Friday, August 26, 2011

Fat Black Pussycat, The (1963)

Directed by:
Harold Lea

With a sketchy production history, it's no wonder this thing is so damn jumbled and confusing. Originally an ordinary, by-the-numbers detective / crime drama, this made zero impact upon its original release, with poor box office receipts reflecting that. Michael A. Ripps, who had previously turned the 1957 flop BAYOU into the 1960 hit POOR WHITE TRASH via the title change and more exploitative added footage, got ahold of the film and decided to do the exact same thing with it. Around 30 minutes of footage was eliminated from the original cut and new scenes (primarily some bloody slasher murders and people sitting behind desks talking) were added to turn it into a seedier, more violent film. The identity, and motive, of the killer was also changed. At least one of the lead characters completely disappears from the finale, a double (seen only from behind!) fills in for the other and for some reason multiple characters have the same name. Was it really necessary to name three different characters Dave? There's also a Harry and a Harold, as well as an Edward, an Edie and an Ellie.

Things begins with a naked woman crawling into an alleyway and dying. The victim - Edie Eichorn - was a free-spirited beatnik known to get around. Detective Dave Walsh (Frank Jamus) and his partner Edward Bono are called in to investigate. Dave starts by visiting The Fat Black Pussycat Cafe and Theater (the victim had a matchbook from the establishment in her purse), where he meets a girl named Jean who agrees to take him to a party to meet several of Edie's acquaintances. There, the detective meets a slew of bizarre performance artists, struggling actors, musicians and writers and all-around weirdo's. Nope, this film doesn't paint the beatnik crowd in a very charming light. All of the guys are are loud, obnoxious, needlessly violent drunks, pot-heads and/or mental cases. The women are basically just sluts, airheads or bitchy ("I heard she got killed by a sex fiend. Ain't that a laugh?") One couple - the guy decked out in a hilariously fake goatee - head out to the fire escape for some fresh air. A black-gloved killer sneaks up behind them, throws the guy over, stabs the girl and then tosses her over the side, too. A black pussycat, previously seen chillin' next to Edie's body, then cuddles up with both corpses.

Back at the party, Dave gets in a scuffle with two beatniks and is knocked unconscious with a chair. He wakes up to strange music on the couch of a woman he'd bumped into (literally) at the party. The woman turns out to be anthropologist and NYU professor Janet Lynd (Janet Roman) and the bongo drums are a recording of "a ritual puberty chant of the Watusi Tribe" (?) Janet reveals she was at the party because she's working on a paper about the beatnik subculture. Naturally, a romance blossoms between the two, while the newly added scenes depict more women getting their throats cut and some hilariously awkward dialogue scenes of policemen and mental health professionals sitting around and discussing what drives the psycho...

Commissioner Kriegen
"I'm quite certain you've got some eloquent theory prepared on the neurotic drives which compel this poor unfortunate to behave in this paranoid manner. The poor soul, though legally sane, is mentally ill."

Professor Le Blanc
"That was quite an eloquent dissertation, Commissioner. All of which may I humbly submit is not true. This person's m.o. is a paranoid schizophrenic with homosexual tendencies if male, lesbian if female, while in this schizophrenic state."

Sergeant Thomas Frank:
"You mean they can change their sex drive when they're a schizo?"

Professor Le Blanc:
"A true schizophrenic has a complete personality change!"

Commissioner Kiegen:
"You mean if somebody wanted to fake it, they could get their kicks either way? AC / DC?"

I have no idea what Ripps was getting at trying to link up the beatnik / NYC art's culture, homosexuality and psychotic behavior, but it seems like he had more than a little disdain for both artistic types and gays. One of the suspects is a gay artist named Brom (Avital Carme), who's innocent of the previous murders, but slits a woman's throat anyway when the police corner him. He's then shot to a bloody pulp using a machine gun. When the killer is finally revealed, we learn that they too are a gay nutjob. In addition, Mr. Ripps added another absurd concept to this film that involves cats. Apparently, felines always show up at murder scenes because they can pick up on the brainwaves of dying people using their ESP (!!) abilities.

Strangely enough, this sloppy hodgepodge contains no less than five people who'd achieve some level of fame during their lifetime; probably since it was filmed in Greenwich Village where all those real-life unhinged homos artistic types like to hang. The first is Manny Dworman, a former musician who's best known for opening the world famous "Comedy Cellar" in Manhattan (where Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano and many others got their starts). Secondly, there's Hugh Romney (playing an anti-violence ranting beatnik at the party) aka "Wavy Gravy;" a guy who helped to feed the four-hundred-thousand patrons of Woodstock, is well-known for his charity work and has a popular flavor of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream named after him. Actors Leonard Frey (who'd earn a Tony Award nomination for his theater work and an Oscar nomination for FIDDLER ON THE ROOF), Frank Marshall movie regular Hector Elizondo and prolific character actor Geoffrey Lewis (the father of Juliette Lewis) all have small roles. I actually don't recall seeing either Frey or Elizondo in the movie, probably because their scenes were amongst the cut ones. Lewis however is seen twice; one getting punch at the beatnik party and another time harassing Detective Dave in the park before a bomb goes off. Oh yes, the film also has a bomb.

The cinematography isn't bad, and there's a jazz music score (The Don Bader Group appear).

Something Weird Video, who try to spin this film's disjointedness into a positive on their website (can't say I blame 'em since they have to find some way to unload this turkey), paired it with 1966's THE BLACK CAT for the DVD release. As per their usual, the disc is loaded with lots of great (mostly cat-themed) extras. They also released the original version of the film (minus Ripps' scenes) on VHS. The cut scenes are also included on the DVD.



Anonymous said...

Dr. John, yes the good doctor Malcolm Rebennack,
appears as the witness with the wound on his head

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Well, hell, make that six. I didn't even know that was him even with a picture right in front of me!

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