Cat Ballou (1965)

Cat Ballou (1965)

“Stay here with us; there’s somebody trying to kill my father.”

When a schoolteacher (Jane Fonda) returns to Wyoming to visit her father (John Marley), she is shocked to find his life and property under threat by a ruthless developer (Reginald Denny). After joining forces with a local Indian (Tom Nardini) and a pair of outlaws (Michael Callan and Dwayne Hickman), “Cat” (Fonda) hires a drunken gunslinger known as Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin) to fight back against hired killer Tim Strawn (also Lee Marvin).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Flashback Films
  • Jane Fonda Films
  • Lee Marvin Films
  • Outlaws
  • Revenge
  • Satires and Spoofs
  • Westerns

Lee Marvin won an Oscar for his dual performances in this comedic western, directed by Elliot Silverstein and starring Jane Fonda in the title role as a young woman who shifts from prim to feisty during the course of the screenplay.

The supporting cast members provide a solid “second family” of sorts for Cat:

… and Nat King Cole and Stubby Kate show up every now and then to provide a Greek-chorus-style commentary.

Marvin doesn’t appear until about half-an-hour into the film, and is more of a supporting character than a primary one, thus leading Peary not to give him the Best Actor award in Alternate Oscars. While Marvin’s work here is definitely amusing and memorable:

… I think I prefer him in his more typical stone-cold-villainous roles.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Lee Marvin as Kid Shelleen and Tim Strawn
  • Fine cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look.


One thought on “Cat Ballou (1965)

  1. Rewatch (5/16/22).

    Must-see, as a sheer delight and one of the finest comedies of the ’60s, all the more surprising because it’s a western. Comedies that are both clever *and* funny are on the rare side; all the more reason to see it.

    The screenplay by Walter Newman (‘Ace in the Hole’, ‘Man with the Golden Arm’) and Frank Pierson (‘Dog Day Afternoon’, ‘Cool Hand Luke’) is a different kind of comedy since it is mainly plot-heavy but with characters who happen to be lighter in spirit than one would expect for a film of its type.

    Director Silverstein worked in television for about 10 years prior and had never worked in comedy (nor did he afterwards). But he approached this script in a way similar to the way Sydney Pollack directed ‘Tootsie’: encourage the cast to play the truth of the characters – not the comedy – and the laughs follow.

    The cast seems an unlikely assortment of actors but the combination is perfection.

    Fonda has often said in interviews that she had no idea, during filming, that the film would be as solid as it turned out to be and was surprised that it was a hit. That seems strange, considering that everyone seems to be having a rollicking good time.

    Marvin certainly deserved his Oscar – they are rarely given to comic performances but, in his dual role (one dark, one light) Marvin turns in some of the finest work of his career.

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