I’ve never been a true fan of the Western genre. As a matter of fact, I can count the number of Westerns I like enough to own on DVD and still have a finger or two left over to use. Having just watched Catlow, recently released on DVD, I’ve just lost one more counting finger.
Originally released in cinemas back in 1971, Catlow, starring the mighty Yul Brynner (The King and I, Westworld)Â in the title role, is one seriously fun, craftily written, expertly directed, rousingly good ol’ time.
Based on the novel by Louis L’Amour, the film begins with Marshall BenÂ Cowan (the late Richard Crenna)Â beset upon by Indians as he attempts to track down and arrest the outlaw cattle rustler Catlow. Cowan is injured by the Indians, but is unexpectedly rescued by Catlow and his men. The two share a special bond, having fought in the Civil War, and are friends of a type, neither man truly wanting to bring the other to any harm. This is proven straightaway, when in aÂ discussion on how best to deal withÂ an unconscious Ben’s wounded leg, Catlow’s right hand man Merridew (the late Jeff Corey) asks if Catlow will remove it at the hip, and Catlow sharply replies “I’ll take yours off at the neck!”
Although this film is played mainly as a comedy, director Sam Wanamaker (Death on the Nile, Private Benjamin) does an excellent job throughout of keeping the two characters’ friendship and loyalty on display no matter what situation they’re in. Even though each betrays the other several times, it’s never directly to either man’s enemy. Catlow saves Ben’s life from Indians and teams up to escape the clutches of a ruthless bounty hunter (Leonard Nimoy), while Ben does his best to ensure that although he must bring Catlow to justice, it’s an American prison he’ll settle into comfortably, rather than being left at the unkind mercies of the Federales, who are after him for attempting to steal their own wrongfully plundered gold.
There are several purely dramatic moments in Catlow as well, mainly provided by Nimoy (Star Trek, Mission: Impossible), who lends a fair amount of weight to his role as Miller, the sharpshooter initially hired by cattlemen to bring in Catlow dead or alive, but then decides to hunt him down for personal reasons. There’s also a noble romance between Ben and Christina (Jo Ann Pflug), the beautiful daughter of the Federales’ General (Jose Nieto).
The performances across the board are solid, with the late, greatÂ Brynner and Crenna anchoring the picture firmly with the believability of theirÂ friendship. Even the music score by the late Roy Budd (Get Carter, Steptoe and Son) is lively and helps remind the viewer to just sit back and enjoy. This is the first time in recent memory that, in the privacy of my own home, I applauded when the film ended!
Even though Catlow is a Warner Bros. bare-bones release, presented in letterbox but with only the theatrical trailer as a bonus feature, it is well worth your time…even if you only have a few fingers left for counting once it’s over.