The mystery of Thomasina

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B0001I55R4.01.LZZZZZZZ The mystery of ThomasinaNo biography of Patrick McGoohan is complete without mentioning THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA, and The Beat is no exception. The movie was on Hallmark the other day. We DVR’d for later viewing and, wow, was this full of surprises. A movie about a lovable tot who dresses her kitty in a bonnet? Yes, but also, in the Disney tradition, a gut-wrenching exploration of what happens when beloved pets die! Crying, tantrums, turning against family. I have vague memories of watching this movie as a kid and the scenes of Mary and [SPOILER] her dead cat must have turned me into a quivering puddle.

Everyone mentions how good McGoohan, Susan Hampshire and future Poppins poppets Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber are, but my praise is reserved for Thomasina herself. This cat is the Meryl Streep of feline thespians — no kitty has ever displayed such range on film. Plus technically, it’s a marvel. There are goddam TRACKING SHOTS of the cat! Running out a door and up a tree; sneaking through a market, looking to see if anyone is around, then darting forward to grab a tasty fish! How in the hell did they do it?

There are some signs that this may have been a pre-Humane Society approved film. I don’t want to know how they did shots of Thomasina falling through limbo over and over, claws splayed, hind legs twisting. Or how she stayed so docile while wearing a bonnet, sitting in a baby carriage and talking to a German shepherd. Cats are notoriously difficult to work with on film, part of the reason there are so few of them in cinema, at least compared to dogs. Cats had to wait for YouTube to come along to become the stars they were always meant to be.

Thomasina also rectifies (along with THAT DARN CAT! and the rather feeble ARISTOCATS) Disney’s anti-cat bias that really only ended with THE LION KING. Figaro aside, cats in Disney films were usually sneaky, tricky and awful — Lucifer, Si and Am, the Cheshire Cat.

Except for Bagheera. He was cool.

There is much else to love here — rugged Scottish scenery creatively used in matte shots, English actors who show they are Scottish by saying “Aye” and “Och” every once in a while; a scene where a child wrestles a wounded badger into a blanket. And did we mention Patrick McGoohan in jodhpurs? Anyway if you are looking for a well shot family film that will first sadden the shit out of, then delight your children, THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA should do the trick.

Comments

  1. I’ll be looking for this movie as Kate and I have three fur kiddies (kitties / cats, but we don’t dress them up) of our own. It sounds like anyone who likes this movie would like the anime The Dog of Flanders (Disney made a live action version years ago which I haven’t seen, but I heard they screwed up the ending). The anime Dog of Flanders in some ways is just as sad as Grave of the Fireflies.

  2. There’s also a Russian version titled “Bezumyana Lori”.

    Hmmm… Now I’m interested in the sub-genre of “death of pet” (as noted by IMDB). I remember my third grade teacher, Miss Turbot, reading “Where the Red Fern Grows”, and most of the class in tears. Old Yeller is another classic.

    Paul Gallico, who wrote the book, also wrote “The Poseidon Adventure”, “Lili”, and “Matilda”. For you sports fans, he was the sports editor for the New York Daily News, and wrote many sports books.

  3. Further proof how fantastic McGoohan was.

    I gotta track this insanity down. This more than makes up for Si and Am. Disney, you are forgiven!

  4. And of course this is totally comics related because G.M. had Mason Lang gushing over how Three Lives of Thomasina was an Invisible message about the nature of the universe.

    McGoohan FTW!

  5. i might have missed it in my speed-reading, but I feel I must point out that Mason Lang points out in The Invisibles — without getting the name of the film right, IIRC — that this is the film that “explains it all,” or something to that effect.
    YMMV, of course. Just sayin’.
    :)

  6. Karen says:

    I love this film with a passion. I remember seeing it as a little girl when it first came out and being completely mesmerized. As soon as it was available on DVD I bought myself a copy.

    It’s pretty dark for a children’s film. Oh, for the days when Disney had balls!

  7. I watched this movie a while back when researching movies about cats. It took me by surprise, too.

  8. I love this movie! It was a favorite of mine as a kid, and it has remained in my good graces because of being set in Scotland. I love all the kilts, accents, cobbled streets and shots of the loch. The little funeral they hold with bagpipes and dress kilts is one of my favorite parts.

    Plus, it has cute dogs too! The pug named Finn, and the insanely cute puppy that McGoohan tries to give Mary? He uses its tiny, tiny paw to wave at her. So. Cute. What happened to that dog?

    Incidentally, I was so glad to see Hampshire on “Monarch of the Glen” and see she still had those smiling eyes! She looks great.

  9. I purchased this film from Barnes & Noble almost a year ago … saving it for a rainy day … I’ve heard that it’s potent stuff, so perhaps I’m just afraid of it being too sad for even me.

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