Cat Ballou, Cat Ballou
She’s mean and evil through and through!
How many Western movies can you name that feature a Greek chorus (a group of singers that comment on the story, as in the classic Greek plays)? I can only think of two. One is the recently released RANGO, with the little singing owls. The other is the 1965 comedy classic, CAT BALLOU.
Like RANGO, CAT BALLOU is a spoof on Western themes. The Oscar-nominated movie, which I just rented and watched, is just as fresh and funny today as it was 46 years ago.
Cat (Catherine) is played by a young, Barbie-esque Jane Fonda. She delivers an entertaining performance, but it’s the supporting cast that carries the show.
Let’s start with our Greek chorus – comedian Stubby Kaye and the incomparable Nat King Cole. You’ll be singing their Oscar-nominated ballad long after you’ve heard it – you’ll find a YouTube link at the end of this blog.
But on with the story. Aspiring schoolmarm Catherine arrives in Wolf City, Wyoming to discover that the Wolf City Development Corporation is trying to take her father Frankie’s ranch. Frankie is being threatened by hired killer, Tim Strawn, alias Silvernose (did anybody else catch the silver beak on the hawk in Rango?) . When Catherine, her two likeable rustler buddies and an educated Indian named Jackson Two-Bears can’t stand up to Strawn, she sends for legendary gunfighter Kid Shelleen, played by Lee Marvin, who also plays Strawn.
This film is worth seeing for Lee Marvin’s Oscar-winning performance alone. As Kid Shelleen he won not only the Oscar (for which he gave 50% credit to his horse) but the Golden Globe and pretty much every known acting award on the planet. Shelleen arrives, a drunken bum whose pants fall down when he draws his gun. From the moment he rolls out of the stage boot, this is Marvin’s movie.
Strawn succeeds in killing Frankie. When the city fathers won’t punish him, Catherine becomes outlaw Cat Ballou and vows to “make Wolf City bleed.” When her gang robs the train carrying the city payroll, that promise is fulfilled. Moved by unrequited love for Cat, Shelleen cleans up his act (the scene is priceless), goes after Strawn and kills him.
Meanwhile, Cat has a showdown with the head of the Wolf City Development Corporation and ends up shooting him. Arrested, she’s sentenced to hang, which leads up a rip-roaring final action scene. If you haven’t seen CAT BALLOU, you’ve missed out. If you have, it’s worth a second look for old times’ sake.
Here’s the link to the song. Enjoy.