The Hep Cat

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 13, 2015

This titular hipster starts out by singing a bit of “Five O’Clock Whistle,” which the astonishing Little Red Riding Rabbit would dust off just a couple of years later. Lots of cultural archeology in these films! Similarly, the dog’s name in this 1942 film is Rosebud. In the Anything-Goes world of WB animation, and of Bob Clampett pictures particularly, this may not mean much more than mere cheekiness.

The Hep Cat turns momentarily into Victor Mature. Now he turns into Charles Boyer/turns into a wolf—and the attractive female cat into an ice cube. Similes and gender clichés abounding! I know this sort of observation gets on people’s nerves and all, but this picture just does not present a very healthy model of male/female interaction. It’s pure ideology, meaning that it’s taken for granted-or-true, but it shouldn’t be, and it’s not. Ideology also means that it’s not conspiracy, but hegemony. People didn’t necessarily mean any harm! But harm was done! But they didn’t mean it! Etc.

The cat makes a Curly Howard sound after he gets kissed. Then, in that charming way that cartoons of the time could have—check out the effect that buxom bunny has on Thumper, in Bambi—he turns into what might be described as an erection. After that he is aroused by a puppet, which he doesn’t know is a puppet. Then he is maneuvered into kissing that dog. This doesn’t code as mere miscegenation, but as the crossing of a gender boundary. Inadvertent, doubtless, but this resonates with notions explored in Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game, Lukas Moodysson’s Happiness, and in a million other places, more and more often. Gender is set; gender is in flux; gender is, to some degree, a matter of circumstance and the synaptic reinforcements that follow.

We close with some nicely assembled chase material. Someone’s got to break it to this guy. “That’s not a real girl.” “Well, I can dream, can’t I?” Now, finally, we’ve a bit of Some Like it Hot, or a fair nod at the deceptive satisfactions, the satisfying deceptions in all this showbiz stuff.