When moviegoers met Cruella de Vil
101 Dalmatians villain had sinister designs on titular back-and-white puppies
The new movie Cruella stars Emma Stone in Disney's origin story of the villainous fashion designer with an eye on the stylish black-and-white coats of a throng of Dalmatian puppies.
But Cruella de Vil is hardly new. Audiences have known her for 60 years, since she debuted in the 1961 animated film One Hundred and One Dalmatians. It focused on the pack's efforts to elude Cruella, who wanted to kidnap them to make into fur coats.
"Imagine a sadistic Auntie Mame, drawn by Charles Addams and with a Tallulah Bankhead bass," said the New York Times at the time, when describing the "lady Lucifer" in a review of the children's movie.
"Anyway, the kids who survived Psycho should survive Cruella," film critic Howard Thompson added.
'What a great name'
According to a 1961 Globe and Mail review, the original Disney film was based on a 1956 book by English playwright Dodie Smith.
It described Cruella de Vil, a "high-fashion witch," as a "rather loathsome mixture of Tallulah Bankhead at her worst and Katharine Hepburn at her best."
According to a recent piece in the U.K.'s Daily Mail newspaper, it's "long been reported" that Bankhead, an American actress "renowned for her husky voice and flamboyant personality," was an inspiration for the character of Cruella de Vil.
If the film was referenced on CBC Radio or TV at the time, it does not survive in the archives. But in 1985 Disney re-released the animated classic for a run in theatres, and Midday film reviewer Tom New was pleased with what he saw.
"The best part in the movie goes to the nasty villainess, Cruella de Vil. What a great name," said New.
In 1996 Cruella de Vil hit the screen once more, portrayed by Glenn Close in a live-action remake of the story, 101 Dalmations, directed by John Hughes.
Reviewer Cynthia Macdonald viewed de Vil as the focus of the film, which she said was "about a cruel fashion designer... whose mission it is to kidnap a whole mess of Dalmatians and turn them into swanky fur fashion."
But without the animated element, the movie "removed any possibility of character for the dogs," she said.
Close enjoyed playing Cruella de Vil, according to the Toronto Star.
"Cruella, she says, is a 'brilliant, brilliant cartoon character — the bony shoulders, the bony face," said a 1996 profile in the newspaper.