Have we forgotten “The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing?”
“Cat Dancing” is another one of my favorite “book-to-movie” westerns. A great author backstory, steamy movie-making backstory (murder!?) and then a western film that just about everyone agrees is worth watching, and numerous folks think is a classic.
The simple plot events are not new. Train robberies, abused women rescued, and-or kidnapped. Posse chases after captured women. The Stockholm Syndrome-esque, kidnapped women falling for kidnappers. But what if anything is new in storytelling? It’s always about the unique application of story-telling and the unique execution of the film.
The base book and movie plot goes like this…”After serving time for avenging the murder of his native American wife, Cat Dancing, Jay Grobart (Burt Reynolds), reluctantly takes part in a train robbery in the hopes of using his share of the loot to make a better life for his two children. When his accomplices kidnap society woman Catherine Crocker (Sarah Miles), who is on the run from her violent husband (George Hamilton), Grobart’s inner decency protects her from harm as they flee from the bounty hunter (Lee J. Cobb) chasing them.”
The film was based on the debut novel by Marilyn Durham. She was an Evansville, IL. housewife who had never attended a writing class before and knew little about the real West. She was a lifelong reader and lover of movies, particularly Italian Westerns. In January 1970 she sat down and started writing, wanting to pay off the 25 year old mortgage on her 64 year old widowed mother’s home, and she wanted to pen “a big juicy, dirty best seller.” Harcourt bought the book and in a unique move for the book and movie industry, rights were sold for the movie during this process. She pictured Jay as Lee Van Cleef, Catherine as Julie Adams and Willard as Caroll O’Conner. The book was an international bestseller in 1972, the movie released quickly in 1973.
This was considered to be Burt Reynolds first romantic movie. Reynolds said he did the movie “because I loved the book. I’d never done a love story, either.” The impressive cast included of course, Burt Reynolds and Sarah Miles, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, George Hamilton, Bo Hopkins, Robert Donner, Jay Silverheels. But it was not big box office. It is hard to judge whether the behind the scenes murder had any effect? One critic reported “Unfortunately, this movie was plagued with production problems, including a death (which from time to time, resurfaces with Burt being accused of murder) and audiences stayed away in droves.” Murder you say? Death?
It was the death of David Whiting, Sarah Miles assistant. Sarah Miles had quite an “outrageous reputation” for affairs in the movie industry. At the time of the filming, she was married to a Robert Bolt, an English playwright and a twice Oscar-winning screenwriter, known screenplays like Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and a Man for All Seasons. One morning during filming, her assistant David A. Whiting, was found dead under mysterious circumstances in his hotel room. The night before, the cast and crew traveled to the town of Ajo to celebrate Reynolds’ birthday. When they returned to the hotel, Miles spent several hours in Reynolds’ room until 3 am. When she returned to her room, Whiting was there and asked where she had been. She told him, Whiting hit her, she screamed and was helped to escape by Miles’ son’s governess. Miles returned to Reynolds’ room for the rest of the night. When she returned to her room the next morning at 11 a.m. she found Whiting dead. Investigators discovered a head injury on Whiting and some blood stains. A doctor gave evidence at the inquest that the death was due to a drug overdose, and the head injury came from Whiting falling against a table. It was later revealed that Miles and Whiting had been having an affair too.
Many fans of the “western-that-was-not-fully-a-western” book were not happy with the “western-western” version of the movie. And of course with all films, people both like and dislike the film, but no one seemed to hate it. Most consider it worth watching. I saw it in a movie theater in 1973 and thought it was pretty darn good. I also recall quite an exceptional, close-quarters fight scene between Jack Warden and Burt (see the film clip below). Burt, the part time stuntman and roommate of Hal Needham, could always be counted on for action sequences. I liked Cat Dancing. You should try it, or maybe watch it again after all these years. Let’s not forget The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing.
The movie trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmhNMBO3B5k
The fight scene – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNXezP-Thc0
Hock’s email is HockHochheim@ForceNecessary.com