Release Year: 1965
Director: Elliot Silverstein
Screenwriter: Walter Newman, Frank Pierson, Roy Chanslor (based on the novel by)
Starring: Jane Fonda, Lee Marvin, Michael Callan, Dwayne Hickman, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Stubby Kaye, Tom Nardini, John Marley
Ratings: 1 Oscar: Best Actor (Lee Marvin). 4 Oscar nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Original Song, Best Music. 1 Golden Globe: Best Actor (Lee Marvin). 4 Golden Globe nominations: Best Comedy/Musical, Best Actress (Jane Fonda), Best Promising Male Newcomer (Tom Nardini), Best Original Song.
Returning home after being away to become educated as a teacher, Cat (Jane Fonda) finds her father living under threats from the Rail Road. Determined to keep her beloved father safe, Cat hires famous gunman Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin) to help. When the threat escalates Cat herself arms up and sets out for justice together with Kid, Jackson Two-Bears (Tom Nardini), Clay Boone (Michael Callan and his accomplish Jed (Dwayne Hickman), all motivated by their fondness of the stubborn Cat. But while the rest are amateurs, Kid is far from the gunman he used to be.
Narrated by the songs of Shouters Nat ‘King’ Cole (St. Louis Blues, 1958) and Stubby Kaye (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?,1988), this charming western comedy has an innocence over it, hard to capture today. A young Fonda (Barbarella, 1968) looks amazing, whether a seemingly timid schoolteacher or as the feisty and armed cow-girl, and is pure joy to watch, leaving no one wondering how she gets the men to fight for her case. While Callan (Mysterious Island, 1961) as love interest Clay Boone, Hickman (A Night at the Roxbury, 1998) and especially the great newcomer Nardini (Self Defense, 1983), there shall be no doubt that the scene stealer of the movie is the excellent Marvin (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 1962) who won an Oscar for his dual performance as (anti)hero/enemy. From he appears as the drunken mistake his famous gunman has become to he reinvents himself with the help of a patient Jackson as well as his part as the evil nose-less villain clad in black, Marvin entertains every time he is on screen. The story is predictable, right down to the ending, but it is hard not to care when it is told with so much warmth. The singing voices of Kaye and Cole adds to the innocent feel of this western, giving it a feel of a tale told around a bonfire, while the almost slap-stick humour of Kid’s drunkard is a big part of the comedy tag of the movie. There are sparks and an obvious interest between Cat and Clay from the moment they meet and Cat’s swift between demure maiden and insulted madame when her denies are accepted, creates an ongoing game between the two that are a delight to follow. The movie was extremely popular when released but is not known widely today, a shame, as this is a gem in the western comedy genre.
Roy Chanselor’s novel ‘The Ballad of Cat Ballou’ was a serious western. The comedy elements were added for the movie.
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.
Nat ‘King’ Cole never got to see the finished movie, as he sadly passed away several months before its release.
Picture copyrights: Sony Pictures