Based on Roy Chanslor's novel The Ballad of Cat Ballou, which had a serious tone, Elliot Silverstein's film is a comedic Western that tells the tale of Catherine Ballou (Jane Fonda) as she returns to her father Frankie's ranch (John Marley) in Wolf City, Wyoming. Set in 1894, it's a familar story of the genre as the Wolf City Development Corporation wants to drive Frankie off his land so they can make use of it.
Screenwriters Walter Newman and Frank Pierson foreshadow events as the film opens with two balladeers, The Sunrise Kid (Nat King Cole, who died from lung cancer months before the film was released) and Professor Sam the Shade (Stubby Kaye) singing "The Ballad of Cat Ballou." They reveal that Cat is in jail and set to be hung because she killed a man.
The story flashes back several days earlier as Cat is headed home from school on the train. She pretends to read Tennyson's poems, but is secretly hiding a pulp novel about an adventure starring famous gunfighter Kid Shaleen, suggesting she's more than her proper, genteel exterior lets on. But she is a bit naive to the ways of the world and gets used to help a fugitive, Clay Boone (Michael Callan), escape from the lawman transporting him.
Once at her father's farm, Cat learns the corporation has hired the wicked, black-clad Tim Strawn (Lee Marvin), who wears a metal nose because his was bitten off in a fight. In response, Cat writes Kid Shaleen (Lee Marvin again) with an offer of $50 to come help her, but when he shows up, he is unable to shoot the side of a barn. After a few swigs of alcohol, he becomes a crack shot, only to then tremble upon hearing Starwn's name.
'Cat Ballou' is an amusing film though it has some dark moments in the story that keep the plot from being entirely predictable. It demonstrates some forward thinking for a western by having Cat as the hero that leads a group of men. Yet it suffers slightly by being of its time with Clay expressing his desires for Cat in an overly physical and aggressive manner and Italian American Tom Nardini playing Native American Jackson Two-Bears, the Ballou ranch hand. Overall, it succeeds more than it falters.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Twilight Time releases 'Cat Ballou’ comes on a 50GB Region Free Blu-ray disc in a standard clear keepcase. The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. It comes with a six-page booklet featuring an essay by Julie Kirgo. Twilight Time has produced only 3,000 copies.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.85:1. The image presents lush colors in vivid hues. They can be witnessed in scenes on the train Cat rides home, which features the rich green fabric of the curtains and the deep browns of the wood. Blacks are inky, as seen in Strawn's ensemble, and the shadow delineation is quite good..
The picture delivers a very satisfying contrast. The image offers great depth, which is best exemplified in the shots on Frankie's ranch. The costumes demonstrate how well the textures have been captured, as there are a lot of fine lines seen on jackets and they don't bleed together.
There is a natural film grain, which increases too much in the scene when Cat is riding after someone is killed and also when Shaleen shoots up the town. The picture seemed free from digital artifacts.
The audio is available in DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0. The dialogue is understandable throughout, although the dubbed lines, like that of Cat's teacher, sound canned and hollow. Frank De Vol's score fills the surrounds. The effects make great use of the speakers as well, such as the wind distinctly blowing through the trees, which creates pleasing ambiance. There's also a noticeable bit of imaging as Cat runs out a side door. Unfortunately, during the town dance, the clapping and foot stomping are given too much echo. The dynamic range is wide and the bass is active.
Although I wouldn't rate it a top-tier western, and I find it hard to believe Lee Marvin won his only Oscar for this film, even if it was a dual performance, 'Cat Ballou' is an entertaining Hollywood film. Twilight Time has created a quality high-def presentation and matched it with interesting special features.