Cat Ballou Reviews
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)