Appellate Judge James A. Stewart made a Western once, but Indianapolis was a poor substitute for Texas.
Our review of The Louis L'Amour Western Collection, published May 18th, 2010, is also available.
Jed: "Have you ever known me to steal from anyone?"
It's a difficult task to get into the mind of an author when putting his work on celluloid. However, a look at the first chapter of Catlow on Louis L'Amour's site creates the distinct impression that the makers of Catlow weren't too concerned about keeping the novel's relatively straightforward tone.
Catlow starts out traditionally enough, with Marshal Ben Cowan (Richard Crenna, Dirty Money (Un Flic)) riding alone, leaping from his horse as shots are fired. As he goes for cover, war cries, the silence of the land, and bird calls add to his tension—and the audience's. The arrow hits him in the leg. Then Jed Catlow (Yul Brynner, The King and I) shows up, and the movie you're expecting is over.
What you'll get instead is Diabolik out West. Yul Brynner's Catlow is a smiling menace to authority and the traditional Western hero, both represented in straightforward fashion by Crenna. Catlow shares a friendly card game with Ben as they sit in the stagecoach taking him to justice, but he's got an ace up his sleeve: his gang is coming to help him escape. Catlow's also a sneaky fighter with a gun hidden in his boot. Brynner's rogue doesn't seem to take things seriously, at times laughing outright at the action.
The story on screen unfolds something like this: Cowan is a Civil War buddy of Catlow's. Trouble is, Catlow's rounding up unbranded maverick cattle, which means there's a warrant out on him—and the marshal has to serve it, even after Catlow helps him get an arrow out of his leg. Cowan trails Catlow to Mexico (actually Spain), where he discovers that his friend is after a Mexican Army mule train carrying gold found in a cave. Cowan has to contend with a hired gun (Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek) out to kill Catlow and the possibility of romance. That's about it, although Nimoy's bare buttocks get a cameo after Catlow steals his clothes (You thought In Search of… was his career low point?).
Catlow turns its Louis L'Amour story into a series of cartoonish vignettes. The performances of Brynner and Crenna will bring a smile to your face, but there's no real point here other than a general irreverent attitude left over from the '60s. The movie's okay when it's being silly, but a couple of scenes that play it straight only slow Catlow down.
The picture's decent, even if day-for-night scenes can get muddy at times. As with any Western, there's plenty of beautiful scenery. The sound is good enough to make the occasional realistic scene feel real, but a few of Brynner's lines get lost. The score switches between the majesty of the West to a bouncy Sixties sound.
The only extra is a theatrical trailer that isn't quite sure how to handle Catlow's comic aspects. It's in bad shape, even varying between full frame and widescreen.
Catlow—and Catlow—may be guilty of '60s irreverence
without any real bite, but you'll have a tough time making an arrest, thanks to
Brynner's playful performance. Wait for a sale to pick it up, if you're
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