The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing.
Having pulled off a successful train robbery at an isolated part of the desert, outlaw Jay Grobart (Burt Reynolds) and his gang ready themselves to ride off with thousands of dollars in their saddlebags. The gang is in for a surprise though. A woman, Catherine Crocker (Sarah Miles), has accidentally ridden up and witnessed the entire robbery. With no alternative, the gang brings her along as a hostage of sorts, knowing a posse will be along soon enough. Jay and Co. put some miles between them, but they're right. A posse is following their trail, a Wells Fargo agent, Lapchance (Lee J. Cobb), and Catherine's worrying husband (George Hamilton), leading the way. With Catherine in tow, Jay continues on the getaway as planned. That route takes them right into Indian territory where Jay has a to this point unspoken plan he intends to bring about.
I can't say I went into this flick with high expectations with a pretty decent memory of the novel from author Marilyn Durham. Still, I'm having more and more trouble tracking down westerns from major studios I haven't seen before so I wanted to give it a fair shot. The cast was impressive enough. The story had potential, even if I felt like the novel wasted much of that potential. So clean slate going in, 'Man' still didn't do it for me. It isn't quite the ultra-dark vision of so many other revisionist westerns of the 1970s, but it does try for some sort of reality. The west as presented is violent, unpleasant, gritty and dirty where survival is as much about luck as anything else. What is this western from director Richard C. Sarafian missing then? While there are performances that are worth mentioning, the movie itself simply isn't interesting.
One of my pet peeves in westerns is unnecessarily jamming a love story into an otherwise good story that doesn't NEED a love story. Well, sticking to the Durham novel, 'Man' rides along with the love story that develops between Jay and Catherine. The odd thing isn't that the love story there. It's how it develops. Catherine is actually running away from her husband, and we find out she is a lady at basically all times. How's that? Yeah, she doesn't like sex to the point she's embarrassed by it. Does her husband abuse her? Could be although it's never spelled out. Naturally, Catherine gets some Stockholm Syndrome for Jay who is rough with her and doesn't baby her. She falls madly in love with him even when we find out about Jay's rather checkered past, especially with his dead wife, an Indian woman named Cat Dancing. It plays out in odd fashion and seems like an odd fantasy to have, like something you'd see in a schmaltzy romance novel.
So beyond that, the performances are pretty decent. It's cool to see Reynolds sink his teeth into a meatier performance, a heavy dramatic part. He's always good in lighter comedy roles, but give the guy credit. Reynolds was a solid dramatic actor when he wanted to be, and the anti-hero good guy turned bad guy in a western with a checkered past is a familiar western archetype. Miles does her best with what I found to be a poorly written character. Her chemistry is good with Reynolds, and she has a memorable moment here and there, but the character's intentions and motivations float all over the place. Lee J. Cobb is underused as the Wells Fargo agent while Hamilton is kept in the dark with another poorly defined character. He's shown as a bit of a dandy, a gentleman more interested in what people think of him than actually getting his wife back, but like so many characters we don't find out enough about him. As for Jay's gang look for Bo Hopkins and Jack Warden as despicably bad outlaws with Jay Varela playing Charlie, the one decent member of the crew. Also look for Robert Donner and Jay Silverheels in supporting parts.
A disappointing end result. At 123 minutes, it is far too long, possibly in an effort to be dreamlike and.....nah, just slow-moving. The soundtrack isn't memorable in the least, and while there is some beautiful on-location shooting, the movie just dreary-looking from beginning to end. The finale could have saved the movie some, but even there the brakes are tapped in a big way to make things a happy Hollywood ending. A meh movie in the end.
The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973): **/****