Cat Ballou [1965]

Long before Unforgiven deconstructed the Western, or Blazing Saddles lampooned it, Cat Ballou poked the genre in the eye. An altogether enjoyable comedy, the film is full of small surprises, big laughs, and wonderful character turns. Catherine Ballou (Jane Fonda) is a schoolteacher until a hired thug kills her daddy. To protect what she loves, she collects two petty criminals, a wisecracking hired hand, and a hired killer, Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin). Unfortunately, Shelleen is a raging drunk who is so inebriated and unsteady with a gun he literally misses the broad side of a barn. However, Cat, has, as they used to say in those days, a mind of her own, and she masterminds a spectacular train heist that puts them all on the lam. Marvin won an Academy Award for his role as the derelict Shelleen, and his performances (he actually has two) are still topnotch and on target. The framing device, two wandering minstrels, played by Stubby Kaye and Nat "King" Cole, are the maraschino cherries on the top of this Wild West confection. --Keith Simanton

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