Cat Ballou Reviews
The film was well received by critics and was popular with moviegoers and earned over $20.6 million in ticket sales in 1965, making it one of the top ten moneymaking movies that year.
"Cat Ballou" is a wonderful piece of western comedy with a great story and funny dialogue. Loved it as a kid, and I still love it. It has a good mix of comedy and darker matters. Lee Marvin is excellent as Kid Shelleen/Tim Strawn and he won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his dual role. A well deserved Oscar in my book. As the drunken Shelleen, he's a comic delight to watch and I have always loved the slightly dark and funny scene when Frankie has passed away and Kid thinks it´s his birthday due to all the candles. Jane Fonda is radiant, beautiful and perfect as the shy and honorable Cat. Michael Callan and Dwayne Hickman adds humour as Clay and Uncle Jed and so does Tom Nardini as Jackson Two-Bears. And I love the music scenes with Nat King Cole as Shouter - Sunrise Kid and Stubby Kaye as Shouter - Sam the Shade. Such a great idea in the film and it adds so much to the movie. "Cat Ballou" is funny, sharp, witty, warm and action-packed with a great ensemble that brings life to all the characters.
Trivia: - At his acceptance of the Oscar, Lee Marvin opened by saying, "Half of this probably belongs to a horse out in the Valley somewhere".
- The film's horse trainer told Elliot Silverstein that the scene where a horse leans against a wall with its front legs crossed could not be shot because horses don't cross their legs, then that it might be possible if he had a couple of days. Silverstein invoked his rank as director and gave him an hour. The trainer plied the horse with sugar cubes while repeatedly pushing its leg into position, and they were able to get the shot.
- Roy Chanslor's original novel was a serious western. The comedy elements were added for the film.
- Even though everyone knew that they were making at least a good film, no one had any idea that they were making a classic. Jane Fonda recalled - "I have to admit, it wasn't until I saw the final cut of Cat Ballou that I realized we had a hit on our hands. I hadn't been around when they filmed Lee's horse, leaning cross-legged up against the barn in what's become a classic image, or when Lee tries to shoot the side of the barn."
- According to Jane Fonda, production moved at a brisk pace - "It seemed we'd never do two takes unless the camera broke down. The producers had us working overtime day after day, until one morning Lee Marvin took me aside. 'Jane,' he said, 'we are the stars of this movie. If we let the producers walk all over us, if we don't stand up for ourselves, you know who suffers most? The crew. The guys who don't have the power we do to say, 'Sh*t, no, we're workin' too hard.' You have to get some backbone, girl. Learn to say no when they ask you to keep working.'"
- Lee Marvin's larger-than-life personality and fondness for tipping back the bottle made the actor a raucous but irresistible presence on the set. "Working with Lee Marvin was an unbelievable experience," said Dwayne Hickman. "Never have I met such an outrageous personality. Lee loved to drink, and the more he drank, the more outrageous he became. He had a story about everything and everybody. He also had very definite theories on acting and a style that was all his own. Lee figured if a little bit was good, a lot would be so much better. As a result, each take of a scene was bigger than the last." According to Hickman, Marvin sometimes used alcohol to enhance his performance as the drunken Kid Shelleen. For instance, the very first scene that Marvin shot was the one in which everyone meets Kid Shelleen for the first time, and he is falling down drunk. "He rehearsed several times," said Hickman, "and then went behind the barn and took a shot of vodka to steel himself. I ran into him in front of his dressing room where he had just gotten sick. When I asked if he was all right, he said, in typical Lee Marvin fashion, 'Tension, baby...just a little tension.'"
- Conceived as a lightweight, commercial western spoof, the film unexpectedly went on to garner five Academy Award nominations, for Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Score and Best Song.
- The performances of Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye are delivered entirely through song.
Uncertain of what kind of Western to expect from Cat Ballou, the instant the Columbia Pictures logo turned into a gun-toting animation of Cat Ballou and the film kicked off with a jonty tune, I knew I was in for some kind of comedic venture Recognized as one of the first major western comedy films, Cat Ballou draws innovative credibility from its lighthearted nature and the presence of a female protagonist, even though the screen is stolen by Lee Marvin. Following the familiar story of war over ownership of land, Cat Ballou takes viewers on a journey through many familiar western plot points in a combination of comedy and drama. But even though Cat Ballou parodies western archetypes, it still finds itself succumbing to relying on the same plot structure it parodies and therefore has to embrace many of the dramatic plot dynamics that come with it. The story is mainly a parody of Shane (1953) with a much more comic oriented tone, but the jokes seem to drop in and out at random times. If Cat Ballou isn't joking about the western genre, its getting too caught up in taking itself seriously to grasp the innovation that it clearly aspires to. The limited number of stylish moments in Cat Ballou may have been far more refreshing back in the day of its original release, but by today's standards it seems like Cat Ballou hasn't survived the battle of age well enough to stand up any more. I'm not saying that it's a bad film, it's just not the western masterpiece I was expecting. Frankly, the main problem is the fact that the story takes itself too seriously and goes in all kinds of directions in an attempt to be both a western comedy and a character piece. Alas, it never chooses a consistent path and then just it finally begins to settle in on something the film is suddenly over and leaves a questionable feeling on audiences. By the end of it I hardly knew how I felt about Cat Ballou, but I largely got the impression that I was waiting for something which never ended up happening.
Even though Cat Ballou adheres to many familiar western plot points, its intentions to divert them into a comic narrative leads it to leave certain things out. Unfortunately, among them is all that much of an action spectacle. The stylistic value of Cat Ballou is sourced from the slapstick gags which prove to be gleefully comedic when they decide to grace the screen, but they prove to be very sporadic in actuality as the charms of the actors are given greater reliance to supply the laughter. As much as they help, the general style of Cat Ballou is not utilized enough to provide consistent laughs in this day and age. There is no denying the colourful appeal that comes with the extensive production and costume designs as well as the fact that it is all captured with steady cinematography, but altogether it is never sufficiently utilized to make use of the spending behind Cat Ballou and that is simply a real shame.
However, the musical score in Cat Ballou is definitely brilliant. Rather than the typical sweeping western style, Cat Ballou makes use of lighthearted country themes largely dominated by the use of a Banjo which keeps the experience easy-going. The musical talents of Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye are delightful as is the enjoyable way they sing directly to the audience. Their supporting effort in Cat Ballou is an essential part of the fun.
Above all, the cast of Cat Ballou is the main reason to see the film in the first place.
Lee Marvin's Academy Award winning lead performance is certainly a charming effort. Though Cat Ballou strangely oscillates between the comedy and drama themes, Lee Marvin's gruff nature manages to succeed in crafting both a legitimate cowboy of vigilance and a parody of one at the same time. Instead of commanding the other characters he just lets loose and stumbles across the set which is a distinctive contrast to what you would expect from a man like him. This ensures that he is easily capable of varying between the more serious moments of the film and its overall comic tone at the same time, keeping up with its odd mood changes and capitalizing on them as a chance to show off his versatility as an actor. Going from a goofball one minute to a fearless gunslinger the next, Lee Marvin is able to use his natural persona to capture a cowboy feeling every second he is on screen. Regardless of which state of mind he is in or which of the two characters he is playing, Lee Marvin manages to bring sufficient charm and dramatic strength to the role with some comic undertones that highlight him as the best aspect of the film, and its a strong boost to his ever growing credibility.
Jane Fonda makes a strong lead in the titular role. Catherine "Cat" Ballou has elements of a silly blonde stereotype to her, but she has a deep burning dramatic passion in pursuit of justice without going overboard. This capitalizes on Jane Fonda's intrinsic spirit and status as an anti-establishment iconoclast, and her dramatic spirit is dedicated yet light enough not to hit viewers over the head with a political agenda. Jane Fonda has the charismatic passion to be a powerful leading cowgirl yet the genuine humanity to carry the role with human emotion and vulnerability, making it a spectacle for her many talents as an actress. Jane Fonda takes on the most commanding role of Cat Ballou with intrinsic passion.
Tom Nardini also remains memorable, maintaining the looks of a young Charles Bronson and a lighthearted likable spirit.
Cat Ballou gains a lot of credibility from the powerful leading performances of Lee Marvin and Jane Fonda, but its inability to settle on being a legitimate western film or a parody of one leaves it as an odd hybrid of comedy and drama without much of a spectacle to anchor it.
The duo of the great Nat King Cole, and the great Stubby Kaye as wandering
minstrels tie it all together.
Jane Fonda leads the cast with a solid performance as Cat Ballou. Lee Marvin is famous for playing two roles in this movie, that of Kid Shelleen, a hired gunslinger, and Tim Strawn, the film's chief villain. His performance as Kid Shelleen is the more notable of the two since it gets a lot more screen time. Lee Marvin gives a skilled and hilarious performance in the role. The supporting cast was notable, particularly Tom Nardini, who had some memorable lines as Jackson (particularly when he corrects Cat's grammar), John Marley as Cat's father Frank and Michael Callan as Clay Boone.
The film's story is well-placed with consistent humor punctuated with some dramatic moments. Also notable is the inclusion of intermittent segments of catchy banjo music and songs performed by Nat King Cole and Stubby Kale. The best of these performances was the song "The Ballad of Cat Ballou" that introduces the film. "Cat Ballou" is a Great version of the typical western story.
(Full review coming soon)