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Cat Ballou

Cat Ballou is a 1965 comedy-western film which tells the story of a woman who hires a famous gunman to avenge her father's murder, but finds that the man she hires isn't what she expected. The movie stars Jane Fonda, Lee Marvin (in his Oscar-winning dual role), Michael Callan, Dwayne Hickman, Nat King Cole, and Stubby Kaye.

The screenplay was adapted by Walter Newman and Frank Pierson from the novel by Roy Chanslor. The film was directed by Elliot Silverstein. The novel was originally a serious Western, but was turned into a comedy for the movie.


Catherine Ballou, an aspiring schoolteacher, is traveling by train to Wolf City, Wyoming, to visit her rancher father, Frankie Ballou. En route she unwittingly helps accused cattle rustler Clay Boone elude his captor, the sheriff, when Boone's Uncle Jed, a drunkard disguised as a preacher, distracts the lawman. She reaches the ranch to find that the Wolf City Development Corporation is trying to take away the ranch from her father, whose only defender is an educated Indian, Jackson Two-Bears. Clay and Jed appear and reluctantly offer to help Catherine. She also wires legendary gunfighter Kid Shelleen to come and help protect her father from fast-drawing Tim Strawn, alias Silvernose, the hired killer who is threatening Frankie. Shelleen arrives, a drunken stumblebum who is literally unable to hit the side of a barn when he shoots and whose pants fall down when he draws his gun. Strawn kills Frankie, but the townspeople refuse to bring him to justice, and Catherine becomes a revenge-seeking outlaw known as Cat Ballou. She and her four associates rob a train carrying the Wolf City payroll, and Shelleen, inspired by his love for Cat (unrequited because she loves Clay), shapes up and kills Strawn. Later he casually admits that Strawn was his brother. Cat poses as a prostitute and confronts town boss Sir Harry Percival, owner of the Wolf City Development Corporation. A struggle ensues; Harry is killed; and Cat is sentenced to be hanged on the gallows. Just after the noose is placed around her neck, Uncle Jed (again as a fake preacher) cuts the rope as she falls through the trapdoor. Her gang then spirits her away in a daring rescue.



Awards and honors

Awards won

  • 1965 Best Actor in a Leading Role - Marvin
  • 1965 British Academy Award Winner for Best Actor - Marvin
  • 1965 Golden Globe Award Winner for Best Actor - Marvin
  • Winner of the Best Actor Prize at the 1965 Berlin Film Festival - Lee Marvin



In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Cat Ballou was acknowledged as the tenth best film in the western genre.


Nat King Cole died of lung cancer several months before the film was released. He started showing symptoms of the disease on the film.

Among many others, Kirk Douglas turned down the role of Shelleen; ironically, many years later he would play a similar double role in The Man from Snowy River. Jack Palance desperately wanted the role but was never offered it.

Ann-Margret was first choice for the title role but turned it down.

At his acceptance at the Oscars, Lee Marvin opened by saying, "Half of this Oscar belongs to a horse someplace out in the valley".

In the film's beginning, the Columbia Pictures "Torch Lady" did a quick-change into a cartoon Cat Ballou, who drew and fired her sixguns into the air.


  • Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye, who sing and play the banjo in the beginning of the film, are quite obviously not playing their instruments.
  • Kid Shelleen mistakenly sings "Happy Birthday To You" when he sees the candles Frankie Ballou's coffin. The tune was published as a kindergarten song "Good Morning To All" in 1893 (the movie takes place in 1894), but it's doubtful the song would have spread to the wild West within a year; but, more importantly, the "Happy Birthday to You" lyrics didn't appear until 1924.
  • There is a scene later in the movie in which Lee Marvin is shooting objects thrown into the air (the second time). If one pays attention to the background, right after he shoots a stick, it is possible to see a small plane in the sky.


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