Cat Ballou (1965)

Cat Ballou (1965), directed by Elliot Silverstein.

This was often on TV when I was young. I hadn't seen it for decades but somehow remembered all the lines.

It's called an early Western spoof, but is that quite right? It is a comedy in a Western setting, but doesn't really spoof the genre, as say Blazing Saddles (1974) tries to do.

It's wholesome PG fun if you don't mind the comedy of drunkenness. Most of the cast play it all very lightly, with the exception of Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin, who dig for deeper pathos. Note the exchange of glances when Kid Shelleen is shown to be a total derelict ("He did it! He missed the barn!") and she says "Daddy, I didn't know he was a drunk". He turns to look at her and she lowers her eyes in shame:

Unexpectedly, Marvin won the Academy Award for Best Actor that year, thanking his horse (and no one else). Further, they say Rod Steiger expected to win for The Pawnbroker (1964) and was sitting in his car crying when Marvin came by and waved the statue at him.

Another story: Michael Callan and Dwayne Hickman drove him to the airport when he was drunk. He had a bag of guns and was shooting them out the window. He filmed a scene later that day.

You know what? He is really great throughout.

Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye are the Greek chorus and balladeers, inflating the events into myth even as they occur. They are inserted nicely into the story, as when playing piano in the bordello.

Cole was sick during production and died of lung cancer before the film was released.

Many well-loved faces: John Marley, Jay C. Flippen, Arthur Hunnicutt (playing Butch Cassidy in retirement!), Bruce Cabot, Reginald Denny, Burt Mustin.

The producer wanted Ann-Margret for the lead. Her manager didn't tell her and she fired him.

Score by Frank De Vol with songs by Mack David and Jerry Livingston. It's been days and I still can't get "The Ballad of Cat Ballou" out of my head.

The thumbnails are from the Twilight Time Blu-ray. Two commentary tracks: Michael Callan and Dwayne Hickman with a lot of funny stories, and a more recent panel of film historians.