Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Cat Ballou

Cat Ballou - poster final

Cinema Monolith: 6/10
IMDb: 6.8/10
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: ***½ out of 4

Released on June 24, 1965
Not rated
97 minutes

Directed by Elliot Silverstein

Written by Walter Newman and Frank R. Pierson

Cast: Jane Fonda, Lee Marvin, Dwayne Hickman, Michael Callan, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Stubby Kaye, John Marley, Reginald Denny, Jay C. Flippen, Arthur Hunnicutt, Bruce Cabot, Burt Mustin, Tom Nardini

An offbeat and surprisingly likeable Western comedy, starring Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin, that flirted with several genres while defying classification into any of them: seemingly a parody, but it never quite reached the absurdity of Blazing Saddles; possibly a romance, but Jane rebuffed Michael Callan’s advances at nearly every turn; and with a narrative that boasted prairie minstrels Nat ‘King’ Cole and Stubby Kaye frequently interrupting the proceedings with plot-enhancing songs, you’d swear this had the makings of a musical.

So instead, I’m going to classify this as a revenge story, since Fonda—admittedly adorable and fun, but definitely the most level-headed of the bunch—hires a gunman to kill the man who murdered her father, and when the gunman proves to be a lush, and seemingly worthless, Fonda goes after the assassin herself. After all was said and done, however, I wished the filmmakers had gone the route of the source novel, and kept the atmosphere of the film serious and dark. As many of you have guessed by now, I love a good vengeance tale, and to me this story would’ve been better represented had the comedic aspects been left out.

Try this on for size: Jane retains her character’s headstrong attitude and hires gunslinger Marvin—now a bad-ass gun-for-hire instead of a drunken laughingstock—to avenge the death of her father. We then sit back and watch as the pair methodically track down those responsible and administer some much-deserved frontier justice, similar to Gregory Peck in The Bravados or Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales. How cool would that have been?

And speaking of Marvin…I’m not sure how he won Best Actor for this role (a dual role, actually), but somehow he did; granted, he was entertaining and memorable as both the sodden sharpshooter Kid Shelleen and the rarely-seen killer Strawn, who’s wearing a comical metallic cup over his missing nose every time we see him…but an Oscar? I guess I’m being a tad unfair, though. This film was meant to be nothing but light-hearted, goofy escapism, and right from the start, when the woman in the Columbia Pictures logo suddenly morphed into a cartoon cowgirl with six-guns blazing, you got the sense that, if Disney had hired Frank Tashlin to write and direct The Sons of Katie Elder, you’d have the blueprint of Cat Ballou in a nutshell.

In the end, the game cast succeeded in delivering a good-natured tone, and a number of scenes offered up some decent chuckles (for me, the highlight was the wonderful shot of a drunken Marvin asleep on his cross-legged horse), so if you’re in the spirit, it’s not a bad way to spend an evening. One thing’s for sure: you’ll never get that bothersome theme song out of your head. Cat Balloooooou!…Cat BALLOOOOOU!  (6/10)

Cat Ballou - photo final crop

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2 comments on “Cat Ballou

  1. spreth1
    6/14/13

    I saw this movie in 1980 projected onto the side of Building 13 at Stenner Glen in San Luis Obispo. The seats were all poolside and as corny as all that sounds, it was actually not a horrible setup. I think your use of “goofy” is appropriate to describe the film.

    • Todd Benefiel
      6/14/13

      I remember you showing me this set-up during our trip to SLO in 1992! I thought it was a pretty cool place to watch a movie…but I seem to remember you telling me about a different movie you saw there; did you see anything else at Stenner Glen besides Cat Ballou?

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