Movie Review: Cat Ballou

Now I really didn’t know what to expect when I started this film. Was it a Western or something else? How bad-ass was Jane Fonda going to be? The movie that lay ahead is easily my new favorite Western film spoof (that’s right – better than Blazing Saddles). Cat Ballou takes a lot of the conventions of Western films, uses them, then makes fun of them, then turns them upside down, all while keeping a sensible narrative, hilarious jokes, and the beautiful crooning of Nat King Cole.

The best thing about this movie is not Lee Marvin – you will definitely hear about his “scene stealing” performance and while he does play a drunk well, the best part is Jane Fonda. At only 28 years old, this was one of her big breakthrough movies and damn did she breakthrough. She plays the straight woman so well amongst all of these crazy men that when in the end she busts out her own crazy its unexpected and pitch perfect. She smolders in this role and she alone is worth watching this film for.

Having a Nat King Cole song in your movie is great. Actually having Nat King Cole perform? Phenomenal. He takes a simple (Oscar nominated) melody and really turns it into a beautiful recurring theme that doesn’t get old. And what makes this performance even more special is that Cole died just a few months after filming, and before the film was released.

The fast pace of the movie is also something to be commended and helps to drive the comedy. This film also acts as a bit of a Star Wars dark side parable. It is, at its core, a comedy about how and why good people do bad things, a very real and heavy theme. It’s also about dealing with death and morals and ethics. It’s a very heavy film that nimbly dances around many difficult themes to deliver an emotional and hilarious ride.

Did it deserve its Oscars?

Lead Actor Win for Lee Marvin – First of all he’s not even lead! Second of all, over Laurence Olivier!?!? Madness. Maybe he deserved a supporting win… maybe.

Film Editing nom – deserved but nothing is going to be The Sound of Music in 1965.

Adapted Screenplay nom – Again deserved, but this time it’s Doctor Zhivago.

Adapted Score nom – Damn the Sound of Music and it’s beauty!!!

Original Song nom “The Ballad of Cat Ballou” – super repetitive. But it’s Nat King Cole so I’ll let it pass.

I would also give this a Best Picture nomination over Ship of Fools. I haven’t seen Ship of Fools, but this was just great! And easily director Elliot Silverstein’s only movie worth seeing.



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