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Michael the Cat Returns

As quality goes, it’s no “Forrest Gump.” And yet it has all the elements that make most movies successful: death, beauty, cops, sex, danger, nudity, insanity, bad language and enough cliches to choke a poet. But most of all it has Michael the Cat.

The film is called “The Dying Game” and stars no one you’ve ever heard of. It was sent to me on videotape by the aforementioned Michael the Cat, so called because he once made his living as a cat burglar. His real name is Michael Hughes.

He is one of thousands of people in L.A. who want to become Steven Spielberg or Oliver Stone. The town is full of those who believe God is tapping them on the shoulder and whispering, “Roll ‘em.” Michael, of course, was hoping I would review the movie, which he produced, and enclosed a packet of microwave popcorn with the tape. Small bribes are all I’m accustomed to, so I ate the popcorn and watched “The Dying Game.” Let me say first that it isn’t unusual for a former burglar to become an instant film producer. The last movie I wrote about was produced by an unfrocked minister, and the one before that by a man who owned an apartment building for nudists in Downtown L.A. It takes all kinds.

Their efforts fall into the category of works created by people who know nothing about filmmaking and who have to sell their souls to scrape together enough money to rent a camera. Some souls bring in a little more than others so the quality varies.

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I met Michael after he served eight months for burglary. He used to dress in a tuxedo and walk his Doberman through Beverly Hills at night. Everyone assumed he was the kid next door, just home from a prom and out taking his prize Dobie for a walk. Michael was a sweet-faced 19 at the time.

What the neighbors didn’t know was that he was casing the area for later burglaries and the dog was his trained lookout.

But that was long ago, Michael the Cat purred the other day. Now he’s a filmmaker, an ambition he acquired when he read that foreigners were dying to see American movies. If there was money to be made, he was all for making it. The work didn’t seem that hard, and was safer than sneaking into houses.

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Orson Welles once said that everything you needed to know about filmmaking you could learn in three days. Then he made “Citizen Kane.” Michael took a course that lasted 16 hours and made “The Dying Game.”

There’s a saying in show biz, “Don’t quit your day job.” Michael, now 36 and still sweet-faced, works at night as a tour director for rich British visitors, so he didn’t have to. He could shoot his movie during the day, while making a real living after dark. He always has liked night work.

Hanging onto his soul, he raised money by borrowing on his credit cards, by accepting donations and by pledging his life savings. The movie cost $120,000, and has already returned $57,000 in sales to companies in India, South Africa and Stara Zagora, Bulgaria.

Giddy with success, Michael is planning that his next movie will star Angelyne, the bosomy, pucker-lipped baby doll whose posters are all over town. I’m not sure what she does beside appear on posters, but does it matter?

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“Dying Game” is about a serial killer who terrorizes a sorority house. Michael the Cat, in a reversal of roles, plays the cop on the case. Every time the killer strikes, he whispers, “Goodby, Gamma Phi,” which is the name of the sorority.

Since no one will ever see this movie in America, I’m tempted to reveal the name of the killer, but I won’t. It ties in with his farewell to Gamma Phi. I will say, however, keep an eye on nice old ladies who offer you milk and pie.

“Game” is filled with nubile young women who strut their sexuality awkwardly across the screen. Michael the Cop takes it all in stride. “I just love policemen,” a half-naked sorority woman says. “Don’t leave town,” Michael replies grimly.

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I write about movies so I can use all of a critic’s cliches: It was a roller-coaster ride, it wasn’t mean-spirited, it was a feel-good movie. While “Dying Game” wasn’t exactly a ride and didn’t leave me feeling any better than before, it wasn’t mean-spirited. It wasn’t fun either, but the Cat isn’t in it for fun.

Put this in your ads, Michael. “Game” is better than a lot of the movies I see, and I hope it gets top billing in Stara Zagora. Good luck, don’t quit your night job . . . and goodby, Gamma Phi.


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