A satirical treatment of the western drama, Cat Ballou was a hit with critics and moviegoers alike, upon its release in 1965. Lee Marvin won a Best Actor Oscar for his dual role as gunfighter Tim Strawn and the boozing Kid Shelleen. Based on a novel by Roy Chanslor, The Ballad of Cat Ballou, Chanslor’s story had been a serious one. However, the film’s producer Harold Hecht, suggested the material be reworked as a western satire.
Shy schoolteacher Catherine “Cat” Ballou (Jane Fonda) is returning to her home town and her father’s ranch. Once there, she’s shocked to find the ranch has gone to seed, with only an Indian, Jackson Two-Bears (Tom Nardini), around as a ranch hand. Further, her father Frank (John Marley), has been being threatened. If he doesn’t sell his ranch to the Wolf City Development Corporation. Frank is almost immediately gunned down by the sadistic Tim Strawn (Lee Marvin), a gunslinger dressed in black and sporting a metal nose (the original was “bitten off” during a fight). Determined to get revenge, Cat hires legendary gunfighter Kid Shelleen (also played by Marvin), who ends up being a drunk, who can’t hit the side of a barn unless he’s liquored up.
Cat Ballou opens with Stubby Kaye and Nat King Cole singing the title song, “The Ballad of Cat Ballou.” This sets the tone for the film, which stays decidedly lighthearted. The film never takes itself too seriously and the actors involved have a great time hamming it up. Jane Fond is both sweet and strong in the lead role. She proves herself more than capable of keeping up with the men in the cast and her banter with Lee Marvin’s Kid Shelleen is both humorous and charming. That said, though envisioned as a star making vehicle for Jane Fonda, Cat Ballou is really Lee Marvin’s film and he deserved his Oscar. He steels nearly every scene he’s in. one of the funniest moments comes when Shelleen, during a quiet moment after Cat’s father is killed, is asked “do you know what’s going on?” Spotting some lit candles, he starts singing happy birthday!
The rest of the supporting cast is impressive and keeps things moving very well. John Marley makes for a gruff yet goofy patriarch. Tom Nardini plays Jackson Two-Bears, an educated, of exasperated, yet loyal Indian who works on Frank Ballou’s ranch. Dwayne Hickman and Michael Callen are amusing as somewhat clueless cattle rustlers. Finally, as a Nat King Cole fan, it’s cool to see him saunter across the screen singing. Sadly, Cole died before the film premiered.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer looks very good. The colorful landscapes and dusty towns look surprisingly vibrant and realistic. Colors pop off the screen and black levels appear inky. I noticed just a couple of small scratches on the print, but it’s nothing that can be considered problematic. Overall, Twilight Time has offered up a fine transfer for a film just past its fiftieth birthday.
The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround in English, as well as DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo in English. This 5.1 mix gets the biggest boost during the songs and Frank De Vol’s catchy score. There are some well-placed directional effects as well, making for an enjoyable listening experience. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout.
English subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Actors Michael Callan and Dwayne Hickman: The two actors provide a fun, easy-going track, discussing their memories of making the film and providing some behind-the-scenes stories.
- Audio Commentary with Film Historians Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer, and Paul Scrabo: These two educators look at the film from a more historical perspective, discussing its themes and its impact on the western genre, the actors and more.
- Lee and Pamela: A Romance (HD, 34:08) In this profile recorded in 2007, Lee Marvin’s widow Pamela discusses his career and their life together.
- The Legend of Cat Ballou (SD, 12:36) An archival interview with director Elliot Silverstein on making the film.
- Theatrical Trailer (HD, 3:30)
- Six-Page Booklet: contains movie stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s essay on the film.
There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested should go to www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via their website at www.twilighttimemovies.com or via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.