The time is 1874. Catlow (Yul Brynner) is a lovable outlaw who not only makes a living from crime but for the most part, enjoys doing so. Whether he’s rustling cattle, stealing gold or relaxing with the lovely, lively, fist-flinging beauty Rosita (Daliah Lavi, pictured below right), there are always a few laughs to be had, and even when the going gets really tough – such as being stuck in the middle of a desert with no water and the Mexican army on his trail – his spirit rarely droops.
The storyline is constructed around the relationship between Catlow and Marshal Ben Cowan (Richard Crenna), a lawman who was, and to all intents and purposes still is, his friend (they fought side by side in the Civil War).
Constantly pursuing Catlow in the hope of an arrest, Cowan gets himself into some really sticky situations, from which it is normally up to Catlow to rescue him. At one point Cowan thinks he’s finally got the better of Catlow when he denudes him of his guns and makes him crawl around on all fours, only to discover that throughout, Catlow’s men have been watching and enjoying the whole spectacle.
As with all good Westerns, it looks like Cowan will get his man in the last reel. But who should appear on the scene but Mr Spock – sorry – Miller (Leonard Nimoy, pictured below), a bounty hunter who has been mysteriously and silently trailing the pair since the start of the picture.
He shoots Cowan but is killed before he can get Catlow, who – beaming all over his bronzed face – takes Cowan’s badge, appoints himself lawman and arrests his own, understandably startled, men leaving Cowan in the able hands of svelte, frost-nosed Mexican aristocrat Christina (Jo Ann Pflug).
Scot Finch and JJ Griffith have written a good screenplay based on Louis L’Amour’s novel, and there are some really good episodes in the film. One of the best is the soldier’s dance when Catlow and his men are busy knocking out the guards in order to steal the gold. Here the editing produces an effect that is close to slapstick, and for once Roy Budd’s otherwise very conventional Western music adds something special.
The photography is quite beautiful at times, with the location filming (in Almeria, Spain) convincing you that it isn’t all taking place just outside Los Angeles.
Marshal Ben Cowan
Jo Ann Pflug
Dan van Husen