Cat Ballou, film review, screen shots, pictures
Cat Ballou—western comedy with a stellar cast.

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Back in 1965, Cat Ballou presented a hilarious spin on the typical western. The most enjoyable part of this movie, in my view, is the chemistry between all the main characters. You get the feeling that this is a group that you'd like to hang out with, were you living in Wyoming in the 1890s!

Cat Ballou - Jane Fonda, John Marley  Dwayne Hickman, Michael Callan - Cat BallouTom Nardini - Jackson - Cat Ballou  Jane Fonda, Michael Callan - 'Cat Ballou'
L-R, top to bottom: Cat and her dad (John Marley, Jane Fonda), Uncle Jed and his nephew Clay (Dwayne Hickman and Michael Callan), Jackson Two-Bears (Tom Nardini) confronts some racist bullies, Cat (Jane Fonda) is put in a compromising position by the "sex maniac" Clay (Michael Callan).

A great group of characters: The cast of characters include Catherine (Cat) Ballou, a respectable young schoolmarm-to-be, fresh out of school. Her dad (John Marley) has been having troubles with his ranch—a big company wants to force him off of his land, and is threatening his life. Mr. Ballou's only employee is the loyal Jackson, a Native American (American Indian) youth who has a faintly winsome, sweet way about him. Two misfit petty criminals (lecherous Clay and his Uncle Jed—both who seem to be of similar age) and the drunken Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin) are called upon by Cat to help protect her dad and the ranch.

Jane Fonda, Kid Shelleen booklet, Cat Ballou  clay handcuffs - Michael Callan
Dwayne Hickman - not inflict myself upon you further  Leering Clay - Michael Callan
L-R, top to bottom: Cat (Jane Fonda) is caught reading a pulp novel about the famous Kid Shelleen, Clay (Michael Callan) shamelessly reveals his handcuffs, a drunken Uncle Jed (Dwayne Hickman) promises Cat, "I won't inflict myself upon you further." Clay leers at Cat's backside as she walks away.

Hilarity and teamwork: The fun in this movie starts early, when sheltered and proper Catherine Ballou meets the two petty criminals (Clay and his uncle) who stage a daring escape on a train. These two are a hilarious pair. In the DVD commentary, actors Dwayne Hickman and Michael Callan interact with each other in a similarly humorous manner—it's obvious that they had a good working relationship while shooting the film. Uncle Jed (Hickman) is likeable, laid-back and full of malarkey, while his nephew Clay (Callan) is a shameless lecher and self-proclaimed coward. But they offer to help out Cat in her hour of need—though they are still (as Cat says) pretty "useless."

Tom Nardini, Michael Callan, Dwayne Hickman  cross legged horse Cat Balluw
Lee Marvin, from 'Cat Ballou'  Silver nose - Lee Marvin 'Cat Ballou'
L-R, top to bottom: Clay, Uncle and Jackson (Callan, Hickman and Nardini), Kid (Lee Marvin), fallen off the wagon, relaxes on a cross-legged horse. A drunk Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin), and silver-nosed evil gunslinger (also Lee Marvin).

Lee Marvin won an Oscar for his dual role as the desperate drunk Kid Shelleen and evil hired killer Tim Strawn. The dialog was written with sharp wit and brilliance, and Marvin delivered it with perfection. Marvin is absolutely outstanding at playing a drunk, and watching his performance is a joy. But I have to admit that the sweet character of Jackson Two-Bears (played by Tom Nardini) has become one of my favorites in the film. Jackson is far more than a mere stereotype of the "noble savage"—he's just a misplaced young man, yearning for acceptance and to be part of the "winning side" for a change. He is perceptive, thoughtful and loyal, but careful about revealing his true feelings.

Jane Fonda - Cat Ballou  Clay - Michael Callan - lecher  Tom Nardini, Jane Fonda, Dwayne Hickman, Michael Callan, Lee Marvin
L-R, top to bottom: An alarmed Cat (Jane Fonda) tries to get help from the ever-amorous Clay (Michael Callan). Cat has a sweet friendship with Jackson (Tom Nardini) who secretly (or not so secretly) has feelings for her. The whole gang (Nardini, Fonda, Hickman, Callan, Marvin).

The men who love Cat Ballou: Even though romance isn't the only driving force in the movie, there's plenty of love directed at Cat. The most obvious is the immediate attraction she has with Clay (Michael Callan), who always seems to have sex on his mind—even during life-threatening situations. We also see a warm friendship grow between her and Native American Jackson Two-Bears (Tom Nardini). He knows that (due to the social climate of the time) that he really doesn't have a chance with her, but he can't help but care for her anyway. Even the aging Kid Shelleen has his own romantic notions.

Arthur Hunnicut - Butch Cassidy - 'Cat Ballou'  Jane Fonda
Lee Marvin, Tom Nardini  cat ballou - callan, hickman, fonda
L-R, top to bottom: Arthur Hunnicut plays an aging Butch Cassidy, Cat (Jane Fonda) awaits her fate in jail, Jackson (Tom Nardini) helps dress Kid (Marvin), and Uncle, Cat and Clay (Hickman, Fonda and Callan) rob a train.

The life of crime: The story takes our gang to many places—they rest at the "Hole in the Wall" (hideaway for outlaws) where they meet an elderly Butch Cassidy. There's also a train robbing spree, undertaken to hit back at the villains who took so much from Cat and her father.

Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye  Marvin, Callan, Fonda
drunken kid - lee marvin  
L-R, top to bottom: The "minstrels" who sing the "Ballad of Cat Ballou" throughout the movie (Nat 'King' Cole and Stubby Kaye). Kid, Clay and Cat have an important discussion. Kid tries to prove to the whole gang that he's still got what it takes. Some beautiful scenery from the film (which is supposed to take place in Wyoming).

Musical Elements: Throughout the film (and one of the things that ties it together) are the two minstrels (Nat 'King' Cole and Stubby Kaye) who tell Cat's story in song. This film can be considered a "musical" of sorts since the songs are an integral (and very enjoyable) part of the movie.

Jane Fonda, 'Cat Ballou'  Michael Calln
L-R: Cat (Jane Fonda) is introduced in a disguise. Clay (Michael Callan) worries about things getting "too serious."

Contemporary humor—yet retaining a '60s touch: Maybe it was just me, but I felt a "misunderstood youth" '60s feel to this movie. It wasn't overbearingly political (as some '60s "youth" films are), but instead was very touching. These were all lost souls in some way, who banded together and looked out for each other. It's not exactly a new theme, or exclusively '60s, but it has that flavor to it (and how could it not? It was made in 1965!).

In spite of the occasional '60s feel, though, the humor and witty dialog in this movie are still fresh—have not grown stale over the years. This is a very funny movie which will entertain and enchant contemporary audiences.

A word about Jane Fonda: Don't allow Jane Fonda's controversial political history to influence your appreciation of this film—she's undeniably lovely as Catherine, and Lee Marvin's absolutely brilliant performance (along with great supporting roles from Callan, Hickman, Nardini and Marley) should not be missed for anything!

Cat Ballou DVDCat Ballou on DVD

This DVD is definitely worth getting. It's two-sided—one side is fullscreen, the other is widescreen (letterbox). I always favor the letterbox version, and I thought the picture looked very sharp and clear. The DVD extras include (as I mention before) a commentary with Michael Callan and Dwayne Hickman, which is pretty hilarious in its own right. These two guys are not too unlike their film characters. Hickman (who played the "nice guy" Uncle) talks affably about his web site where he sells his own artwork. Callan (who played loverboy Clay) repeatedly mentions (and with some disappointment) how Jane Fonda was always accompanied on the set by her boyfriend "Vadim" (Roger Vadim). It seems as if Callan had romantic thoughts about Fonda offscreen, as well as on! The way these two guys banter back and forth, chat, reminisce—it's a must-see (or must-hear, as the case may be!). There is also a short film about the making of Cat Ballou (which features the film's director), movie trailers, and actor bios.

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