I watched the comedy/western Cat Ballou the other day and laughed so hard that I thought I would mention it here, in case anyone could use cheering up. It’s not new (made in 1965), but it’s a charming and funny spoof on westerns, and appears frequently on lists of “Best Westerns.”
The plot can be summed up as follows: A prim schoolteacher named Catherine Ballou (Jane Fonda) hires a famous gunman to protect her father’s ranch, and later to avenge her father’s murder, but finds that the man she hires is not whom she expected. She has hired legendary gunfighter Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin) to come and help protect her father from fast-drawing Tim Strawn (also played by Marvin), alias ‘Silvernose,’ the hired killer who is threatening her father, Frankie. There are various plot convolutions, and the prim Catherine Ballou emerges as “Cat Ballou,” girl train robber, with the “face of an angel, who fights like a devil.”
Marvin is inspired in this movie, with a kind of crazed goofiness, and he won an Oscar for Best Actor for his dual role. The scene where, as Kid Shelleen, he sobers up and dons his gunfighting costume, starting with a corset, is a classic.
Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye are billed onscreen simply as “Shouters.” They act as banjo-playing, wandering minstrels, intermittently narrating the story with verses of “The Ballad of Cat Ballou.”
Be forewarned that Cat Ballou could be accused of not being politically correct, and it looks like it was filmed on a studio back lot. But it has a light-heartedness and sense of fun that is really enjoyable.
Note: If you enjoy Cat Ballou, consider watching Blazing Saddles next. It’s the spiritual heir to Cat Ballou, with some of the same plot machinations, and it will keep the smiles coming.
You also might want to read Lee Marvin: Point Blank (B MARVIN), a new biography of the actor.