Welcome to today’s show, Cat Ballou (1965), my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts. Remember this show is completely free and independent. All I ask is that you jump over to iTunes and give me a review.
Today’s movie is Cat Ballou (1965) a wonderful comedy western staring Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin.
Lee Marvin plays two roles, that of gunfighters Kid Shelleen and Tim Strawn. Marvin won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Marvin was covered in Episode 66 – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
Jane Fonda played the title role of Cat Ballou. Fonda was born in New York, I’m seeing a trend. He father was famous actor Henry Fonda who we mentioned in Episode 31 – Warlock (1959) and her brother was Peter Fonda of Easy Ride (1969). She slowly became interested in acting and studied under Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. Her first film Tall Story (1960). She had a decent career and made starred in many well received roles such as Klute (1971), Coming Home (1978), They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), Julia (1977), The China Syndrome (1979), The Morning After (1986) and On Golden Pond (1981). She also made some real stinkers like Barbarella (1968).
In 1972, Fonda traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam and posed on the communist anti-aircraft guns to protest America’s involvement in the war. Forty-four years later a generation of Vietnam War veterans are still pissed at her and only refer to her as “Hanoi Jane.”
Michael Callan played the role of outlaw Clay Boone. Born in Philadelphia he trained to be the next Gene Kelly. While he was successful on Broadway he lost the role of Riff in Westside Story to Russ Tamblyn.
Callan’s first film role was in the great movie They Came to Cordura (1959). This movie featured an older Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth. They were both amazing as the subject of what makes a man a hero is examined. However Callan was more believable as a womanizing playboy in films like The Flying Fontaines (1959), Because They’re Young (1960), 13 West Street (1962) Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961), Bon Voyage! (1962), The Interns (1962), and The New Interns (1964). He made other genera of movies including a war film, The Victors (1963) and Jules Verne sci-fi in Mysterious Island (1961). Many critics and film watchers feel his best films were the two comedies Cat Ballou (1965), and with the great Lionel Jeffries in You Must Be Joking! (1965).
He had a short-lived television show that echoed the theme of the womanizer, “The Occasional Wife” 1966 where he pretended to be married to get ahead at work. Following this show he made the regular circuit of popular shows.
Dwayne Hickman played another outlaw named Jed. Dwayne started acting as a child but left the business. Following college, he got a role on the nephew in “The Bob Cummings Show” 1955-1959. He was later cast as the lead in “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” 1959-1963. It was hard for Hickman to escape from these roles but he tried a few movies such as Cat Ballou (1965), Ski Patrol (1965), How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965), Sergeant Dead Head (1965), and Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965). After that, he moved into mostly behind the camera work. He did return to film for A Night at the Roxbury (1998).
John Marley played Frankie Ballou, the father of Cat. He was a character actor that became popular in the mid-1960s when his hair turned white and framed his craggy face. Now I could talk about all of the films where he played mobsters and criminal but I will just jump to the scene in The Godfather (1972) where Marley made a bedroom scene with a severed horse head. Yeah, don’t mess with the Don.
Jay C. Flippen played Sheriff Cardigan. His career was very similar to that of John Marley. The more interesting his face became the more work he received. Many of his career highlights were with Jimmy Stewart in films Winchester ’73 (1950), Bend of the River (1952), Thunder Bay (1953), The Far Country (1954), Strategic Air Command (1955), The Restless Breed (1957), Night Passage (1957), and Firecreek (1968). Of course I like his wheelchair bound role in Hellfighters (1968) with John Wayne.
Dogged by illness but determined in later years, he continued his career in a wheelchair following a leg amputation. He was married for 25 years to screenwriter Ruth Brooks Flippen, whose work included a couple of Gidget movies. He died at age 72 of an aneurysm; which is a rupture of a swollen artery.
Arthur Hunnicutt played a small role as Butch Cassidy. Hunnicutt is a very lean tall actor with a huge southern accent from Arkansas. He went to Hollywood around 1949 and became a successful character actor. He is best known for his roles in Broken Arrow (1950), The Big Sky (1952), Cat Ballou (1965), and El Dorado (1966). I enjoy his performance in El Dorado (1966) where he plays a bugle blowing, arrow shooting deputy with actors John Wayne and Robert Mitchum.
The Columbia torchbearer appears on the screen and then rips her gown off to reveal she is dressed as a female gunfighter and starts shooting in every direction. Two balladeers, Professor Sam the Shade and the Sunrise Kid, are playing banjos. They sing the story that Cat Ballou (Jane Fonda) is to be hanged. They sign, it’s hanging day in Wolf City, Wyoming, Wolf City Wyoming, 1894.
The hanging gallows are prepared and tested as Cat Ballou works on her dress in the prison cell. The local temperance ladies are signing “pray Jezebel pray.”
The movie jumps back to when young Cat Ballou has just finished school and is being escorted on the train by her former teacher. Young Cat is getting a lot of attention from the men on the train so her escort finds a nice clean man for her to sit by. In fact, the man is criminal Clay Boone (Michael Callan) and he is handcuffed to Sheriff Maledon (Bruce Cabot).
The escort finds a young preacher and leaves Cat Ballou in his company. When Cat introduces herself the preacher replies “I’m drunk as a skunk.” As the conversation continues the preacher takes the book of poetry Cat is reading and inside is a book about the gunfighter Kid Shelleen and the Massacre of Whiskey Slide. The conductor takes Cat to her berth.
The preacher goes to the bathroom where the sheriff has Clay Boone handcuffed to the sink. The preacher goes through some verses but the sheriff keeps interrupting his mini-sermon. Finally, the sheriff pats the preacher down and allows him into the bathroom. When the preacher opens the Bible he has a gun and pulls it on the sheriff. Clay Boone says hello Uncle Jed (Dwayne Hickman) to the fake preacher.
After a bit of struggle they handcuff the sheriff to the pipe and gag him. The nephew and uncle head through the train and prepare to jump. Clay asks about the sheriff’s gun and finds out that Jed didn’t take it. Clay pushes Jed off the train and heads back to get the gun. When he hears the sheriff blast himself free Jed jumps in the berth with Cat.
The sheriff tells the conductor that the criminal has escaped with the help of preacher. Since Cat was sitting with the preacher they go to her berth to determine if she has seen either man. Clay whispers to Cat Ballou to not turn him in. She signals to the sheriff that she has not.
Clay spends his time trying to take advantage of Cat but she fends him off. Clay looks out and says there are people with shotguns coming down the aisle. Cat looks out, and much to Clay’s surprise there really are people with shotguns searching the berths. Clay climbs out the window, kisses her, and whoops as he jumps.
Sam and Sunrise sing about Cat coming home to Wolf City and say she would have gotten along if she just followed the rules.
Cat rides to the family ranch with her father Frank Ballou (John Marley). She ask about the missing livestock and her father says he got rid of it. Watching from the fence is a young Indian boy. Frank speaks to the Indian boy named Jackson Two-Bears (Tom Nardini) in Yiddish. Jackson explains in perfect English that he is a Sioux and not part of the lost tribes of Israel. When her father goes in the house Cat asks Jackson what’s going on. He replies that her father has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way by not selling his water rights to a big company.
When Cat goes to the back of the wagon and runs into a hired gun dressed completely in black. The killer is named Tim Strawn (Lee Marvin) and has a silver nose because his was bitten off. As the killer walks away Frank scoffs saying they should be more afraid of the men that bite the nose off.
The next day Cat, Jackson, and Frank head off to the Fall Harvest Day. At the dance, Frank dances with Cat and finally twirls her into a table where Sheriff Cardigan (Jay C. Flippen). Frankie asks why the sheriff hasn’t done anything about the manure poisoning of his well. Cat ask the same thing and gets mad when the sheriff blows her off.
Cat goes to Jackson to complain about the treatment and when she asks what to do he says they got a gunfighter you get a gunfighter. He tells her Kid Shelleen is real and they can write to him. They then join the square dance as Sam and Sunrise call. Right away a group of cowboys are mad about Cat dancing with an Indian. As she dances Cat comes face to face with Clay Boone and later Uncle Jed. She ask Clay if he has a gun and when he says yes she invites him home. Of course they both have different ideas. A fight between Jackson and the cowboys’ breaks out and the entire town joins in expect for Clay and Jed who try to sneak out without getting hit. In the morning Frankie drives the buckboard with Cat, Jackson, Clay, and Ned back to the ranch.
They put Frankie to bed on the couch and send Clay and Jed to the barn. As Cat prepares for bed Clay watches from under the cover. When she gets in bed he puts the moves on her but is sternly rebuffed. She tells about the problem and Clay says hire a gunfighter. As they talk Jed comes to the window and Cat asks him to help. They agree to stay but admit they have never shot a man and don’t want it trouble. In despair Cat sees the Kid Shelleen novel and sits down to write a letter asking for his help.
Sometime later Cat and Jackson wait for the stage while Sam and Sunrise sing about the killer that is arriving. They watch the passengers get out but no Kid Shelleen. The stage drivers open the back luggage compartment out falls they passed out drunk, rag wear, un-kept Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin). They load him in the buckboard and head for the ranch.
After the Kid sobers up for a couple of hours, Frankie hangs a slate on the barn to see what Cat got for the $50 she sent Shelleen. It turns out that the Kid doesn’t have a gun because he hocked it for booze. Clay gives him a gun and the Kid fires at the target missing the whole barn and hitting the weather vane. They give him some whiskey and he shots the target and some cans. He throws the bottle up and when he draws he rips his pants off. Even though everyone is disappointed the Kid says he will stay and earn the money he has been paid. As the Kid and Jackson head to the barn the Kid seems shocked to learn that he is facing Tim Strawn.
Cat asks Jackson, Jed, and Clay to keep an eye on her father. They follow him around like the Three Stooges trying to get through a door. Outside he tells them that Cat see things like her mother use to see moon men coming down the walls at night. He faces the four cardinal directions saying there is no one here to harm him. Just then a shot rings out and he falls dead. Tim Strawn holds his rifle on the other three and makes them drop their gun belts before he rides away. Cat follows him into town and accuses him of murder. The sheriff and his crew provide the alibi for Strawn. Cat grabs a gun and fires some wild shots. She vows that they will never make her cry.
The quartet heads back as Sam and Sundown sing about how cold Cat’s heart is becoming.
When the group gets back to the farm undertakers have already prepared Frankie and there are signs that the property belongs to the Wolf County Development Corp. They says that she has to leave the property by morning and she says she will but Wolf City will pay a price. Jed and Clay decide that Cat can go with them to the Hole-in-the-Wall legendary hideout of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. About this time the Kid busts in and says he is ready to defend Frankie. They point out the candles on the casket and the Kid sings happy birthday before blowing them out.
The five outcasts head out, four on a horse, and the Kid being dragged on a travois, the two polled sleds that the plains Indians used to haul loads behind a single horse. Jackson feeds him liquor and Sam and Sundown sings about Cat’s revenge.
When they get to the Hole-in-the-Wall it is more like a family town but the men all have their guns at ready. When they stop outside the saloon the Kid sniffs and wakes up. When the Kid gets in the bar he sees his old friend Butch Cassidy (Arthur Hunnicutt). They commiserate about the past and how their time is over. He still won’t give the Kid a free drink.
The boys talk about becoming cattle rustlers again while the Kid tries to get a drink. Cat reads the paper and decides she wants to rob the Wolf City train. The gang doesn’t want to go along but Cat pitches a fit and they agree to help. The Kid is somewhat motivated because they will use the plan out of his book.
Jed is riding on the train and go back to where an Englishman is taking a bath. Jed says he is looking for the baggage car. The then climbs onto the roof and disconnects the locomotive. Cat is in the baggage car crying over a coffin to keep the train staff from hearing the footsteps. Jackson and the Kid ride own with the spare horses. Clay pops out of the coffin. The train employee refuses to open the safe until the Kid shoots his hat off. It seems that there is over $50,000 in the safe.
They agree to ride out separately and meet back at the Hole-in-the-Wall. Cat rides out and Clay follows her and Jed follows him. The Kid finishes his whiskey and half falls off his horse as he rides in the other direction followed by Jackson.
Sam and Sundown sing about how cool Cat is as she goes on her robbing spree. The train stops at the town and the sheriff forms a posse. In high speed they chase the Kid and Jackson, splitting up and sometimes exchanging leads with posse. Finally the Kid and Jackson make it back to the Hole-in-the-Wall. The others have not made it back and when they do the Kid gets jealous of Cat’s time. When Butch Cassidy finds out that the money is from the Wolf City Development he fears that the town will turn on the Hole-in-the-Wall.
Cat goes outside because the gang is fighting. Clay followers her and tries to get her to leave with him for St. Louis. When Cat says she is in love, Clay backs away and leaves. Jackson comes out and promises to stay with Cat before he walks away also.
When Cat is along Tim Strawn rides up and tells her that Sir Harry wants his money back and if she was a man he would kill her. As he rides away Cat screams and the others come running. Jed and Jackson console Cat but the Kid just stares as Strawn rides away. The kid sends Jackson to retrieve his valise. The Kid then tells Cat everything will be okay.
They then go into one of the greatest training montages in film history. The Kid starts with sit-ups, practice draws, and can and bottle killing. He does this all without a drink. He bathes and shaves before Jackson helps him lace his girdle. The Kid dresses in his black and silver Kid Shelleen outfit complete with silk scarfs. His matching guns are also in the case. Finally, Jackson put the Kid’s hat on like a matador ready to face a bull.
Sam and Sunshine are singing at the brothel when Kid Shelleen shows up to face Strawn. The Kid opens a door and woman screams, he opens a second and another woman screams, he opens the third and a man screams. He backs up and takes a second look for locating Strawn behind the fourth door. Strawn ask him what he wants but the Kid remains silent. Finally the Kid says he can’t do it and turns away. Strawn draws and the Kid fires back.
The door opens where Cat is and Strawn enters with his silver nose but it’s really Kid Shelleen having killed Strawn. The Kid is flying high and he reveals that Strawn was his brother. As the Kid starts to talk about him and Cat, Clay burst in and says half of wolf city is after them.
The Kid slowly realizes that Cat doesn’t love him. The Kid hits Clay, then Jed hits Clay, then Jackson hits Clay. When Clay asks why Jackson hit him, Jackson says he has the right to participate regardless of race, creed, or color. Cat rides away while the men fight.
Cat comes to Harry Percival’s private train car. When Percival dims the lights Cat pulls a gun on him. She then says she is Catherine Ballou, Frankie’s daughter. She demands he sign a confession. He dives for the gun and he is shot and killed.
We are now back to where we started with Cat working on her dress in the cell. The sheriff happily announces it is time to be hanged. Without Percival the town has no jobs. Just when it seems like the end is near Cat hears Jed preacher. Jackson is dressed like an undertaker. He goes to find the Kid in the alley. The Kid and his horse have fallen off the wagon. The horse has his legs crossed and is leaning against the wall as the Kid sleeps in the saddle leaning against the same wall.
Cat walks through the jeering town folks and they places the noose around her neck. Clay is hiding in the coffin in the hearse below. When they drop the floor, Jed pulls a straight razor from the Bible and cuts the ropes. Cat falls into the arms of Clay and Jed jumps down onto the hearse. As they speed away the Kid and his drunk horse ride out to provide cover. He is so drunk and falling off his horse that his shots go wild bring down a banner and stampeding a beer wagon. Between the beer and banner the pursuers are stopped.
Sam and Sunrise sing that where Cat rode off to is a mystery, but that she’s made history, and that her legend continues to grow.
The hearse rides across the plains with Cat and Clay kissing in the back, Jackson and Jed up top driving with the Kid halfway off his horse following along. Sam and Sunrise sing about Cat becoming a mystery.
Notes. The horse trainer didn’t think he could train the horse to cross its’ legs. After training with sugar cube for less than an hour the horse got it. Lee Marvin when he received his Oscar for this film thanked the horse.
World-Famous Short Summary – Girl chooses between three men
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Beware the moors