Dino De Laurentiis is an intriguing figure in modern cinema, over the course of the 70’s and 80’s he revolutionised certain film making procedures in the financial sense. He’d been producing films since the early 40s though and continues to do so sporadically. He is in many ways the archetype of the ‘creative Producer’ and his record of films produced speaks for itself. Cat’s Eye is a curio that seems indicative of the De Laurentiis approach. He would look for opportunities that he thought might make money and evidently decided to exploit the booming popularity of Stephen King during the 80s, something he’d already attempted with Firestarter the previous year (starring Drew Barrymore who turns up in Cat’s Eye). From what I can gather De Laurentiis was involved with the pre-production quite heavily.
The film is essentially three short stories, each linked by the presence of the same cat. The first two stories, Quitters Inc and The Ledge are adapted from King’s short stories in the compendium book ‘Night Shift’ and initially the third story was to be Sometimes They Come Back, also in ‘Night Shift’. It appears that De Laurentiis specifically suggested that this story might do better as a stand-alone film and that the third story in Cat’s Eye should be specifically written for the film (Sometimes They Come Back eventually appeared as a 1991 TV Movie with Dino as Executive Producer). De Laurentiis stuck to a proven if unspectacular director in Lewis Teague who had form with King adaptations as he directed 1983’s Cujo which had been a moderate success.
All this sort of thing complicates accepted ‘Auteur theory’. If Dino is pulling all the strings then to what extent is any director that works for him truly the author of the film? The same can apply to agents too, as they supply actors/writers/directors in package deals. It’s a big old subject and not worth getting into here, but it’s interesting to note. The whole thing was really brought to my attention from a couple of different sources, William Goldman, David Thomson and my friend Nathan Ditum who writes for Total Film and will one day finish his brilliant sounding PhD on the influence of business models on the artistic production of film with its chapter on Dino De Laurentiis.
Anyway – to the review of Cat’s Eye…
The film suffers, as most compendium/portmanteau films do, from being a bit uneven in the quality of the individual sections. The first two stories are intriguing premises, in Quitters Inc. James Woods is taken to a place where they have a somewhat radical method of ensuring that you are able to quit smoking. Once you are in you are monitored for a month, if you have a cigarette at any time then your wife/loved one is brought in and lightly electrocuted in front of you. The threat continues that if you crack again the same treatment will occur to your daughter/son and a third time – your wife will be raped. In The Ledge a rich gambler finds the man having an affair with his wife and offers him an escape, climb round the penthouse apartment ledge high above the streets and he can have the wife as well as money. The two sections work well, being adapted from short stories they are tight, focused scenarios that are enjoyable tense. The whole thing unwinds in the final section where Drew Barrymore is troubled by a troll who lives in her wall and intends to steal her breath, whereupon the titular cat protects her. The whole thing lacks the energy and urgency of the earlier stories and the tone shifts slightly more towards silliness as a cat fights a troll.
Still, Dino made some money out of it and that’s the main thing.