The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing Aug 27, 2010 0:56:21 GMT -5
Post by Eddie Love on Aug 27, 2010 0:56:21 GMT -5
Saddled with one of the most curious and enigmatic titles in film (certainly Western film) history, THE MAN WHO LOVED CAT DANCING is one of Hollywood’s last proper, big studio Westerns. It stars Burt Reynolds and Sarah Miles and while there are shoot-outs and robberies, the film is essentially a romantic drama.
The picture opens with a rowdy and largely stupid gang of criminals holding up a train on a barren stretch of track in the desert. As they make their getaway, they come across a properly dressed Englishwoman on horseback, who they insist accompany them. (The reason they don’t kill her or simply let her go, is never really clear.) We soon learn she herself is on the run from her husband (George Hamilton) who joins the posse formed by the lawmen (Lee J. Cobb) who’s hunting the crooks.
Burt Reynolds plays the leader of the gang, and the lone member seemingly not intent on raping the woman. He’s taciturn and brooding. His heartbreak we later learn stems from his – wait for it, wait for it – dead Native American wife, the “Cat Dancing” of the title.
Sarah Miles plays the runaway / kidnapped woman and it’s in keeping with other roles she played in the early 70s as the sometimes haughty, fragile, yet sexually bold, high spirit. She has some marvelous acting moments, and when the story focuses on her, it’s at its most compelling.
Elsewhere, the film frustrates more than it satisfies. It’s certainly over-long. The director seems unsure of the tone, and that's reflected in John Williams’ musical score which strikes a jaunty rhythm right after the train-robbers have shot a man in the back and Bo Hopkins is taking his first pass at raping Miles.
The specter of sexual assault hangs over much of the film’s actions, which is possibly a testament to the fact the script and the novel from which is was based were both written by women. Otherwise, the notion of the sheltered woman falling for her bandit captor is as old as Maid Marion, and it feels pretty familiar as it plays out here.
Part of the frustration is seeing Reynolds, who looks great, in a role that doesn’t suit him that well. He’s effective, but too charming to suggest the laconic Western outcast. (Plus, I miss his good-humored reliable flippancy – you wish someone would goad him into cracking wise.) As is usual, he also plays his own fight and action scenes and these include a long dust-up with a fellow outlaw played by Jack Warden, that is shot in a way that isn’t terribly convincing. Warden has some good moments as the most violent member of Burt’s gang. Bo Hopkins as the drooling jackass of the group begs the question how these guys ever manage to rob trains if they’re this moronic.
In the final portion of the picture we understand what Reynolds’ agenda is, and while this should pack some dramatic punch, the film is so lethargic that we merely watch it play out without registering it emotionally.
I can’t say I’d really recommend TMWLCD, it’s too slow-moving and despite some terrific location shooting as well as Miles’ performance, never really catches fire.
(Incidentally the mysterious death of Miles’ abusive companion on the set of this movie, was a scandal during it’s filming, and the curious details were written about by both the film’s stars in their memoirs.)