>> Thursday, January 25, 2007
USA/C-97 m./Dir: Elliot Silverstein/Wr: Walter Newman & Frank R. Pierson/Cast: Jane Fonda (Catherine Ballou), Lee Marvin (Kid Shelleen), Michael Callan (Clay Boone), Dwayne Hickman (Jed), Tom Nardini (Jackson)
From the silent features of William S. Hart to HBO’s small-screen masterpiece, Deadwood, liquor has played an essential role in Western storytelling. Nearly every oater has showcased booze in some capacity, but the Western comedy, Cat Ballou, may take the prize as the most bleary-eyed thanks to Lee Marvin’s Oscar-winning turn as the alky gunslinger, Kid Shelleen.
Town troubadours Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye relay the story of Catherine Ballou (Jane Fonda), an inexperienced schoolteacher who turns outlaw when corrupt local authorities try to force her father off his land. Needing professional guns, Cat sends for Shelleen, not knowing that the celebrated gunman has become a sloppy drunk. With the aid of the sagebrush souse, Cat soon finds herself in the hands of the law with a noose around her neck.
Cat Ballou features plenty of whiskey-soaked mayhem, from drunken horseback riding, to unfocused gunplay (“He did it! He missed the barn!”), to the memorable image of the hung-over Shelleen slouched in his saddle atop a woozy, cross-legged horse. The ingredients of six-guns, slapstick, and song blend together to form a pleasant cocktail that, while light and unsophisticated, goes down smoothly.
Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, bad breath, staggering, passing out, harmonizing, drunk horseback riding, bravado, public disturbance, destruction of property, physical violence, and hangover
Potent Quotables--JACKSON: Look at your eyes.
SHELLEEN: What’s wrong with my eyes?
JACKSON: They’re red… bloodshot.
SHELLEEN: You ought to see ‘em from my side.
Video Availability--Cat Ballou DVD (columbia/Tri-Star)
Similarly Sauced Cinema--The genres of Western and comedy were most memorably merged in Blazing Saddles (1974), featuring Gene Wilder as the Waco Kid, the gunfighter with the shakiest gun hand in movie history.