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--
|"Where's the ring? Don't tell me you forgot it!"|
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..."|
|"Call off your goons, Smith... that boil isn't gonna lance itself."|
|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|
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|
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|
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|
|Jason Evers as Father Langland|
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|
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|
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|
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|
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|
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.