Jane Fonda and Michael Callan in Cat Ballou (1965)

The Ballad of Cat Ballou

"Cat Ballou" only last 97 minutes but if it only lasted 45 I would be giving it a maximum rating rather than just an average one. Why, well to put it simply the first half which is basically all about introducing us to the characters is where it is at its funniest best. But then once we have had the humour of Lee Marvin not only playing the metal nosed Tim Strawn but also the drunken gunfighter Kid Shelleen it loses momentum as ironically it focuses on the story. It's still not terrible but after such a sharp and funny first half it is hard not to be under whelmed by the second half which has one or two truly funny scenes.

Having graduated from school Cat Ballou (Jane Fonda - Monster-in-Law) returns home to find the family farm under threat from corrupt businessmen and the law who want her father Frankie (John Marley) to sell up. With the town having hired the metal nosed Tim Strawn (Lee Marvin - Donovan's Reef) to try and scare them off Cat first turns to criminal double act Clay and Jed (Michael Callan and Dwayne Hickman) and then also pays for gunfighter Kid Shelleen(Lee Marvin) to come and help them, except it turns out that Kid is a drunk who unless he has a drink in him is useless and too much well he is just as useless. When Cat's father is murdered she refuses to back down and vows to have her revenge.

Lee Marvin as Kid Shelleen in Cat Ballou (1965)

Right from the start "Cat Ballou" grabs your attention and makes you laugh with the Columbia Torch Lady becoming a cartoon cow girl. And if that wasn't enough we then get Stubby Kaye and Nat 'King' Cole giving us the first of many chorus's from "The Ballad of Cat Ballou" a great comedy ballad so brilliantly delivered. And it doesn't stop there because the first half is all about introductions as we meet Cat, Clay, Jed and Cat's father Frankie all of which deliver plenty of humour.

But the highlight of this first half, in fact the highlight of "Cat Ballou" is when we meet Lee Marvin and his two characters. There is a split second of shock when we first encounter Tim Strawn with his strap on metal nose but then you get the huge laughs when we meet Kid Shelleen a hired gun who is a total drunk. Marvin's delivery of Shelleen be it when he shows of how good he is with a gun, well once he has a drink inside him, or when he mistakes candles around a coffin as a birthday candles is pure comedy gold.

Unfortunately the second half just can't live up to the fun of the first half as an actual storyline becomes the focus and unfortunately the story of Cat and her friends robbing a train and dealing with the dodgy businessmen and law in Wolf City is pretty dull. We still get some fun scenes which pep this up and typically these come from Lee Marvin who when you see him sitting drunk on a horse which is leaning up against a wall with its legs crossed you can't but help laugh. But these real funny moments are short on the ground and it does feel like the writers loaded the first half with all the best gags and then ran out for the second half.

Now whilst Jane Fonda plays Cat Ballou and does a fine job as do Michael Callan as Clay Boone and Dwayne Hickman who plays Uncle Jed "Cat Ballou" really belongs to Lee Marvin. It is Lee Marvin who constantly makes us laugh with his drunken comedy and even when he isn't slumping over or struggling to stand up just a look can make you laugh. And to be honest Stubby Kaye and Nat 'King' Cole steal many a scene as their double act as a couple of balladeers is just as much fun and the song writing team deserve credit for coming up with such a witty song.

What this all boils down to is that "Cat Ballou" for 45 minutes is a hugely entertaining comedy western but sadly can't maintain the same level of hilarity for the whole movie. But even when the second half of the movie suffers there is still Lee Marvin who simply steals the movie from everyone with his wonderful comedic performance of a drunken gun fighter.