Running time: 10m 57s
Source film: 16mm; color; sound
Year: ca. 1957
Director: Emily Benton Frith
Production: Frith Films; Cinesound (sound)
Photography/Camera: Emily Benton Frith
Narration: George Barclay
Let’s face it. Historically, cats have sometimes had a bad rap. Sure, some civilizations have worshipped them – but others have associated them with the devil or witchcraft, shunning them (or worse). Their occasional disinterest in, or independence of humans is bitterly qualified as aloof or detached. As though a pet not constantly concerned with lavishing attention on humans (looking at you, dogs) is kind of a jerk. But if you want to soften any person’s heart towards the feline variety, all you really need to do is give them ten straight minutes of baby kittens frolicking. And It’s a Cat’s Life (1957) does just that.
This educational – nay, narrative – nay, feline propaganda – short film is written and produced by Emily Benton Frith of Frith Films, the woman behind a small slew of other short films from the 1950s. The narrator (George Barclay) sounds intermittently as though he is either reading a childrens’ picture book about a family of cats, dispensing dry pedantries about felines, or advocating for how great kitties actually are. “Diana and Teddy are amused over the antics of the kittens. Children and cats have been playmates for hundreds of years!” “A cat carries her kittens for 63 days before they are born.“ “Cats are useful in keeping rats and mice away from homes and barns.”
The cats and kittens starring in this film were probably excellent hunters, as they are shown exclusively outside. This is most likely because it was not until the 1940s to 1960s that both cat litter and spaying/neutering became popularized. So having cats indoors was not as tenable (save for the die-hards willing to use newspaper), and feline friends were largely relegated to outdoor-pet status. These are probably some of the reasons contributing to the value a film of this ilk had at the time.
For an educational short that is around six decades old, there are not many cringe-worthy moments (I mean, it’s basically all just cute kitties in this thing). Only a couple of instances induced head scratching or eye widening, such as the narrator stating, “Small kittens must not be handled,” as a young boy applies a 3-week-old kitten to his cheek and rubs it like a Brillo pad. Or when the narrator explains how kittens need shade, as the camera zooms in to focus on five small kittens desperately trying to escape from a box in the direct sunlight. Or when they fed the mother and her litter milk (!), perpetuating the idyllic but exasperating image of cats lapping up dairy from saucers. What you don’t see later is the diarrhea.
All in all, it is a very cat-positive short. The clear message of the film is come on, get a cat already, which is a fine directive to kick off the American Humane Association’s Adopt-A-Cat Month this June. In the last moments of the film, the narrator asks, “Is there anything more fun than a family of little kittens?” I think I can safely say – not a chance!
- It’s a Cat’s Life (circa 1940’s) (Cinema Cats)
- Films on 04/20/08 (Skip Elsheimer, Irrational Passion)
- Filmmaker Emily Benton Frith (Ancestry.com)
- The Great Cat Massacre: And Other Episodes in French Cultural History
- A Brief History of House Cats (David Zax, Smithsonian.com)