Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Cat Ballou

Cat Ballou (1965)

Dir. Elliot Silverstien
Starring: Jane Fonda*, Lee Marvin, Michael Callan, Dwayne Hickman, Nat King Cole, Stubby Kaye

 Catherine “Cat” Ballou (Fonda) returns home after receiving training to be a schoolteacher, only to learn that a corrupt developmental corporation has plans to force her father off his land. She plans to fight back with the help of a drunken gunfighter (Marvin) and a pair of wanted cattle rustlers.

This is a movie that I am surprised that I hadn’t seen before now.  It’s considered a classic (It was chosen as one of the A.F.I.’s Top Ten Westerns). The film has a light and fun tone, poking fun at all the traditional western tropes in the name of having a good time. It’s hard not to smile whenever Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye appear onscreen and begin to sing. Their songs are really good and really funny, and their songs add another layer to the film, with lyrics that talk about the evil and villainous Cat Ballou, while the actions of the character in the film present her as pretty noble and heroic.  The movie goes by pretty quick, it doesn’t feel like it has any wasted bits of filler, and it has some good action beats and so great visual humor, like the this great shot of Kid Shelleen and his horse leaning against the wall:
Another thing about the movie is that in terms of comedy, a lot of the dialogue still works, which is impressive for a movie that is almost 50 years old. It's very well scripted, with several jokes reoccurring and setting up things that payoff later in the film.

Jane Fonda is really good in this movie, and aside from maybe Barbarella it is probably one of her more fun roles. She shows a lot of range in the film, and at times being funny or sympathetic, and at other moments being dramatic or devious. Which is good because without the right person in the part the movie would not work. Lee Marvin won an Oscar** for his dual roles as the drunken, heroic Kid Shelleen and the villainous Tim Strawn. Kid Shelleen is a get comedic role, and it gives the film some of its funniest moments, and he gives Tim Strawn a lot of menace, acting behind a prosthetic silver nose and playing more of a traditional, silent western heavy. His two parts are the more showy parts in the film, and more fun than the more generic sidekicks that the other men in film play.

I liked this movie a lot. It’s fun, and if you haven’t seen it is worth checking out. It’s a good comedic western, with a good cast that has a lot of great chemistry together. Recommended.

* I’m not going to discuss her political views. And I really have no interest in discussing the Hanoi Jane stuff. This is a case where I am going to say “Separate the art from the Artist”.

**I like Lee Marvin a lot, but it seems weird that this is the role that he won an Oscar for. Looking back at who else was nominated (especially Lawrence Olivier for Othello and Richard Burton for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold), I wonder if those two caused the voting to be split and Marvin get an upset win. But it doesn’t matter anyway because Lee Marvin is super cool and Point Blank is awesome and he should of gotten all the awards.

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