Catlow (Yul Brynner) and Cowan (Richard Crenna) are old friends from the American Civil War, but events have decreed that their paths have headed off in different directions, with Catlow an opportunist who skirts the law, and Cowan as a marshal who now has been assigned to arrest him. This is easier said than done as his former buddy is a slippery customer, as he discovers when he tracks him to an area of Arizona where a herd of cattle he has adopted thanks to their being so-called maverick, and therefore supposedly unclaimed by anyone else is being driven for him to sell them at a tidy profit. With Cowan hot on his heels, he meets a mishap as a group of Indians set about trying to kill him...
That sort of thing can put a downer on the day, and so it is that humiliatingly Cowan has to be rescued by his quarry, actually saving his life when he takes the arrow out of his leg, in a Western that leaned on jokiness to the point where you wondered if it was worth taking any of it seriously. It was a rare British Western made with mostly American talent, wth respected theatre thespian Sam Wanamaker taking the reins to it has to be said rather underwhelming effect, as he appeared to be adopting the point the camera and shoot approach, though at least the cast repsonded to having an actor guiding them and they shone as much as they could under the circumstances, Brynner in particular.
For some reason its two main characters' names were based on cattle references, with Catlow sounding like "cattle low", that was the sound a cow makes, and Cowan self-explanatory, but this was based on a Louis L'Amour story, one of the most prolific and respected authors in the cowboy genre. You could assuredly perceive a decent, sturdy plot in this, but the effect was so laidback in its arrangement that you could just as easily coast through it without it making an impression, Brynner and Crenna sharing a chemistry that was goodnatured to the point of barely trying to get to grips with any of the more substantial opportunities that might have arisen in the script. Only Daliah Lavi as the love interest took the bull by the horns and offered a sense of animation and fire in the belly.
That said, there was another actor here who was struggling to break out of the straitjacket of fame for one role, and he was Leonard Nimoy who played the bad guy here, Miller. There are no niceties about this fellow, he wants to kill Catlow and makes no bones about it, so steely was Nimoy here that you could tell he was relishing the chance to essay the evildoer part as a contrast to his most celebrated role as television's Mr Spock from Star Trek. The fact that you still cannot mention his name without pointing out the sci-fi connection speaks volumes about how a character can really follow an actor around, which made his nude fight with Brynner (who remains fully-clothed, it's not a Women in Love type thing) a talking point to this day, and is probably the reason it's recalled at all.
Away from that, we had a scheme by Catlow to secure the Mexican gold that happens to be stashed over the border, which as with many Westerns shot in Spain featured a chance to get the Spaniards in the supporting cast pretending to be Mexicans, and cover up the fact the scenery was not always convincing as the United States. Brynner, who is more of a grinner here, appeared to be enjoying himself but really he could do this kind of thing in his sleep, and aside from Nimoy - who wasn't in it as much as his lead villain role might have indicated - nobody gave the impression of being especially pushed in their performances, or the ones doing the pushing. Jo Ann Pflug showed up as a Mexican noblewoman and love interest for Crenna, and there was a nod to the way this style of film was forced to adopt more grown-up trappings, so this was a rare Western where you saw horseshit on the ground - Cowan uses it to track Catlow's gang. But as it was, this was a minor diversion you wouldn't regret watching, though might not recall much of. Music by Roy Budd.
I remember Yul Brynner on Parkinson in the Seventies bemoaning gratuitous sex and violence in modern cinema and how Catlow was good, clean fun by contrast. Quite how Leonard Nimoy's nude fighting fits into this is anyone's guess. Was it down to public demand?!
31 Oct 2014
Yeah, Len seems to have wandered in from a different movie, not even the Apache are as vicious and out there (in more ways than one) as he is in this. Apparently he's this movie's biggest fan, he loves it.