J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Graf at Anthology: The Cat


They are stealing Deutschmarks not Euros, using walkies instead of cellphones. This is the late 1980s, but most of the bank heist business still holds up pretty well. One thing remains a metaphysical certainty, weaponized marital resentment can be deadly and unpredictable. Bank robbers make strange bedfellows in Dominik Graf’s The Cat, which screens as part of the Graf retrospective at Anthology Film Archives.

Jutta Ehser is the inside person, who will help the mysterious Probek rob her husband’s bank. It is safe to say their marriage has been strained lately. Probek is the eye in the sky, who will keep the two gunmen in the bank informed of the police activity outside from his vantage point in a luxury high-rise hotel. Junghein and Britz are the two suckers he recruited to take the bank employees hostage. Voss is the coolly cerebral cop in charge of the standoff. He and Probek are evenly matched, but Junghein and Britz are in serious trouble.

Of course, Frau Ehser is not just collaborating Probek to hurt her husband. She is also carrying on a steamy affair with the criminal mastermind, as the opening scene so vividly establishes. Frankly, The Cat is like the Body Heat of heist movies—rather surprisingly, since it is German.

It is also super-sleek and lethally effective. Graf makes hay with the claustrophobic settings, while screenwriter Christoph Fromm’s adaptation of Uwe Erichsen’s novel keeps the betrayals and reversals of fortune coming at a healthy gallop. Frankly, it is easy to see why The Cat was a box office hit in Germany. Its canny use of Eric Burdon & the Animals’ “Good Times” also propelled the single back up the German charts.

Götz George is as slick as the film is as the delightfully cold and manipulative Probek. He is a villain worthy of great era of high-concept Eighties cinema. Gudrun Landgrede matches him step for step as Ehser, the femme fatale. Joachim Kemmer is perfectly world-weary and hard-bitten as Voss, while Ulrich Gebauer really provides the secret ingredient, pulling off several surprises in a surprisingly smart and nuanced performance as Herr Ehser.

Shame on everyone who was scouting for the major studios in 1988, because The Cat would have been a perfect property for a Hollywood remake. Maybe it still is. It certainly hooks viewers quickly and leaves quite an impression. Highly recommended for fans of 80s heist-thrillers, The Cat screens this Saturday (5/25), at Anthology Film Archives.

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