988) began at the Fleischer Studios in New York City in the mid-1930s, on shorts like the Betty Boop cartoon, Judge for a Day (1935), then headed west to join Warner Bros in 1938, animating for directing team of Bugs Hardaway & Cal Dalton, and then for Friz Freleng, including the live-action/animated Porky Pig short, You Ought to Be in Pictures (1940). After the war, he was part of WB director Arthur Davis' unit, and joined Robert McKimson's stable of animators (mainly focusing on Daffy Duck and Foghorn Leghorn cartoons) when the Davis unit was dissolved. Between 1953 and 1955, Cohen alternated between Warner's and Lantz, which included his time working on Under the Counter Spy and other Don Patterson cartoons, before working full-time at Lantz in 1956. As with Homer Brightman, Cohen shifted over to the MGM cartoon department in 1957-58, animating for some of the last of the Hanna-Barbera Tom & Jerry cartoons, and the post-Tex Avery Droopy shorts directed by Michael Lah. He also animated several TV commercials, and joined the crew at UPA on their Mister Magoo feature film, 1001 Arabian Nights (1959). Subsequent TV work included animating for Jay Ward's Dudley Do-Right, a few Fractured Fairy Tales and George of the Jungle, a couple of episodes of UPA's The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo, the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas (plus a few more specials) and the theatrical feature A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969), Krantz Films' Spider-Man, The Super Six and some Pink Panther theatrical shorts in 1968-69 for DePatie-Freleng, and a brief period at Filmation, animating Archie's TV Funhouse, Sabrina & The Groovie Ghoulies and Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down.

Ken Southworth
British-born Ken Southworth (1918-2007) started his professional animation career at Disney, assisting the lead animators on several cartoon shorts, as well as on the features The Three Caballeros (1944), Song of the South (1946), "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" portion of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), Cinderella (1950) and Alice in Wonderland (1951).  He joined the Patterson unit at Lantz in 1953, and like Homer Brightman and Herman Cohen, moved to MGM in 1957, to work on some later Tom & Jerry shorts and the Michael Lah Droopy shorts. After animating for the notoriously awful TV cartoon series, Bucky and Pepito (1959), Southworth made the natural transition to Hanna-Barbera from 1961-on (Huck, Yogi, The Flintstones, Jonny Quest, Atom, Ant, Secret Squirrel, Space Ghost, Scooby Doo, The Harlem Globetrotters, Where's Huddles?, The Roman Holidays, Jabberjaw, Super Friends, Godzilla, Trollkins, The Smurfs, The Pirates of Dark Water, etc), plus DePatie-Freleng's The Super Six, the indie animated feature Shinbone Alley (1971), and some assorted Filmation work (Fantastic Voyage, Archie, He-Man, She-Ra, Ghostbusters, the feature film Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night (1987), storyboarding for the Star Trek animated series, etc), remaining very active in TV animation, well into the 1990s. He was also known as an animation instructor, both in-house at Hanna-Barbera, and elsewhere. Here's a nice remembrance of Southworth from a friend, animator Ken Priebe.

Raymond Jacobs
Background/layout artist Raymond Jacobs (1906-2013) also began at Disney, moving to California from New York in 1937. He began learning animation on the job there, working anonymously on the "soup" and "building a bed" scenes that were ultimately deleted from the final release of Snow White (1937), onward through Fantasia (1940) and Disney's other early features, expanding to focus on background art and animation layout, eventually working on many instructional and propaganda films for the U.S. armed forced during World War II. Post-war, he alternated between the Disney and Walter Lantz studios throughout the 1950s. At Lantz, he was usually credited with "Set Design", though also sometimes as "Background Artist". From 1960 onward, Jacobs worked in TV animation, first providing layout (and some stories) for King Features'/Al Brodax Popeye cartoons, a lot of 1960s work for Filmation (Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The Groovie Ghoulies, Archie's TV Funnies) and Ken Snyder's Hot Wheels show, before settling in at Hanna-Barbera (Scooby Doo, Super Friends, These Are the Days, The New Tom & Jerry Show, Jabberjaw, Dynomutt, Godzilla, The Smurfs, etc), where he continued until retirement in the mid-1980s.

Jacobs' collaborator on the backgrounds for this short, Art Landy (1909-1977), followed a similar career path, starting at Disney in the late 1930s, and moving to Lantz in the early 1950s. Unlike Jacobs, however, Landy stuck largely to theatricals, retiring from the business in the late 1960s. Here are a few examples of his paintings, done outside of his animation work.

Dallas McKennon
Actor Dallas McKennon (1919-2009) does some uncredited voice work here, doing the heavy lifting as both Thursday and Al, and as Woody's quasi-inner voice/narrator. According to his own, autobiographical story, McKennon began (after some local Portland, Oregon TV work) as a live-action film extra, as a result of an on-location casting call for the Anthony Mann western, Bend of the River (1952), which ultimately scored him a short dialogue scene with the film's star, James Stewart. Through some fortuitous networking, McKennon ended up doing his first cartoon voice work for Walt Disney soon afterward (and he would do a lot of it, including a lot of work for Disneyland park attractions), as well as a plethora of voices for Walter Lantz.

Later, McKennon would be the voice of Gumby (from the 1960s, onward, as well as Pokey, Prickle, and others), Filmation's Archie (and Mr. Weatherbee), Q.T. Hush (and his dog, Shamus), both Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse, etc. He was also (uncredited) the movie theater projectionist attacked by William Castle's The Tingler (1959). and the short order cook who, with Tippi Hedren and other onlookers, yells out to warn the ill-fated smoker about the flow of gasoline pooling at his feet in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963). McKennon was seen a lot on live-action TV, as well: first as kid show host Captain Jet on Los Angeles TV in the early 1950s; a part on the 1953 Dragnet episode, "The Big Lover"; appearances on a few popular '60s sitcoms (My Three Sons, The Andy Griffith Show, My Favorite Martian) and dramas (The Untouchables, Ben Casey, a recurring part as Medical Examiner Dr. Tom Blaney on 87th Precinct); and particularly in westerns (Gunsmoke, Sugarfoot, Colt .45, Wagon Train, Bonanza, The Big Valley, The Rifleman, The Virginian, many others), including a regular role as "Cincinnatus" on Daniel Boone.

Grace Stafford
Grace Stafford (1903-1992), wife of Walter Lantz, provides Woody's trademark laugh. Otherwise, in this and some of the other Patterson-directed shorts (and several that Lantz himself directed, just prior to Patterson's arrival), Woody is largely a mute, pantomime character, though Stafford's newly-minted Woody voice would be heard more and more often, and was the voice for the character until the 1980s. She first spoke as the famous cartoon bird in the animated segment of Woody demonstrating the principles of rocket travel in George Pal's feature, Destination Moon (1950), which kicked off the 1950s sci-fi movie craze. Prior to this, she performed in several of her husband's earlier cartoons, including Andy Panda in Meatless Tuesday (1943) and Andy's girlfriend, Miranda, in Scrappy Birthday (1949). Before she met Lantz, she was an actress in live-action films, such as Dr. Socrates (1935), Anthony Adverse (1936) and Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939). Incidentally, Stafford's first husband was film actor Tom Keene (a.k.a. Richard Powers, a.k.a. Geroge Duryea), who had starred in King Vidor's Our Daily Bread (1934), many B westerns, and later played his final screen role, as military man Col. Edwards, in Ed Wood's cult classic, Plan Nine from Outer Space (1959).

Clarence Wheeler (1885-1966) got his start in radio in the early 1930s, as orchestra leader and music director for Chicago's WBBM. Moving to Hollywood, he began composing for animated shorts, beginning with a trio of latter-day Ub Iwerks shorts in 1938 (Beauty Shoppe, Baby Checkers and A Busy Day) starring Gran-Pop Monkey, and leading to some of Columbia Studios' Color Rhapsodies cartoons, as well as an experiment, in a form of a couple animated newsreels: Broken Treaties (1941) and How War Came (1941). Wheeler then graduated to scoring some live-action features, albeit programmers for the low-budget Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) in the early 1940s, such as Dangerous Lady (1941), The Miracle Kid (1941) and Too Many Women (1942), as well as the Shirley Temple feature, Miss Andy Rooney (1942, famous for featuring Miss Temple's first screen kiss) for indie producer Edward Small, and work on a couple of Columbia's Blondie series, Blondie's Holiday (1947) and Blondie's Anniversary (1947). During this time, Wheeler was tapped by producer George Pal to provide music for some of his Puppetoon shorts at Paramount, mainly those involving Pal's character Jasper, though also the highly-regarded John Henry and the Inky-Poo (1946) and Together in the Weather (1946). He also scored Hugh Harmon's lavish cartoon sales film short, Easy Does It (1946) for Stokely Van Camp Foods, a couple of the short-lived Jerky Journeys cartoon travelogue-spoof shorts for Republic, and the theme music for the first (barely) animated cartoon series made for television, the original Crusader Rabbit, in 1948-49. He then joined Walter Lantz in 1951, and remained there until his death in 1966.

If you poke around the major streaming services, you might have a decent chance at running across Under the Counter Spy, but in lieu of that, here are some further entertaining screen shots from it:

"Be sure not to miss our next exciting episode, 'Love Me or Cleave Me' ~ or ~ 'Bye Bye Birdie'!"
Jack Webb in Decline and Fall... of a Birdwatcher (1968)
"Brainnnnnnssssss... morrrre brainnnnnnnsssss..."
"Dammit, WHY do my hands always suddenly fuse together to form a volatile high-explosive at the least-opportune times?!?"
"Cripes! They take Palm Sunday seriously around here!"
The terms of their divorce settlement were extreme, to say the least...
"Oh no! The Bat's a SCANNER!!!"
Framed for a crime he's ABOUT TO commit...
Woody finds out what happens when he succeeds in angering the Magic 8-Ball...
"Thanks for delivering the laxative, son... we couldn't have held out much longer."
Woody is serenely oblivious to his lewd visual metaphor...
The latest sharp drop on Wall Street nearly left Woody flat broke!
Plagued by low self-esteem issues, Woody seeks solace in self-actualizing signage.
"You're quite right, Mini-Me... once again, I stupidly  forgot to align my molecular structure with that of the wall!"

I first saw the cartoon as part of the regular Woody Woodpecker cartoon package that circulated on local TV stations into the late-1970s/early-1980s. They were repackaged for syndication in 1987, with a newly-animated show intro, but the opening credits for the original cartoons were edited out and the prints used were, by and large, substandard. By the early 1990s, the vintage antics of Woody, Chilly Willy, Andy Panda and the rest of the Walter Lantz cast of characters had disappeared from most TV markets in the U.S. The last I saw of them was in a brief run (less than a year) of the 1987 package on Cartoon Network in the mid/late-1990s, then still in its classics-focused early days. I would guess at least a generation or two has little-to-no knowledge of Lantz or his characters, other than perhaps a vague recognition of Woody from T-shirts, or from the barely-shown-in-the-U.S. revival of new made-for-TV cartoons in 1999 (really nice intro sequence animation there, by the way).

Fortunately, Under the Counter Spy, as well as all but one of Don Patterson's 14 Woody Woodpecker cartoons, can be found on DVD in the 3-disc Woody Woodpecker & Friends Classic Cartoon Collection - Vol. 2; Patterson's first, The Great Who Dood It (1952), is included in Vol. 1. Both collections are still widely available (and relatively inexpensive) through the usual online vendors. His final directorial effort at Lantz, the one-shot cartoon, Flea for Two (1955), only got a DVD release via Vol. 10 of the long out-of-print Columbia House series, Woody Woodpecker & Friends in 2002, and was only available for purchase as part of their "book-of-the-month club" subscription format.

The cartoon closes with a funny parody of the famous Mark VII logo that closed every Dragnet show:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

TV Episode: T.H.E. CAT - Ep.1: "To Kill a Priest"

Season: 1 (of 1)
Episode Number: 1 (of 26)
Original Airdate: September 16, 1966 
Original Venue: NBC

Written & Created by: Harry Julian Fink
Produced & Directed by: Boris Sagal

The coolest 1960s TV series you've probably never seen, and perhaps have never even heard of, begins this, its pilot episode, panning down the Gothic frontage of a city church to reveal... a heavily-armed squad of police--

 Father Francis Langland (Jason Evers) is under maximum police protection... in addition to a personal detail of three pug-ugly volunteer bodyguards. As "The Fisherman's Priest", he has spoken out against a protection racket that has extorted thousands of dollars from San Francisco's struggling population of  local fishermen, rallying them to refuse to pay tribute to their would-be criminal masters. In retribution, he's had acid thrown in his face, costing him an eye, and has been marked for death.

"Where's the ring? Don't tell me you forgot it!"
Enter a specialist (Robert Loggia), briefed and endorsed by Police Captain McAllister (the great R.G. Armstrong, his character missing his left hand, for reasons unknown), as they walk into the heavily-guarded cathedral. This mystery-man wagers, as a test, that he can single-handedly break through Father Langland's defenses and get to him, close enough to kill him... and if he can, so can The Syndicate. Father Langland and his guardian angels scoff at this seemingly superfluous helper, only to be proven quite, quite wrong...

Cue some supremely-cool Lalo Schifrin "stealth operation" music, as this unidentified fellow performs a one-man MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE gambit, evading the police and powering through Langland's trio of roughnecks, unfolding over the course of just a couple of minutes...

"Sorry, we weren't paying attention... do it again."

   Needless to say, both the priest and the goons are impressed...
 But who is this dark stranger with the formidable skill-set?

My best guess is that it's some future orange juice spokesman...

His name is Cat... Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat... and here comes one of the coolest opening credits sequences in all of 1960s television, full of expressionistic art and a formidable, hard-boiled Lalo Schifrin theme tune, complete with flute and a killer horn section, promising even more pulpy noir excitement:

The agile Mr. Cat was formerly a circus aerialist and an expert cat burglar, and is skilled with both a gun and a knife (his weapon of choice), but now he uses his talents to help crime victims and the police, as an independent contractor...  though more along the lines of a professional 'fixer' than as a standard-issue private detective. This is a more dangerous guy than Mannix. He's a character very much in the mold of James Bond (Connery/Craig), Daredevil, The Dark Knight and (two decades later) The Equalizer.

"I, Pepe of Casa del Gato, welcome you  --but enough with formalities! Tonight, all the saucers of milk are on the house!"

After the opening, we meet Cat's best friend, Pepe Cordoza (Robert Carricart), proprietor of the swanky Casa del Gato nightclub (reminiscent of "Mother's Place" on Peter Gunn), where Mr. Cat spends most of his off hours. Tonight, the club is hosting chanteuse Maria Carentis (Norma Bengell), who sings Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova classic, "The Girl from Ipanema" (and later, "Agua de Beber"). Cat watches with interest. Their eyes meet...

"I dedicate this next song to the dapper gentleman standing in the back..."
"I give 'em cat scratch feverrrr...."
"Pussycat, pussycat, I love you... yesss... I... doooooo..."
      "Rowrrrrr...."                                                                                                "Purrrrrrr..."

"Call off your goons, Smith... that boil isn't gonna lance itself."
Looks like this tomcat won't be spending tonight alone on his back alley fence... except that Capt. McAllister suddenly pops in (D'oh!!) to let him know that The Syndicate is done fooling around with Father Langland, and has announced to both the police and the newspapers its intent to liquidate "The Fisherman's Priest" at dawn, a mere three hours and thirty-nine minutes from now. McAllister knows that multi-millionaire business tycoon, William Smith (Sorrell Booke), is the head of their organization, though apparently without enough concrete evidence to arrest him --he tells Cat that the last informant they tried to use to get the goods on Smith ended up being burned alive--  and tasks Cat to stop him. Armed with only a retractable throwing knife mechanism (his "Cat Claw"), concealed up his left sleeve, and Smith's address (the city's old, run-down, former Hall of Justice building), Cat goes to meet Smith. The crime boss is revealed to be an erudite, reptilian villain, encased in the body of a balding accountant, sort of a Blofeld-in-training, with a trio of scary henchmen. Through sheer chutzbah, Cat manages to impress upon Smith that if the priest dies, so will Smith, by Cat's hand... and our hero uses his cunning to escape from the place alive. In revenge, Smith has Maria Carentis kidnapped by dwarfs disguised in Chinese street festival costumes. 

Nightmares like these inspire Sid & Marty Krofft to do their very best work.
Angie Dickinson concurs.
And now, an important message from Underwood Deviled Ham...

 With time running out, can Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat save both Father Langland and Maria, and put an end to Smith's extortion ring?

Why not find out for yourself?

Premiering in NBC's Friday 9:30 pm slot during the first majority-color season (Fall 1966) of American network television, this was an amazing pilot episode for an amazing series. While done in a somewhat larger-than-life style, it doesn't resort to the intentional campiness that several other series of the time did, in the wake of the mammoth success of Adam West's Batman, such as T.H.E. Cat's lead-in, the dreaded "goofy" third season of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. About the closest Cat normally got to camp was Pepe's rubbery nose and large gypsy earring, and that the nightclub shares our hero's feline moniker.

The pilot's plot is fast-moving and exciting, exotic yet grounded, with lots of great, moody shots and camera angles, and with no padding in its swift 25-minute running time. Robert Loggia makes a formidable hero, both shrewd and physically dangerous. ABC's The Green Hornet (from Batman's producers) --which also ran on Friday nights during the 1966-67 season-- has some similarities (plus the advantage of co-star Bruce Lee), but T.H.E. Cat is a darker and tougher program --pretty much the kind of show The Green Hornet, fun as it is, wished it could be. Interestingly, several of the supporting players in the pilot are depicted with disfigurements: McAllister's missing hand, Langland's eyepatch/acid scarring, and extensive facial scars for both Smith's second-in-command (George Keymas) and Langland's top bodyguard (Roy Jenson). With few exceptions (such as the pilot's opening scene), most episodes take place entirely at night. Loggia's Cat strikes with a fast, rather brutal fighting style, that seems quite modern... unlike the standard karate chops or roundhouse saloon-style punches usually seen in '60s action shows.

Unfortunately, T.H.E. Cat was killed in the ratings (as was rival ABC's one-season The Milton Berle Show) by the then-new CBS Friday Night Movies, where many big, popular Hollywood films were making their color television debuts, back in the days before streaming, cable television, VCRs, and video rentals.

Robert Loggia as T.H.E. Cat
Native New Yorker Robert Loggia (b. 1930) began his career on stage (after studying at The Actor's Studio), graduating to television and film in the mid-1950s, and hasn't stopped working since, specializing in high-level crooks, gruff detectives and, in later years, curmudgeonly father figures. His earliest screen roles were a small part in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), followed by The Garment Jungle (1957), the heroic rocket scientist in the unusual sci-fi obscurity, The Lost Missile (1958); and The Cop Hater (1958), in which he was the first to play writer Ed McBain's character, Det. Steve Carella, later portrayed by Robert Lansing in the 87th Precinct TV series, Burt Reynolds in Fuzz (1972), and by Randy Quaid and Dale Midkiff in the 1990s TV adaptations. Segueing into TV, after four appearances on the prestigious live anthology, (Westinghouse) Studio One, he was cast as the lead in Disney's ten-episode Elfego Baca story on Walt Disney's World of Color, and he became a frequent guest star on such popular TV series as The Naked City, Alfred Hitchcock Presents (twice), One Step Beyond, The Untouchables, Rawhide (Season Five's "Incident of the Comanchero"), The Defenders (twice, including the Boris Sagal-directed Season One episode, "Perjury", co-starring a young Robert Duvall), Route 66, Ben Casey (twice), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (twice, as a troubled Korean War vet, who murders an old flame in Season Two's "You'll Be the Death of Me", and as a hit man hired by Henry Jones in Season Three's "The World's Oldest Motive"), Gunsmoke, Combat! (as a French Underground leader, "Etienne", in Season Three's "The Tree of Moray"), Run for Your Life (twice), The Wild, Wild West (twice, as criminal circus proprietor "Warren Trevor", in Season One's "The Night of the Sudden Death", and as scheming Col. Arsenio 'Arsenic' Barbossa', who seeks President Juarez's untimely demise in Season Three's "The Night of the Assassin") and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (Season Two's "Graveyard of Fear", where Loggia needs the crew of the Seaview's help to retrieve a special formula to keep his two-century-old wife young and beautiful).

Post-T.H.E. Cat, Loggia was seen on TV even more frequently, guesting on Tarzan, The Big Valley, The Name of the Game, High Chaparral, some time on soap operas The Secret Storm and Search for Tomorrow in the early 1970s, and virtually every police/detective series of that decade: Mannix, Columbo, Kojak, Cannon, S.W.A.T., Harry O, McMillan & Wife, Police Woman, Starsky & Hutch, Hawaii Five-0, The Rockford Files, Charlie's Angels, Quincy, Vega$ and Magnum P.I. In the 1980s, he became a popular supporting player in major features, including  Blake Edwards' comedy, S.O.B.(1981); as Norman Bates' caring doctor in Psycho II (1982); Richard Gere's father in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982); Al Pacino's drug kingpin boss, Frank Lopez, in Scarface (1983); a foul-mouthed detective in Jagged Edge (1985); son of mafia don William Hickey, in John Huston's mobster comedy Prizzi's Honor (1985); the toy company CEO who dances on a giant keyboard with Tom Hanks in Big (1988), Sylvester Stallone's evil father-in-law in the arm-wrestling epic, Over the Top (1987), a mafia chieftain inflicted with vampirism in Innocent Blood (1992), Gen. William Grey in Independence Day (1996), Smilla's Sense of Snow (1997), David Lynch's  Lost Highway (1997), etc. On TV, he got another "one-season wonder" series, Mancuso FBI (1989-90, for which he was nominated for an Emmy), as well as regular roles on the similarly-short-lived Emerald Point N.A.S.(1983-84), and Wild Palms (1993). More widely-seen was a four-episode stint as veteran mob boss "Feech La Manna" on The Sopranos' fifth season.

R.G. Armstrong as Capt. McAllister
R.G. Armstrong (1917-2012) A top-flight, instantly-recognizable character actor, specializing in patriarchs, businessmen and lawmen (both upstanding and corrupt types), Armstrong began his movie career in, of all things, the first color nudist film (!), The Garden of Eden (1954... gamers have heard the song from this film in Fallout 3). After his role as the fearsome cattle baron, "Hunter Boyd", in Henry Hathaway's From Hell to Texas (1958), he was often cast in westerns on both the big and small screens, including multiple guest shots on Gunsmoke, Rawhide (including the macabre Season Two story, "Incident of the 100 Amulets"), Have Gun - Will Travel, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Maverick, Bonanza, Wagon Train, The Virginian, Laramie, Bronco, Sugarfoot, Lawman and many others. He was just as at home in more contemporary dramatic settings, such as in The Twilight Zone, as the contractor trying to get Gladys Cooper to leave her condemned apartment in "Nothing in the Dark"; three excellent episodes of The Fugitive, including Season Two's "Corner of Hell", where circumstances are flipped, and Richard Kimble has to save nemesis Lt. Gerard from execution; several installments of Perry Mason, The FBI, Alfred Hitchcock Presents/The Hitchcock Hour, The Invaders, etc.

Starting with his guest part as the sheriff of South Fork in "The Sharpshooter", the episode of Zane Grey Theatre that served as the pilot for The Rifleman (as well as the latter series' fourth episode, "The Marshal"), R.G. Armstrong became part of director Sam Peckinpah's stock company of western types, appearing in an episode of Peckinpah's series The Westerner (Episode 2: "School Days"), in Ride the High Country (1962, very memorable as Mariette Hartley's stern, bible-quoting father), Major Dundee (1965), The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973). Other film roles included work in Ten Who Dared (1960) for Walt Disney, Howard Hawks' El Dorado (1966), The Great White Hope (1970), the AIP biker flick Angels Die Hard (1970), The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972), White Lightning (1973), White Line Fever (1975), the Fred Williamson blaxploitation/western opus Boss Nigger (1975), Arnold Schwarzeneggar's breakout film Stay Hungry (1976), Heaven Can Wait (1978), the popular Chuck Norris actioner Lone Wolf McQuade (1983), and under extensive prosthetic makeup as the infamous comic strip crook, "Pruneface", in Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy (1990). Fans of 1970s/1980s horror films should also be familiar with R.G. Armstrong, from his roles in Race With the Devil (1975), The Car (1977), The Pack (1977), Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978), Evilspeak (1981), The Beast Within (1982), Children of the Corn (1984), Predator (1987) and as "Lewis Vendredi", the original owner of the cursed antique shop that was the catalyst for the events in Friday the 13th: The Series.

As an interesting little side note, longtime friend James Coburn once credited him (when interviewed on NBC's late-night talk show, Later... With Bob Costas) with alleviating Coburn's severe, early-onset arthritis, via deep-tissue massage, breaking up calcium deposits that had debilitated him to the point where he hadn't been able to work for several years. Armstrong, himself, remained active in films and on TV through the end of the 1990s, until retiring from acting, due to failing eyesight in his twilight years.

Robert Carricart as Pepe Cardoza
Robert Carricart (1917-1993) originally hailed from Bordeaux, France. After some success on Broadway in the late 1940s, he went on to work heavily in American television, usually cast in ethnic parts, often mob thugs, bandits or foreign generals. He portrayed gangster Lucky Luciano three times on The Untouchables, as well as a shot as Lepke (played in other episodes by Joseph Ruskin and Gene Roth);
 and an arson-murderer in the Season One Peter Gunn episode, "The Torch". Carricart was very nearly trail cook, "Wishbone", on the long-running western series, Rawhide... but after filming the pilot, Carricart was replaced with Paul Brinegar, and his scenes scrapped and re-filmed with Brinegar in the role.

Carricart guested on several series' episodes directed by T.H.E. Cat producer Boris Sagal (Peter Gunn, Mr. Lucky, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, the feature film Dime With a Halo) which undoubtedly led to his role as Cat's best friend --his only time as part of the regular main cast of a series. He also appeared with his real-life son, Robert Carricart, Jr., in one of  the handful of "a day at the office" episodes of the color Dragnet, Season 3's "B.O.D. DR-27", in which Joe Friday and Bill Gannon work the desk and deal with various people's issues, while the threat of a potential tidal wave looms. Just some of the many other series of which he's appeared: Man With a Camera, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Yancy Derringer, Johnny Staccato (twice), Checkmate, The Detectives, Adventures in Paradise, M Squad, Have Gun - Will Travel (four times), 87th Precinct, Thriller (the early-series crime episode, "The Big Blackout"), Perry Mason, One Step Beyond (twice), Bonanza (twice), The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (and its spin-off, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.), Branded, Combat! (twice), The Andy Griffith Show, Honey West, I Spy, Mission: Impossible, Get Smart, The Big Valley, The High Chaparral (twice), The Name of the Game, Chico and the Man, Kojak, The Streets of San Francisco, Columbo, Steve Allen's unusual "historical talk show" Meeting of Minds for PBS,  Project UFO, Manimal and the early Fox series, Werewolf. Carricart was also in See How They Run (1964), regarded as the very first "made-for-TV" movie, after Don Seigel's The Killers (1964) was deemed too violent for television at the time (and was released theatrically, instead).

He had some smaller supporting roles in theatrical features, among them the low-budget Korean War air force drama Jet Attack (1958); the Sophia Loren romantic melodrama, The Black Orchid (1958); the low-profile crime capers Blueprint for Robbery and Run Across the River (both 1961); the Elvis vehicles Follow That Dream (1962) and Fun in Alcapulco (1963); the Rat Pack musical Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964); a few westerns (Blood on the Arrow (1964), two of producer A.C. Lyles' low-budgeters Black Spurs (1965, also with an uncredited Roy Jenson) and Apache Uprising (both 1965), the large-scale Villa Rides (1968), Land Raiders (1969)); the comedies What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966), The Pink Jungle and The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz (both 1968); Richard Fleischer's Godfather knock-off The Don Is Dead (1973) and a small, late-career role in Robert Redford's The Milagro Beanfield War (1988).

Norma Bengell as Maria Carentis
Norma Bengell (1935-2013, sometimes billed as Norma Benguell), a Brazilian film star who had also been working in Italian features (such as Mafioso (1962)), makes her lone appearance in a full-fledged Hollywood production here. She's best known to American audiences as the shapeliest member of the leather-suited crew of astronauts in Mario Bava's sci-fi film, Planet of the Vampires (1965), which was a U.S./Italian co-production with American-International Pictures. It's a pretty safe bet that the role in Bava's film led to this guest shot on American TV, directly afterward. She plays her ingenue part well on T.H.E. Cat, so it's a bit of a mystery as to why she didn't do any other TV series guest star roles, though perhaps the movie offers from her native Brazil were better. She starred in a couple of spaghetti westerns, opposite Joseph Cotten in Sergio Corbucci's The Hellbenders (1967), and the somewhat-lower-profile western reinterpretation of the Phaedra tale from Greek mythology, I Do Not Forgive... I Kill! (1968, a.k.a. Fedra West). She then focused almost entirely on Brazilian productions, along with the occasional European film set in Brazil, such as the French films OSS 117 Takes a Vacation (1970) and The Suns of Easter Island (1972), and director Julien Temple's feature collaboration with Mick Jagger, Running Out of Luck (1987). Her last role, a few years before her death in 2013, was as a regular character in the last couple of seasons of a half-hour sitcom for Brazilian TV, Toma La, Da Ca (2005-2009).

Jason Evers as Father Langland
Jason Evers (1922-2005, sometimes billed as Herb Evers) was mainly a television actor, who started out in uncredited roles on early-1950s programs such as Philco Playhouse, and The Phil Silvers Show (a.k.a. "Sgt. Bilko"/"You'll Never Get Rich"). Eventually, Evers became a very prolific and familiar guest star on a host of TV series in the 1960s and 1970s. including playing "Rael", leader of the super-fast Scalosian race, in the Star Trek third season episode, "Wink of an Eye" and antagonist, "H.R. Buchanan", in the Happy Days post-shark-jumping Season Six three-parter, "Westward Ho!". Other guest appearances were on The Rebel, 77 Sunset Strip, The Defenders (in the title role of Season Two's "The Bigamist"), Perry Mason (three times), Gunsmoke (three times), Branded, The FBI (twice), Combat!, The Virginian, The Green Hornet, Tarzan (in the second season two-parter, "The Blue Stone of Heaven"), The Invaders, Bonanza (twice), Run for Your Life, Judd for the Defense, The Wild Wild West (twice), It Takes a Thief, The Mod Squad, Mission: Impossible (four times, including as enemy spy "Walter Townsend", in one of the series' very best episodes, Season Three's "The Mind of Sefan Miklos"), Mannix (five times), Ironside, Hawaii Five-0 (three times), Cannon (four times), Barnaby Jones (twice), Marcus Welby, M.D. (twice), The Streets of San Francisco (twice), The Rockford Files (twice), Quincy, Charlie's Angels, Emergency, CHiPs, The Bionic Woman, Knight Rider (twice), Vega$, Fantasy Island, Hart to Hart, The Dukes of Hazzard, and many more.

His big shot at regular TV series stardom was hamstrung by the ratings failures of his obscure western series, Wrangler (1960, an early shot-on-tape program, cancelled after just six episodes), and a few years later as Professor Joseph Howe in the well-regarded, short-lived college-set drama, Channing (1963-64). In addition, he had a recurring role as the missing son of Walter Brennen, and the object of his ongoing search, in The Guns of Will Sonnett (1967-69). Evers appeared in a few theatrical features as well, perhaps his best-known role, to cult movie fans, was as brain surgeon, "Dr. Bill Cortner", trying to sew his decapitated girlfriend's living head onto a suitable body in The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962). Evers can also be seen as the doomed "Capt. Coleman", in John Wayne's Vietnam film, The Green Berets (1968); as one of the trio of astronauts on Venus with Rod Steiger, in "The Long Rain" segment of the film adaptation of Ray Bradbury's anthology, The Illustrated Man (1969); in a smaller role as "E-2", one of a duo of government men (along with actor Albert Salmi) interrogating Cornelius and Zira, in the latter half of Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1973); and in a couple of "animal attack" films, Claws (1977) and Barracuda (1978), both made to cash-in on the enormous success of Jaws.

Sorrell Booke as William Smith
Sorrell Booke (1930-1994) is best known, by far, for playing the comic nemesis sheriff, "Boss Hogg", on The Dukes of Hazzard, a decade after his guest appearance here, but kept himself busy in supporting guest shots in films, TV series (Car 54 Where Are You?, The Naked City (nine appearances), Route 66, The Patty Duke Show, The Defenders, Dr. Kildare, 12 O'Clock High, The FBI, Mission Impossible, The Wild Wild West, Ironside, Hawaii-Five-0, Kung Fu, Columbo, MASH, The Bob Newhart Show, The Love Boat, Archie Bunker's boss in a few episodes of All in the Family, etc) and commercials in the 1960s and 1970s, gradually drifting from serious drama to eventually specializing in goofy comedy as the 1970s progressed. Belying his oft-buffoonish persona, off-screen, Booke had earned degrees at both Yale and Columbia, worked in counter-intelligence during the Korean War, and had fluency in five languages, including Japanese.

His feature film work included lending support in Fail-Safe (1964), Black Like Me (1964), A Fine Madness (1966), Up the Down Staircase (1967), Bye Bye Braverman (1968), What's Up, Doc? (1972), Slaughterhouse Five (1972), The Iceman Cometh (1973), as one of the adults victimized by killer kids in The Devil Times Five (1974), Bank Shot (1974), Freaky Friday (1977) and The Other Side of Midnight (1977, the Fox film for which the studio originally had higher hopes than Star Wars). The last few years of his career were mainly spent providing TV cartoon voices for Pound Puppies, Tom & Jerry Kids, Captain Planet, as well as for Don Bluth's theatrical cartoon feature, Rock-a-Doodle (1991).

Roy Jenson as Mighty Joe Slavic
Roy Jenson (1927-2007), born in Calgary and raised in the U.S., started out playing college football for UCLA, and went pro as a Canadian football player in the early 1950s. Switching careers, Jenson began to get work as a film extra and stuntman, performing in small and/or uncredited parts (and sometimes was Robert Mitchum's stunt double) in a plethora of features from the mid-1950s through the next ten years, gradually working his way into larger character roles. More often than not, like his role here in T.H.E. Cat, he was cast as a tough guy, guard or henchman. Among these are appearances on
 87th Precinct ("The Main Event", with Robert Carricart), Dobie Gillis, Bonanza (six times), The Fugitive (three times), Gunsmoke (seven times), I Spy (three times), The Wild, Wild West (as "Vance Markham", a secret agent confronted and killed by Victor Buono's nefarious "Count Manzeppi" and crew (including a young Richard Pryor), in the pre-credits opening moments of Season Two's "The Night of the Eccentrics"), Tarzan (Season Two's "King of the Dwsari", with guest star Robert Loggia), Mission: Impossible (Season Two's "The Killing", where the IMF team creates a haunting to rattle Jenson's boss, the superstitious head of an organization of hit men), 12 O'Clock High, The Andy Griffith Show, Cimarron Strip (twice), Daniel Boone (five times), Mannix (three times), in the TV-movie pilot to Kung Fu (as saloon bully "Cully", the very first man in the series to get clobbered by David Carradine's "Caine"), with Sorrell Booke in The Dukes of Hazzard Christmas episode (Season Three's "The Great Santa Claus Chase"), etc

His larger roles occurred in the mid-1960s and into the 1970s, where he could be seen as "Cloud William" in the Star Trek second season episode "The Omega Glory" and as The Riddler's main henchman, "Whitey", who impersonates the caped crusader in Commissioner Gordon's office in the Season One two-parter, "When the Rat's Away, the Mice Will Play" and "A Riddle a Day Keeps the Riddler Away". He would pop up again, once more, on T.H.E. Cat, as another character, in the episode, "To Bell T.H.E. Cat".

In feature films, he performed stunts in River of No Return (1954), The Great Escape (1963), McClintock! (1963), among many others, and on the acting end of things, worked often with both Clint Eastwood (Paint Your Wagon (1969), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), The Gauntlet (1977), Any Which Way but Loose (1978), Any Which Way You Can (1980), Honkytonk Man (1982))  and John Milius (Dillinger (1973), The Wind and the Lion (1975), Red Dawn (1984)) as well as in Stage to Thunder Rock (1964), Harper (1966), Waterhole #3 (1967), Will Penny (1967), The Ambushers (1967), Five Card Stud (1968), Halls of Anger (1969), Big Jake (1971), The Getaway (1972), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), The Outfit (1973), Soylent Green (1973), The Way We Were (1973), Chinatown (1974, as Roman Polanski's fellow thug, "Mulvihill"), Breakout (1975), Breakheart Pass (1976), The Car (1977, with R.G. Armstrong), Telefon (1977), Tom Horn (1980), Bustin' Loose (1981), etc.

George Keymas as Scarface
George Keymas (1925-2008), with his rough, cratered complexion, was another prolific character actor, primarily on television, who was relegated mainly to ethnic tough guy, guard and henchman roles, and played a lot of indians, as well, during the glut of westerns in the 1950s and 1960s. Just a sampling of his TV series credits would include Hopalong Cassidy, The Lineup, Cheyenne, Circus Boy, The Adventures of Jim Bowie (twice), Walt Disney's Zorro (twice) and Texas John Slaughter, Colt .45, The Whirlybirds, Tombstone Territory, Trackdown, Playhouse 90 (twice), Yancy Derringer, The Loretta Young Show (three times), The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin (nine times), 26 Men (three times), M Squad (as one of the heavily-armed trio of ex-cons, in the exciting Season Three episode, "Pitched Battle at Bluebell Acres"), Zane Grey Theater, Bronco (twice) Laramie (four times), Tales of Wells Fargo (four times), Peter Gunn, Bonanza (three times), Shotgun Slade, Maverick (twice), Death Valley Days (five times), Have Gun - Will Travel (twice), Hawaiian Eye, The Untouchables (twice), Combat! (twice, including the superior James Coburn episode, "Masquerade"), Wagon Train (six times), Rawhide (twice), Gunsmoke (nine times), Burke's Law, Honey West, Irwin Allen's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and The Time Tunnel, The Wild, Wild West (three times, including Season Three's "Night of the Falcon", where Keymas plays one of the international bidders for title villain Robert Duvall's super-weapon), The FBI (twice), Mannix, Ironside (twice), Rod Serling's Night Gallery (Season Two's "Green Fingers" segment), The Six Million Dollar Man, etc.

Two of his more memorable small roles were as the maitre d', who serves Robert Morley and Kenneth Haigh at an unusual private eatery, in the Season Five episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Specialty of the House", and (under prosthetic make-up) as the televised dictator of the misshapen society seen in the famous "Eye of the Beholder" episode of The Twilight Zone's second season. 

His feature filmography includes a lot of unbilled parts, a few in major productions (The Robe (1953), Salome (1953), King of the Khyber Rifles (1953), The Raid (1954), Lonely Are the Brave (1962)), and small supporting roles in a few B-level exotic adventure films (Siren of Baghdad (1953), Flame of Calcutta (1953), Drums of Tahiti (1954)), the Hugo Haas melodrama Bait (1954) and, overwhelmingly, lower-tier westerns: Border Rangers (1950), Stranger on Horseback (1955), Kentucky Rifle (1955), Santa Fe Passage (1955), Apache Ambush (1955), The Vanishing American (1955), The Maverick Queen (1956), Fury at Gunsight Pass (1956), The White Squaw (1956), Thunder Over Arizona (1957), Utah Blaine (1957), The Storm Rider (1957), Apache Warrior (1957), Gunfire at Indian Gap (1957), Cole Younger, Gunfighter (1958), Gunsmoke in Tucson (1958), Arizona Raiders (1965), etc. Like Sorrell Booke, Keymas also had a supporting part in The Other Side of Midnight (1977), his final screen role.

Wilhelm von Homburg as Tony
Wilhelm von Homburg (1940-2004), as "Tony", another of Father Langland's brutish bodyguards, has a very small part, with only a short line or two of dialogue, but you know him better than you think you do. A little over two decades after this tiny role, he was cast as "James", one of Hans Gruber's (Alan Rickman) henchmen, who brings out the rocket launcher to thwart the police tank in Die Hard (1988), and as Vigo the Carpathian, the evil ghost trapped in the museum painting, who wants to possess the body of Sijourney Weaver's baby, in Ghostbusters II (1989). A German wrestler, and (later) a heavyweight boxer, von Homburg got a smattering of film and TV work in the late 1960s, as a result of his boxing success... beginning with a part as a pugilist, "Otto", in the Gunsmoke Season Nine episode, "The Promoter", the script for which was inspired by von Homburg's own experience as a boxer.

Other early roles from around the time of the T.H.E. Cat pilot were as a GGI ("Good Guys, Inc.") agent in the dire Marty Allen & Steve Rossi spy spoof, The Last of the Secret Agents? (1966); three appearances on The Wild, Wild West: Season Two's "Night of the Tottering Tontine" (as another boxer, "Gunther Pearse", one of the participants in this "Ten Little Indians"-inspired murder-mystery episode), Season Three's "Night of the Iron Fist" (with Ford Rainey and Bo Hopkins as a family of greedy, would-be bounty hunters) and Season Four's "Night of the Big Blackmail" (as "Herr Hess", one of Harvey Korman's Teutonic henchmen); briefly, as the injured alien that Roy Thinnes has brought to a country doctor for examination, in the opening minutes of the second season episode of The Invaders, "Labyrinth"; small parts in the World War II actioners The Hell With Heroes and The Devil's Brigade (both 1968) and as "Gregor", one of villain Nigel Greene's henchmen (along with a very young Chuck Norris, in his film debut), in the fourth and final of Dean Martin's "Matt Helm" spy spoofs, The Wrecking Crew (1969).

After this, he returned to Germany, and was largely absent from film work, apart from a role as one of the two German pimps, who beat up main character Bruno S., in Werner Herzog's Stroszek (1977), until re-emerging in Hollywood films in the late 1980s and 1990s. A few of his latter-day film roles, post-Die Hard, were in the Gene Hackman thriller The Package (1991), Eye of the Storm (1991), Diggstown (1992, the title locale gets its name from his wheelchair-bound former fighter) and the supernatural horror films Midnight Cabaret (1990) and John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness (1994).

Angelo Rossitto as the circus performer
Angelo Rossitto (1908-1991) has an uncredited bit part in this episode, as a circus midget who has a brief exchange with Cat. One of the more prolific Little People working in Hollywood (rivaled only by Billy Barty and Billy Curtis), he's best known for his roles in the cult horror/melodrama Freaks (1932), and as the top, brainy half of "Master Blaster" in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985). From the late-1920s through the late 1980s, if a production needed a tiny circus performer, a fantasy imp, a villain's diminutive henchman, a dwarf newsboy (or street musician) or someone to fill a shorter-stature creature costume, Rossitto was usually their man (though, amazingly, he's apparently not anywhere in The Wizard of Oz). He made brief appearances in Cecil B. DeMille's Sign of the Cross (1934), Samson and Delilah (1949) and The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). He was teamed with Bela Lugosi in three horror quickies, Spooks Run Wild (1941), The Corpse Vanishes (1942) and Scared to Death (1947), all for minor "Poverty Row" studios. He also pops up, with Gale Sondergaard, in one of Basil Rathbone's top Sherlock Holmes films of the 1940s, The Spider Woman (1944), and was in costume as one of several diminutive deep-sea humanoids in MGM's part-silent/part-talkie sci-fi adventure oddity, The Mysterious Island (1929); as part of the Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957); as both Witchy Poo's arachnoid flunky, "Seymour", and as "Clang", half of the mute, bumbling good-guy team of constables, Cling & Clang, on Sid & Marty Krofft's kiddie nightmare, H.R. Pufnstuf (1969), as well as similar duties on their subsequent hat-centric series, Lidsville (1971). A step up was a recurring role as a shoeshine/informant on Baretta (1975-77).

T.H.E. Cat's creator (and sometimes scripter), Harry Julian Fink (1923-2001), wrote for several episodic TV series in the late 1950s into the 1960s (Zane Grey Theater, The Rifleman, The Eleventh Hour, The Rebel, The Richard Boone Show, Ben Casey, the religious anthology/drama Insight), most notably a good number for Have Gun Will Travel, and subsequently created the short-lived (and well-regarded) western series, Tate (1960). He entered the feature film world a few years later with story and screenplay credit for fellow TV western scribe Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee (1965), and went on to co-write the screenplay adaptation for Alistair MacLean's Ice Station Zebra (1968), as well as (with his writing partner and spouse, Rita Fink) the John Wayne westerns Big Jake (1971) and Cahill, U.S. Marshal (1973)... but his most famous creation, by far, is "Dirty Harry Callahan", having written (again, with wife Rita) the original treatment, "Dead Right", in the late 1960s, for what would largely become the iconic 1971 film.

Series producer (and frequent director), Boris Sagal (1923-1981), worked extensively in television, primarily on crime and suspense dramas (making him a perfect fit for T.H.E. Cat), including Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer (starring Darren McGavin), Peter Gunn, Mr. Lucky, Johnny Staccato, The Twilight Zone (the classic episodes, "The Silence" and "The Arrival"), Cain's Hundred, Alfred Hitchcock Presents (including the bizarre story, "Maria", where a drunken Norman Lloyd buys a tiny woman, disguised as a chimp, from a carnival sideshow), The Man From U.N.C.L.E. two-parter, "The Prince of Darkness Affair" (later released as the ersatz feature film, The Helicopter Spies (1968)); Ironside, Columbo and part of the pilot film for Rod Serling's Night Gallery (the first tale, "The Cemetary", where Roddy McDowell is terrified by a painting showing the corpse of his dead uncle rising from the grave). Some other series he directed episodes for were several installments of Dr. Kildare, Mr. Novak, The Defenders, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters (two of which were originally filmed in color for this black and white series, and later edited-together (with some new bridging material) and released as the theatrical feature, Guns of Diablo (1964)) and Judd for the Defense; Combat!, etc. He had a short period where he tried his hand at directing features, such as Dime with a Halo (1963), Twilight of Honor (1963), the Elvis musical Girl Happy (1965), the Ann-Margret vehicle Made in Paris (1966), and a couple of budget-conscious WWII actioners, The Thousand Plane Raid (1969) and Mosquito Squadron (1969), both of which recycled much action footage from fellow TV veteran Walter Grauman's 633 Squadron (1964).

His most famous and enduring feature film is the second screen adaptation of Richard Mathesan's sci-fi/horror classic, I Am Legend, starring Charlton Heston as The Omega Man (1971). After this, he went back to concentrate mainly on television, focusing on TV-movies and especially high-profile miniseries, directing several installments of Rich Man, Poor Man (1976), Arthur Hailey's The Moneychangers (1976, with a guest appearance by Robert Loggia), The Awakening Land (1978) and Masada (1981). He also teamed Roger Moore and Patrick MacNee as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (with John Huston as Prof. Moriarity) in the TV-movie, Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976). Tragically, it was while working on the early stages of the miniseries World War III (1982), that Sagal lost his life when, distracted, he accidentally took a wrong turn while exiting a helicopter, walking into the spinning blades of its rotary propeller. His daughter, Katy Sagal, later rose to fame, via the popular TV series Married with Children (as Peg Bundy) and as "Gemma", the twisted biker matriarch on Sons of Anarchy.

Argentinian Lalo Schifrin's (b. 1932) music, both the main theme and the undersore throughout the pilot, is a crucial part of what makes T.H.E. Cat work so well. Classically-trained, and an accomplished jazz pianist, Dizzy Gillespie took note during a visit to Buenos Aires, and brought him to the U.S. in the late 1950s to act as his pianist and arranger. Starting in 1964, Schifrin's signature sound became the hip, jazzy soundtrack of American movies and TV in the mid-1960s through the early 1970s, immortalized with his Mission: Impossible theme (and, to a lesser extent, Mannix), but also notable in The Cincinnati Kid (1965), Murderers' Row (1966), Cool Hand Luke (1967), The President's Analyst (1967), The Fox (1967), Coogan's Bluff (1967), Bullitt (1968), Kelly's Heroes (1970), Dirty Harry (1971), Magnum Force (1973) and Enter the Dragon (1973).

Most of his iconic scores were from this period, but he continued on, prolifically, through the 1970s, '80s and '90s (and a favorite choice of directors Don Seigel and Brett Ratner), giving us soundtracks to films such as , Harry in Your Pocket (1973), Charley Varrick (1973), Man on a Swing (1974), The Four Musketeers (1974), Sky Riders (1976), St. Ives (1976), Voyage of the Damned (1976), The Eagle Has Landed (1976), Day of the Animals (1977), Rollercoaster (1977), Telefon (1977), The Amityville Horror (1979), Escape to Athena (1979), Billy Wilder's swansong Buddy Buddy (1981), a very catchy theme for Caveman (1981), A Stranger Is Watching (1982), Sudden Impact (1983), Sam Peckinpah's last film The Osterman Weekend (1983), The Sting II (1983), The Mean Season (1985), Black Moon Rising (1986), The Fourth Protocol (1987), The Dead Pool (1988), F/X II (1991), The Beverly Hillbillies (1993), the Rush Hour trilogy (1998-2007), Money Talks (1997), Tango (1998), Bringing Down the House (2003), After the Sunset (2004) and his own son's low-budget bigfoot thriller, Abominable (2006). For television, Schifrin also provided themes for the Robert Goulet WWII espionage series Blue Light (1966), Petrocelli (1974-76), Planet of the Apes (1974), the first season of Starsky & Hutch (1975) and the soundtrack for the aforementioned early telefilm, See How They Run (1964).

Even with the faded color and several-generations-down softness of the image in these screen captures and embedded YouTube video, "To Kill a Priest" still displays a striking "film noir" atmosphere, due in no small measure to the camera work of Director of Photography, Richard H. Kline (b. 1926). Starting out at Columbia studios in the 1940s, as an (uncredited) assistant cameraman, Kline earned his noir credentials on Return of the Vampire (1943), William Cameron Menzies' Address Unknown (1944), Orson Welles' The Lady From Shanghai (1947), To the Ends of the Earth (1948), The Harder They Fall (1956), Nightfall (1957) and Blake Edwards' excellent suspense thriller, Experiment in Terror (1962). Some other notable features he helped film during this period as camera operator (minus screen credit) include Ray Harryhausen's classic creature feature, It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955); the epic Around the World in Eighty Days (1956); Pal Joey (1957); John Ford's The Last Hurrah (1958); assisting the great James Wong Howe on The Old Man and the Sea (1958), Bell, Book and Candle (1958) and The Last Angry Man (1959); Richard Brooks' Elmer Gantry (1960); A Raisin in the Sun (1961); John Frankenheimer's Birdman of Alcatraz (1962); and on both  Blake Edwards' The Days of Wine and Roses (1962) and The Pink Panther (1964). When Kline moved from camera operator to full-fledged D.P., he began in television, shooting several episodes of Mr. Novak, as well as a bit of work on Honey West (three episodes), 12 O'Clock High and The Monkees.

Shortly after the T.H.E. Cat pilot (his only work on the series), Kline shot another one for Warner Brothers, Chamber of Horrors (1966). It was intended as a weekly TV series, inspired by Warners' earlier hit 3-D horror movie, House of Wax (1953), though with the heroes running the wax museum, rather than a sinister Vincent Price. The studio ultimately decided to release it theatrically instead --perhaps due to the gruesome subject matter-- with some William Castle-style gimmicks (the "Fear Flasher" and the "Horror Horn") added to the mix. From there, Kline graduated to mostly A-level film work, as D.P. on Camelot (1967), Hang 'em High (1968), The Boston Strangler (1968), The Andromeda Strain (1971), Kotch (1971), The Mechanic (1972), Soylent Green (1973), Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), The Terminal Man (1974), Mr. Majestyk (1974), King Kong (1976), The Fury (1978), Who'll Stop the Rain (1978), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Body Heat (1981), All of Me (1984), Howard the Duck (1986), Double Impact (1991), etc.

Unfortunately, outside of the bootlegged video world, T.H.E. Cat has been rarely seen since its 1966-67 run on NBC. Unlike some other one-season wonders (Honey West, Gidget, The Green Hornet, The Time Tunnel, UFO), the show was never really given a real shot at syndication or cable-TV play in North America, apart from a lone Canadian station in the mid-1980s... and even there, the prints made available were a hodgepodge of lackluster material, half of the episodes in badly-faded color, half in black-and-white. These same prints are what currently circulate in the bootleg world. The 35mm master elements are believed to reside in Universal's vaults. Unless a big-budget feature film is made from the property (which apparently almost happened, a few years ago, with Antonio Banderas in Loggia's role), or unless a TV network (such as MeTV or Cozi TV in the U.S.) commissions a set of remastered prints for airplay, the prospects of seeing a legitimate release of T.H.E. Cat, in decent form, are pretty bleak indeed...  which is a true shame. It's a great show, which I think would play well for modern audiences, if given the chance.

I would urge anyone reading this blog entry to politely contact NBC/Universal, as well as relevant venues like Weigel Broadcasting (home of MeTV, Decades, and Heroes & Legends), Cozi TV (a subsidiary of Universal) and Starz/Encore with inquiries and support for restoring and resurrecting the 26 half-hour episodes T.H.E. Cat, in their original, vivid color, so that new generations can discover this neglected gem of a series.

You can expect to see more episodes of T.H.E. Cat covered on this blog in the future.