Alfred Hitchcock Learned The Hard Way That Directing Cats Wasn't One Of His Talents

It's no secret that Alfred Hitchcock was a controlling director. Not only did he famously call actors cattle (and treated them as such, too), Hitchcock also had no qualms about misleading studio executives in order to make "North by Northwest," a passion project. Simply put, Hitchcock was cunning and skilled enough to get his way — and made it known when he didn't.

But despite the director's track record, there was one thing he couldn't control: cats. While the animals likely would've made a great addition to Hitchcock's pictures — after all, they're stereotypically sly animals and would feel right at home in a suspenseful Hitchcock thriller — he was simply unable to master the art of cat-whispering.

In an interview with fellow director François Truffaut, Hitchcock revealed that he had initially planned to have around a hundred cats lounging around a gang hideout in "Number Seventeen," a comedy thriller that was made relatively early in the so-called master of suspense's career. The cats were meant to run up or down a flight of stairs whenever a shot was fired — a little touch of humor amid the violence. But in true feline fashion, the cats proved too stubborn to boss around.

Chaos on set

While in theory it might seem brilliant to have a symphony of cats running together, the shots were all but impossible to orchestrate. Although Hitchcock put up barriers to keep the cats contained, they turned out to be less than effective. He told Truffaut that:

"We put flat panels all around the bottom of the stairway. Each owner came forward and put his or her cat in the stall and then we were ready to shoot. The cameraman switched his motor on and the prop man fired a gun. All the cats leaped right over the barrier; not one went up the stairs. They were all over the studio. And for the next few hours all you could hear was the owners going around saying, "Puss, pussy, pussy." ... Eventually, we got them all together again, and this time we had a wire netting put around so that they couldn't run away. Everything was ready. Camera. Bang! This time only three cats ran up the stairs. All the rest turned and clung desperately to the netting. So I gave up."

The thought of a hundred cats running around a film studio might be hilarious, but it's understandably a massive hindrance, too. Given the circumstances, it's hardly a surprise that Hitchcock opted to scrap the shots with the cats — even if the end result would've been a great show of skillful editing. And while viewers might've missed out on a few laughs, the story itself is definitely funny enough to make up for it.

So long, animals!

Even as Hitchcock's career (and talents) matured, the director would seldom use live animals — and would take great pains to ensure that any animals that he did employ were trained. Most notably, he insisted upon using live, trained birds in"The Birds" out of fear that untrained birds would wreak havoc on set. Unfortunately though, the experience still wasn't seamless: actress Tippi Hedren was surprised to find that the flock of birds in the final scene were live rather than mechanical, leading to injury and five days of terror.

While Hitchcock may not have been willing to take another big chance with cat wrangling, one episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" did prominently feature a feline: the third season included an episode called "Miss Paisley's Cat" (directed by Justus Addiss), in which the titular cat is falsely convicted of murder. Ever the macabre character, Hitchcock wrapped the episode up by promising that the cat would be used for dog food — clearly, the creature would do well to jump off set while channeling its would-be predecessors in "Number Seventeen." Ultimately though, it's too bad that the master of suspense didn't incorporate more cats into his pictures — not only would they be a great fit thematically, but the fuzzy actors probably would've been enthralled by the experience (warning: "Psycho" spoilers).