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Cat Ballou [Jane Fonda, Lee Marvin]

Cat Ballou (1965) starring Jone Fonda, Lee Marvin,

Cat Ballou was declared an instant classic with its blend of Western parody and rapid-fire action. Lee Marvin won an Oscar® for Best Actor as Kid Shelleen, the woozy, boozy, has-been gunslinger. Jane Fonda, at the height of her sex-kitten period, stars as Catherine “Cat” Ballou, the schoolmarm-turned-outlaw. She hires Kid to protect her father’s ranch from a greedy railroad tycoon. Filmed in just 32 days, Cat Ballou went on to become one of the biggest box office hits of 1965. With singing minstrels Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye.

Review

Oddly, the title character Cat Ballou is the least interesting thing about her own movie. She’s essential — like the hub of a wheel. Everything rotates around her. But she’s the least interesting character. Lee Marvin steals the show as the once-great gun slinger, now little more than a drunk. And a laughingstock. He hits hilarity and pathos interchangeably.

The basic story has beautiful, young Catherine “Cat” Ballou returning home from school. A schoolmarm, she wants to to help her father with the ranch. But, a powerful man wants to drive him off. And eventually, murders him. And no one will do anything, since everyone is financially dependent on the murderer. So, Cat Ballou turns into an outlaw, costing the rich man financially. And eventually, she confronts him in his private train car …

There are tear drops in her heart but they can’t make her cry.
There are tear drops in her heart but they can’t make her cry.
She’s lost all the kin that she’s known, and the tears will turn into stone
All the teardrops in her heart, ’cause they can’t make her cry.

Professor Sam The Shade: [singing]

Highlights

  • Happy birthday to you …
  • Kid Shalleen literally unable to hit the broad side of a barn … until he has a drink.
  • The Hole in the Wall Gang … “you’ve all gotten old.”
  • Showdown
  • Final hanging scene

Cast

  • Jane Fonda (Barbarella) … Cat Ballou. The title character, who turns outlaw to avenger her father’s murder. She has a bad habit of not looking ahead to see what the consequences of actions will be.
  • Lee Marvin (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) … Kid Shelleen / Tim Strawn. As the has-been western hero, now drunkard Kid Shalleen, he’s absolutely hilarious. He flips on a dime to pathos and back. As the hired killer Tim Strawn, he’s cold, evil, and heartless. Lee Marvin clearly deserved his Oscar.
  • Michael Callan (Mysterious Island) … Clay Boone. Jed’s criminal uncle, trying to keep him out of trouble … And failing. He impersonates a preacher multiple times, to good effect. Especially at Cat Ballou’s hanging.
  • Dwayne Hickman (Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine) … Dwayne Hickman. The handsome young criminal who falls for Cat. He joins her gang, has a romantic conflict with Kid Shalleen over Cat. And he’s even willing to marry her …. If he has to!
  • Nat ‘King’ Cole … Shouter – Sunrise Kid. One of the musical highlights of the film.
  • Stubby Kaye … Shouter – Sam the Shade. The other musical highlight. He and Nat King Cole made a wonderful singing team.
  • Tom Nardini (Africa: Texas Style) … Jackson Two-Bears. Frankie’s Native American employee. A very good, very funny, performance.
  • John Marley (The Godfather) … Frankie Ballou. Cat’s father, who won’t be driven off his land. And is murdered.
  • Reginald Denny ( Batman the Movie) … Sir Harry Percival. The rich villain of the movie. He thinks nothing of having Frankie Ballou murdered. Or attempting to kill Cat. Or anyone else who gets in his way.

Songs

  • The Ballad of Cat Ballou. Written by Mack David and Jerry Livingston. Performed by Stubby Kaye & Nat ‘King’ Cole
  • Happy Birthday to You. Written by Patty S. Hill and Mildred J. Hill. Performed by Lee Marvin
  • Shall We Gather at the River? Written by Robert Lowry. Sung by the Townsfolk
  • Rock of Ages. Written by Augustus Montague Toplady. Sung by the Townsfolk

Editorial review of Cat Ballou courtesy of Amazon.com

Long before Unforgiven deconstructed the Western, or Blazing Saddles lampooned it, Cat Ballou poked the genre in the eye. An altogether enjoyable comedy, the film is full of small surprises, big laughs, and wonderful character turns. Catherine Ballou (Jane Fonda) is a schoolteacher until a hired thug kills her daddy. To protect what she loves, she collects two petty criminals, a wisecracking hired hand, and a hired killer, Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin). Unfortunately, Shelleen is a raging drunk who is so inebriated and unsteady with a gun he literally misses the broad side of a barn.

However, Cat, has, as they used to say in those days, a mind of her own, and she masterminds a spectacular train heist that puts them all on the lam. Marvin won an Academy Award for his role as the derelict Shelleen, and his performances (he actually has two) are still top notch and on target. The framing device, two wandering minstrels, played by Stubby Kaye and Nat “King” Cole, are the maraschino cherries on the top of this Wild West confection. –Keith Simanton

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