DVD Review: Catlow (1971)

Now Available on DVD

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I'm not sure if Yul Brynner had a deal going with the American Dental Association or he was hoping to become the new face for a toothpaste campaign but throughout Sam Wanamaker's jokey western Catlow, the actor-- perhaps most famous for playing the king to Deborah Kerr's "I" in The King and I-- smiles enough to make even Pollyanna suspicious.

Based on a best-selling Louis L'Amour novel, this comedic tale set in the wide open spaces of America's west finds Brynner's Catlow pursued by basically everyone with whom he crosses paths. The crowded list includes angry cattle owners whose wandering livestock he and his posse branded and took for their own, Mexican Federales, a beautiful but ultimately obnoxious girlfriend (Daliah Law), an Indian war party, hired gun Leonard Nimoy (yep, minus the ears and "Live Long and Prosper"), and Marshall Ben Cowan (Richard Crenna).

While he always manages to maneuver out of every situation in a way reminiscent of the big screen Mel Gibson, James Garner, and Jodie Foster version of Maverick, Catlow's biggest challenge is from the tough but fair-minded marshal who is not only the local lawman but also Catlow's best friend with whom he'd served in the war.

Determined to avoid capture (or just at least anyway) until he can make his way down to Mexico to score millions worth of gold-- the film's good-natured, easy-going banter between Catlow and Cowan helps speed the unchallenging, fun, and if ultimately unforgettable movie along.

Featuring one of the creepiest displays of "going commando" since Dennis Franz took it all off in NYPD Blue, Leonard Nimoy's Dr. Spock--er, I mean his Catlow character Miller-- dares to bare all by bursting out of the bath in his birthday suit for a pre-Borat session of man-on-man full contact fighting as he and Brynner slug it out.

While I think most viewers could've done without the naked Nimoy sequence which will never make you think of him as just Jim Kirk's pointy-eared, logical Star Trek sidekick anymore, and the film doesn't offer anything new in its standard and straightforward take on the western sub-genre of the western comedy-- L'Amour fans, western enthusiasts, and those intrigued by the actors should get a kick out of it.

To ensure its tone as simply lighthearted, the screenwriters and director repeat jokes a la Butch Cassidy as Crenna routinely manages to arrest his friend (including from the opener which finds him passing out wounded while in the process of doing just that) only for Catlow to conveniently sneak out of custody, grinning like an overgrown child every time.

And while it's nowhere near the same level of quality as Brynner's best western (um, no motel endorsement implied) effort The Magnificent Seven, it's a pleasant enough out-of-the-blue discovery making its debut on DVD from Warner Brothers thirty-eight years after it premiered on the big screen.