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Cat Ballou is a 1965 comedy Western musical film starring Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin, who won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his dual role. The story involves a woman who hires a notorious gunman to protect her father's ranch, and later to avenge his murder, but finds that the gunman is not what she expected. The supporting cast features Michael Callan, Dwayne Hickman, and singers Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye, who together perform the movie's theme song.

Cat Ballou
Cat Ballou Poster.jpeg
theatrical release poster
Directed by Elliot Silverstein
Produced by Harold Hecht
Written by Walter Newman
Frank Pierson
Based on The Ballad of Cat Ballou (novel)
by Roy Chanslor
Starring Jane Fonda
Lee Marvin
Michael Callan
Dwayne Hickman
Nat King Cole
Stubby Kaye
Music by Frank De Vol (score)
Mack David (songs)
Jerry Livingston (songs)
Cinematography Jack A. Marta
Edited by Charles Nelson
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
June 24, 1965 (US)
Running time
97 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $20,666,667[1][2]

The film was directed by Elliot Silverstein from a screenplay by Walter Newman and Frank Pierson from the novel The Ballad of Cat Ballou by Roy Chanslor. Chanslor's novel was a serious Western, and though it was turned into a comedy for the movie, the filmmakers retained some darker elements. The film references many classic Western films, notably Shane.



Catherine Ballou (Jane Fonda), who wants to be a schoolteacher, is returning home by train to Wolf City, Wyoming, to the ranch of her father, Frankie Ballou (John Marley). On the way, she unwittingly helps accused cattle rustler Clay Boone (Michael Callan) elude his captor, Sheriff Maledon (Bruce Cabot), when Boone's Uncle Jed (Dwayne Hickman), a drunkard disguised as a preacher, distracts the lawman.

At the ranch, she learns that the Wolf City Development Corporation is scheming to take the ranch from her father, whose sole defender is his ranch hand, an educated Native American, Jackson Two-Bears (Tom Nardini). Clay and Jed appear and reluctantly offer to help Catherine, and she hires legendary gunfighter Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin) to help protect her father from gunslinger Tim Strawn (also played by Lee Marvin), the hired killer who is threatening him.

Shelleen arrives, a drunken bum whose pants fall down when he draws his gun, and who is unable to hit a barn when he shoots. Strawn kills Frankie, and when the townspeople refuse to bring Strawn to justice, Catherine becomes a revenge-seeking outlaw known as Cat Ballou. She and her gang rob a train carrying the Wolf City payroll, then take refuge in "Hole-in-the-Wall", where desperados go to hide from the law, but are thrown out when it is learned what they have done, since Hole-in-the-Wall can only continue to exist on the sufferance of Wolf City. Shelleen, inspired by his love for Cat, works himself into shape, dresses up in his finest gunfighting outfit, and goes into town to kill Strawn, casually revealing later that Strawn is his brother. In a humorous scene, Shelleen enters the funeral parlor where Frankie's body is resting, and sings "Happy Birthday" before blowing out the candles.

Cat poses as a prostitute and confronts Sir Harry Percival (Reginald Denny), the head of the Wolf City Development Corporation. A struggle ensues, Sir Harry is killed, and Cat is sentenced to be hanged on the gallows. With Sir Harry dead, there's no hope for Wolf City's future, and the townspeople have no mercy for Cat. As the noose is placed around her neck, Uncle Jed appears, again dressed as a preacher, and cuts the rope just as the trapdoor is opened. Cat falls through and onto a wagon and her gang spirits her away in a daring rescue.


Cast notes

  • Cole and Kaye are billed simply as "Shouters". They act as a Greek chorus, intermittently narrating the story through verses of "The Ballad of Cat Ballou", which, along with other songs in the film, was written by Mack David and Jerry Livingston.[3]


  • The film was director Elliot Silverstein's second feature film, and his relationship with producer Harold Hecht while filming was not smooth.[2]
  • Ann-Margret was the first choice for the title role but her manager turned it down without letting the actress know. Ann-Margret wrote in her autobiography that she would have wanted the part.[4]
  • Among others, Kirk Douglas allegedly turned down the role of Shelleen.[2] Ironically, years later he would play a similar double role in The Man from Snowy River.
  • Nat King Cole was ill with lung cancer during the filming of Cat Ballou. A chain smoker, Cole died four months before the film was released.
  • The film was shot in 28 days.[5]
  • Noted make-up artist John Chambers created the prosthetic nose worn by Lee Marvin as Strawn in the film.[6]
  • A former Great Western Railway of Colorado 2-8-0 Consolidation steam locomotive, number 51, owned by Boulder Scientific Company of Boulder, Colorado, was used in the film, with scenes shot at Canon City, Colorado, in September 1964.[7]


The film was well received by critics and was popular with moviegoers and earned over $20.6 million in ticket sales in 1965, making it one of the top ten moneymaking movies that year.[2]

Awards and honorsEdit

Lee Marvin awards won

In his Oscar acceptance speech, Lee Marvin concluded by saying, "I think, though, that half of this belongs to a horse somewhere out in San Fernando Valley," a reference to the horse Kid Shelleen rode, which appeared to be as drunk as Shelleen was.[5]

Academy Award nominations


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

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.[15][16]

In popular cultureEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Cat Ballou, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 22, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d Cole, Georgelle. "Cat Ballou" on
  3. ^ "Music" on
  4. ^ Passafiume, Andrea (ed.) "Cat Ballou" on
  5. ^ a b Osborne, Robert. Outro to Turner Classic Movies presentation of Cat Ballou (May 14, 2011)
  6. ^ Pendreigh, Brian (7 September 2001). "Obituary:John Chambers: Make-up master responsible for Hollywood's finest space-age creatures". The Guardian. Retrieved Feb 27, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Steam! News Photos, Trains, Kalmbach Publishing Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, February 1965, Volume 25, Number 4, page 14.
  8. ^ "Berlinale 1965: Prize Winners". Retrieved 2010-02-28. 
  9. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06. 
  10. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-06. 
  11. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06. 
  12. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06. 
  13. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees (10th Anniversary Edition)" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06. 
  14. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10: Top 10 Western". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-06. 
  15. ^ American Film Institute (2008-06-17). "AFI Crowns Top 10 Films in 10 Classic Genres". Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  16. ^ "Top Western". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  17. ^ Gross, Terry. "Fresh Air: From Walter White To LBJ, Bryan Cranston Is A Master Of Transformation" NPR (March 27, 2014)

External linksEdit