heard the legend of the Mexican Army
were at his backside. Catlow
didn't give a damn.
He knew all the answers—except how to get through
Seri Indian country rich and alive.
Ben Cowan and Abijah “Bijah” Catlow had been bound
as friends since childhood. By the time they reached manhood, however, they had
drifted apart. Ben took the path to wearing a tin star, while Catlow followed a
more serpentine trail to becoming a top cowhand with a wild streak who followed
the spirit of the law if not the letter. By mutual consent, they avoid each
other so as not to force a confrontation. But after a disastrous run-in with a
band of greedy ranchers, Catlow is branded an outlaw and it’s U.S. Marshal Ben
Cowan’s job to bring him in alive—if Catlow will let him.
When Catlow escapes to Mexico, determined to pull
off a Confederate gold heist and retire, Ben is hot on his trail. But
circumstances will force the two men from opposite sides of the law to become
allies again, fighting for survival as they are pursued across the harsh
Mexican desert by forces who want them both dead.
Louis L'Amour died in 1988 with all of his 105
existing works (eighty-nine novels, fourteen short-story collections and two
full-length works of nonfiction) still in print. Thirty years later, most of
them continue to crowd bookstore shelves. He is one of the world's most popular
writers, and John Wayne referred to him as the most interesting man in the
world, long before the title became a popular commercial catchphrase.
While Catlow is clearly from the early
stages of L’Amour’s writing career, it has a stripped down charm I found
satisfying. I enjoyed the interplay between Catlow and Cowan—friends turned
reluctant adversaries—and found myself rooting for both characters to win.
L’Amour was a master at creating this type of reader engagement and, because Catlow
is so stripped down, an attentive reader can get a glimpse of the behind the
scenes writing mechanics. I found this fascinating. There is some justification
to believe Catlow was an unsold pulp story L’Amour whipped into shape quickly
to keep up with the demands of his publisher’s schedule after he (justifiably)
took too long expanding the novelization of the movie How The West Was Won.
As a side note to clear up an often confused fact, the movie How the West
Was Won was based on a series of Life Magazine articles from 1959—not a
novel by L’Amour. James R. Webb’s screenplay was then brilliantly novelized by
L’Amour to coincide with the release of the film. L’Amour, however, went beyond
simply novelizing the screenplay. With his usual attention to details and
characters, he expanded the vision of the screenplay into a true novel, which
became one of his most renown.
Catlow will never be considered a classic
Western, but it remains an entertaining film. Anchored by the presence of Yul
Brynner as Catlow—displaying a surprising sardonic side appropriate to the
character—and Richard Crenna as Ben Cowan, the movie is notable for the
appearance of Leonard Nimoy as the mercenary Miller, the villain of the piece.
Nimoy mentioned Catlow in both of his
autobiographies saying it gave him a chance to break away from his role as
Spock on Star Trek. He stated the time during which he made the film was one of
the happiest periods of his life, even though his part in the film was rather
Like the book, the movie boils down to two
characters, on different sides of the law, who remain great friends while
unafraid to punch or shoot at each other to gain an advantage. Released in
1971, Catlow has a rawness typical to Westerns of the time period,
including experimental filming techniques such as the extremely fast editing of