Cat Ballou is the name of this movie and the name of Jane Fonda’s character, a schoolmarm she plays straight. Her straight acting is necessary as she strikes the perfect counterbalance for most of the other main characters, who are provided comedic roles. Lee Marvin, who’s given the chance to overact in not one but two roles, gets most of the laughs. Historically, the gimmick of a double role, while interesting, doesn’t enhance a movie very much. But that isn’t the case in Cat Ballou. Had the writers decided to write the movie as a straight-up traditional Western, the gimmick would have been stale and lonely in its presentation. But they gave up on making Cat Ballou a classic Western and instead decided to make a Western that parodies Westerns. And that is why Lee Marvin was given full rein to be as broad as he wanted. Few actors get this chance. Marvin was deeply familiar with Westerns. He knew which subtle quirks would poke at audiences’ experience of Westerns. As a result, filled theaters roared each time Marvin hiked up his belt. Cat Ballou became the breakaway hit of 1965 and audiences ate up Marvin’s performance as he walked away with the picture. Not that Cat Ballou is a particularly tight picture. One of the plot holes is Cat Ballou herself. Fonda is introduced as a rancher’s daughter returning home from boarding school where she’s learned to be a schoolmarm. But the town takes little to no notice of a returning citizen, let alone the arrival of a new teacher. In fact, Fonda never steps foot in a schoolhouse. The schoolmarm is there because there’s usually a schoolmarm in Westerns. Just like there are usually horses, fancy shooting, sheriffs, trains, and other trappings. The story’s inconsistencies are overlooked because the movie doesn’t take itself, nor the genre it parodies, seriously.
Received one Academy Award out of five nominations.