The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973)
“Two women loved him. One died for him. One killed for him.”
Director: Richard C. Sarafian
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Sarah Miles, Lee J. Cobb
Synopsis: Western story about a defiant wife who leaves her husband to take up riding with outlaws.
Perhaps if Burt Reynolds had persevered with straight roles instead of taking the fatal decision to allow his career to become mired in a succession of brainless good ol’ boy comedies he might have carved a respectable reputation for himself as a serious actor. He’s certainly better in The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing than in most of his other films, despite the distinct lack of sexual chemistry between him and his co-star Sarah Miles.
Reynolds plays Jay Grobart, the nominal head of a gang of four outlaws whom we first meet in the midst of a train robbery. The others in the gang are Billy (Bo Hopkins), one of those exuberant outlaws for whom every law is made for breaking, Dawes (Jack Warden), an older man, and, it turns out, assuming a status as the villain of the piece which initially looks as if it’s going to be claimed by Hopkins’ Billy, and an Indian, Charlie (Jay Varela), who is the only one of the three that Jay can really trust. The robbery goes smoothly, apart from the fact that the gang are obliged to abduct a rather brittle lady (Miles) who, it transpires, is running away from her husband. Her presence creates the expected tensions amongst the gang members, who are hotly pursued by a posse led by veteran tracker Lap Chance (Lee J. Cobb) and Crocker (George Hamilton), the abducted woman’s husband.
Despite the title, the film is as much about the character of Catherine Crocker as it is Grobart. The screenplay hints at some frigidity on her part – or at least a sexual incompatibility with her husband which prompts her to flee – but it never delves too deeply into that side of her story, focusing instead on the burgeoning relationship between her and Grobart. Although a bandit, Grobart’s one of those noble breed, motivated by a desire to be reunited with his children who are being raised by the tribe of Indians to which his former wife, the eponymous Cat Dancing, belonged.
The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing takes its time telling its story, particularly when Grobart and Catherine are alone, and is let down by a lack of consistency. There’s little meaningful interplay between Grobart and Catherine to suggest or explain the depth of their feelings for one another, which results in a lack of concern about their plight on the part of the audience as the posse closes in. The fractious relationship between Jay and the other gang members is of more interest. These are disparate men, with no sense of loyalty to one another, whom circumstance has thrown together, and whose relationship is destined to end with violence.
(Reviewed 20th May 2012)