Starring: Yul Brynner, Richard Crenna, Leonard Nimoy
Director: Sam Wanamaker
Mood: If you’re craving a zippy Western with sharp dialogue and awesome shootouts and Leonard Nimoy as the villain.
Friends – there is a Leonard Nimoy Western, and it is Catlow.
I did NOT know that Leonard Nimoy was in it when I ordered it. I bought this awesome Louis L’Amour DVD three-pack because I already love The Sacketts and Conagher, and my father-in-law had always raved about Catlow.
I thought it was going to be a serious Western, but holy shit, is this a funny movie.
Yul Brynner did a lot of serious roles, and I guess I was thinking of the original Magnificent Seven as a somewhat serious flick and expecting the same kind of thing.
But the moment the opening credits launched to a bouncy melody, I realized I was in for one of those zany ‘70s cowboy capers. And it delivered on everything that song promised and more.
Catlow (Yul Brynner) is a cheeky rapscallion who may or may not be a cattle rustler. He and his gang are at least accused as such, and are on the run. The marshal chasing them down is Cowan (Richard Crenna).
But the first time Cowan gets the drop on Catlow, these two start sassing each other and you can tell that neither intends the other serious harm. Then Cowan gets shot and Catlow sticks around to nurse him through a fever before returning to their little game, so you know there’s some history and actual friendship there.
Whether or not he’s a cattle thief, Catlow does plan to rob $2 million in gold from a Mexican mule train. But now he’s got a more serious man on his ass – the sinister bounty hunter Miller (Leonard Nimoy). Next thing you know, Catlow and his posse are dodging bullets, bandits, ranchers, Mexican soldiers, Apaches, and one seriously pissed off ex-girlfriend.
Catlow gave me major War Wagon vibes because of the friendly rivalry between the two leads.
This movie excels in many categories, but the writing is truly outstanding. Whenever Catlow and Cowan share the screen, you get this nonstop witty banter that extends to physical comedy (Catlow having to talk upside down with his face between his legs) and pranks (Cowan being found bound and draped over his horse with his star pinned to his ass).
Despite all that, and the fact that like many Spaghetti Westerns it was filmed in Spain, director Sam Wanamaker said, “This picture has a sense of humour but that’s not the same as being a comedy Western.”
I call bullshit. It’s MOSTLY comedy – but that’s not a bad thing. And the story does have some serious layers and darker scenes, thanks to Nimoy’s performance as Miller.
Nimoy doesn’t just arrive in the film – his first lines boom out over a canyon, his deep, commanding voice making everything around him seem insignificant. You can tell right away that nobody f*cks with this guy.
Nimoy’s scenes are a total 180 from the breeziness of Brynner and Crenna, and I could not have predicted that he’d be such a natural Western villain. He’s not just gruff, he’s cold and mean. Turns out he did quite a few Western movies and TV series before Star Trek.
Nimoy is only really in the beginning and the end of Catlow, but holy shit does he leave an impression. And not just because you see him naked.
Oh yes, you read that right.
At first you see him shirtless and think wow, okay, didn’t expect him to be so fit. But then there’s a huge fist fight between Miller and Catlow, and LEONARD NIMOY IS BUCK NAKED!
Apparently in his two autobiographies Nimoy said that making Catlow was one of the happiest times of his life, and a welcome change from Spock.
Brynner radiates this easygoing charm that makes him the perfect lovable outlaw. He has an inexplicable timeless presence that feels at once modern and oldschool, like he fits in as an Old West cowboy but he could easily be at a modern rodeo.
Crenna was one of those brilliant actors whose talents were equally strong in drama and comedy. Although he shares the sharp dialogue with Brynner, he delivers it in a way that’s subtly more serious – and exasperated.
Jeff Corey stands out as Catlow’s posse member Merridew. Like Cher, Corey’s impressive career spanned seven decades. He was no stranger to Westerns; he played the bastard Tom Chaney in the original True Grit, and appeared in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and episodes of Bonanza, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, and – get this – a 1969 episode of Star Trek starring Nimoy.
There are two female characters in Catlow, Christina (Jo Ann Pflug) and Rosita (Daliah Lavi). Lavi is kind of cringey, like it’s an over-the-top comedic performance but just a bit too far to be enjoyable.
The character of Christina is actually quite strong, but Pflug doesn’t get much screen time.
Catlow has tons of proper Western action, including some absolutely f*cking fantastic shootouts. You’re not going to be bored, I promise. Watch the trailer – that’s totally the energy through the entire movie.
If you like any of these actors, this is a fantastic addition to your collection. Or maybe you just want to see Leonard Nimoy’s butt. Either way, Catlow is a win.