Pets on film: John Walsh introduces some of his favourite characters

Kes in 'Kes'

Ken Loach, 1969

Ken Loach's first film watches a bullied, abused, 15-year-old, working-class Yorkshire boy (David Bradley) achieve a kind of release from his everyday torture at home and school, as he tames, befriends and trains a kestrel falcon. One of the kestrels used in shooting was owned by Robert Nairac, who grew up to become the undercover soldier murdered by the IRA in 1977. Two scenes stand out: Brian Glover as fat, bullying Mr Sugden, ex-footballer turned athletics teacher, still desperate to win every game, even against schoolboys; and the scene when Billy, encouraged by a kind English master, explains to the class his feelings for Kes. This being Ken Loach, it all ends in tragedy, but it's a starkly beautiful flight.

Flicka in 'My Friend Flicka'

Harold Shuster, 1943

Classic equine tear-jerker from the novel by Mary O'Hara about a dreamy Wyoming kid called Ken who, when allowed to pick his own colt from the farm's herd, unerringly picks one with wild, "untameable" mustang blood. Oo-er. Flicka (Swedish for "little girl", apparently) jumps a ridiculously high fence, injures herself and has to be tended back to health by Roddy McDowell. Cue boy-and-horse love story. Then Flicka catches an infection and has to be shot by dawn tomorrow ... A massive wartime hit, it spawned a 1950s TV series and a remade movie in 2006 with Ken transformed into 16-year-old Katy, played by the decidedly un-boyish Alison Lohman.

Asta in 'The Thin Man'

WS Van Dyke, 1934

Nick and Nora Charles (played by William Powell and Myrna Loy) were everyone's favourite sleuthing couple in 1930s movies. A well-off, loving but rather louche married couple, they stayed in bed until noon, swilled cocktails, enjoyed witty spats, became involved in adventures and solved mysteries. By their side through it all was Asta, their dog: in Dashiell Hammett's original book, Asta was a schnauzer; in the film (and its five sequels), a wire-haired fox terrier. Smart, enterprising and loyal, Asta routinely discovered clues, sniffed out corpses and distracted villains long enough for Nick and Nora to make their escape. He turned up in all six films (real name Skippy) and retired in 1939, aged seven. His weekly salary was $250. His trainer's was $60.

Toto in 'The Wizard of Oz'

Victor Fleming, 1939

Hundreds of still photographs were scrutinised and scores of live auditions held to cast the important role of Dorothy's dog Toto in the classic movie from Frank L Baum's book. The winner was a Cairn terrier bitch called Terry, five years old and already the star of a clutch of movies (she made 12 in her career). She was owned by one Carl Spitz, who trained her and gave her commands by using his hands. Toto is crucial to the plot: Dorothy initially decides to run away from home because nasty Miss Gulch is coming with a court order to have Toto destroyed. When Dorothy is locked in the chamber by the Wicked Witch, Toto escapes and rouses her friends to save her. And, of course, he's the recipient of the film's best line when Dorothy, regarding the Technicolor hues of Munchkinland, breathes: "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas any more."

Baby in 'Bringing Up Baby'

Howard Hawks, 1938

The comedy that invented the word "screwball" (and first used the word "gay" to mean homosexual) features a palaeontologist (Cary Grant), a ditzy socialite called Susan (Katharine Hepburn) and two leopards. One has been sent to Susan as a lovely pet by her brother Mark in Brazil – where there are no leopards, only jaguars – and she needs to snare the palaeontologist (whom she thinks is a zoologist) to help her bring it up. Baby, the leopard, escapes and runs off with a wild leopard from a local circus, and must be rescued before an important lady benefactor arrives to give a million bucks to the dinosaur museum ... A versatile leopard called Nissa played both wild and tame versions. A total disaster on its first release, it wound up at No 24 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the greatest-ever movies.

Lassie in 'Lassie Come Home'

Fred M Wilcox, 1943

A tale of boy-dog passion and loyalty, the all-time classic pet film that saw sales of pure-bred collies registered in America shoot up from 3,000 to 18,400 in the late 1940s. After a nationwide hunt for the right dog, MGM called in Rudd Weatherwax, a purebred collie expert, who brought with him a non-pure collie, aged one, called Pal. He got the role of the faithful mutt sold by his Yorkshire owner to the local duke, who re-locates his family to Scotland. Despite the presence of the young Elizabeth Taylor (who got the job when the first choice, Maria Flynn, revealed she was afraid of dogs on set), Lassie escapes and sets out on the long journey home to snivelling Roddy McDowell ...

Morris the cat in 'The Long Goodbye'

Robert Altman, 1973

The opening sequence of Altman's Chandler update sees the great private eye Philip Marlowe with one thing on his mind at 3am – trying to feed his cat. He's out of catfood, the flipping moggy won't accept anything from the fridge, he has to go to a 7/11 store where they don't sell the cat's brand, so he buys a different brand, goes home and tries to pass it off, only the cat sees through him... A charming vignette of a pet-owner henpecked by his charge – the cat, called Morris, really can act – in a film otherwise notable for two things: the camera never stays still for a second, and Marlowe (played by a weary Elliott Gould) lights a cigarette in every scene in which he appears. By the way, in the Chandler books, Philip Marlowe has no pets.

Beauty in 'Black Beauty'

Caroline Thompson, 1994

Anna Sewell's classic 1877 novel offers a few obstacles to the film-maker, chief among them being the first-person narrative: how can you expect audiences to sympathise with a horse as it explains the chilliness of a bit between the teeth, or rhapsodises about oats. But Alan Cumming's voiceover is intensely sympathetic, and Caroline Thompson has a fine eye for sunlit meadows and a social conscience about the maltreatment of beasts, as Beauty endures all manner of indignities, to wind up pulling cabs on the streets of London. The whole thing skilfully avoids looking too much like a Lloyds TSB commercial.

Yeller in 'Old Yeller'

Robert Stevenson, 1957

The last word in canophile weepies, Old Yeller can make grown men melt. The eponymous dog in this Disney treatment of Fred Gipson's book is a Blackmouth Cur crossbreed which pesters the Coat family in post-civil-war Texas: it steals food and impregnates their classy bitch, but a bond grows between dog and elder son, Travis. Old Yeller manages to save his master from charging bears, irate cows and slavering wolves, but tragically contracts rabies; Travis is forced to shoot his best friend to save his mother and brother, and has to endure a leaden homily from his father about Growing Up and Becoming a Man. It's one of the weepiest endings in film history. In Season 2 of Friends, Phoebe reveals that she's under the impression that Yeller ends his life at a lovely dog's home – her parents, it seems, had never let her watch films with sad endings when she was young.

Clyde in 'Every Which Way But Loose'

James Fargo, 1978

Clint Eastwood's first comedy role, after playing a killing machine in spaghetti Westerns and the Dirty Harry movies, was playing a trucker and bare-fist fighter called Philo Beddoe whose best friend is an orang-utan called Clyde. Philo falls for a girl singer called Lynn (Sondra Locke) but loses her and sets out for Colorado to find her, with his best friend Orville and his simian buddy, pursued for most of the way by a biker gang called the Black Widows. Clyde is a talented companion: he can extend his middle finger like a teen delinquent; and when a whole motorbike gang is lined up threateningly beside the truck window, the simple command "Right hand turn, Clyde" elicits a punch that knocks them all flat like dominoes. "A really great ape movie," said The Observer.

Cat in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'

Blake Edwards, 1961

Girl-about-town Holly Golightly's cat doesn't have a name. His mistress (Audrey Hepburn at her most feline) calls him "Cat". She talks about him a lot, though, emphasising his, and her, rootlessness. "Poor old cat," she says. "Poor slob. Poor slob without a name. The way I look at it, I don't have the right to give him one. We don't belong to each other. We just took up by the river one day." She later repeats the point, about not belonging to anyone, when talking to Paul the writer (whose unfinished novel is significantly titled Nine Lives) and at the end "frees" the cat on to the rainy New York streets. Only then does she realise that she and the cat aren't really wild, and can't survive without love. Climactic rainy kiss with Paul. Curtain.

Velvet in 'National Velvet'

Clarence Brown, 1944

Perhaps Liz Taylor's finest hour, aged 12, as the Sussex butcher's daughter who, with Mickey Rooney as her father's assistant, wins a piebald gelding called The Pie in a village raffle and trains it up to win the Grand National in the mid-1920s. Since women jockeys weren't allowed to compete, she has to masquerade as a Russian youth, and her sex is discovered to general consternation. The original novel was written in 1935 by Enid Bagnold, also notable for the play The Chalk Garden and for being great-grandmother of Samantha Cameron. The riding stunts in the film were performed by Monty Roberts, later to find fame as the real-life Horse Whisperer. A film sequel, starring Tatum O'Neal as Velvet's adopted American niece, was released in 1978, to general disapproval.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
I'm not worried about United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
filmReview: Serena is a strangely dour and downbeat affair
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Nursery Assistant/Nurse all cheshire areas

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are curr...

Datacentre Consultant (Infrastructure Consultant, HyperV) £45k

£45000 per annum: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Datacentre Consultant (Datacentre,...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker