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Cat Ballou: Special Edition

Recently voted number 50 on the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 comedies of the last century, Elliot Silverstein's raucous 1965 Cat Ballou preceded films like Blazing Saddles into the "Western parody" genre — and did it with slightly more class (though fewer belly laughs). Instead of Saddles' bean-eating cowboys and horse-punching bad guys, in Cat Ballou we get a vengeance-driven schoolmarm-turned-outlaw; a washed-up, alcohol-saturated gunslinger; a pretty boy cattle-rustler on the lam; and a most unusual Greek chorus. Winning them over with her sunny smile and voluptuous curves, Cat (a Barbarella-era Jane Fonda) turns a ragtag band of followers into latter-day Merry Men. Cat happily stands in for Robin Hood as they steal from the rich, corrupting Sir Harry Percival (Reginald Denny) in an attempt to bring down the corporation that's responsible for her father's death. But it's not quite that cut-and-dried. For one thing, all of Cat's heroes — a gaggle of former train robbers and outlaws who are living out their golden years at the infamous Hole-in-the-Wall hideout — would rather make a deal with Sir Harry than fight with Cat. So it's up to her to take action; when she does, she ultimately winds up sentenced to hang (don't fret — it's a comedy). Accompanying the action and providing structure for Cat Ballou are Nat "King" Cole and Stubby Kaye, who sing the infectious "Ballad of Cat Ballou," and their presence is one of the best things about the film, which is certainly funny in spots (you can't help but laugh when you hear that bad guy Tim Strawn wears a silver nose because his old one got bitten off in a fight), but uneven overall. The only true stand-out performance comes from Lee Marvin, who does double-duty as both Strawn and Cat's perpetually soused gun-for-hire Kid Shelleen. Marvin, who shines in both roles, justifiably won an Oscar for his work. For this special edition DVD, Cat Ballou gets a nice package of extras from Columbia TriStar. Actors Michael Callan (loveable scoundrel Clay Boone) and Dwayne Hickman (Jed, the "drunk as a skunk" preacher-in-disguise) provide a commentary track, and a 12-minute featurette called "The Legend of Cat Ballou" intersperses scenes from the film with an interview with director Elliot Silverstein. Other special features include theatrical trailers, vintage advertising stills, bios/filmographies for Silverstein and the main cast, scene selections, a four-page collectible booklet inside the keep-case, and subtitles in English, Spanish, Portugese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is sharp and clear (pan-and-scan on the flip-side) — the colors shine in all their Technicolor glory, and almost every scene is crisp and looks great. The digitially re-mastered sound is fine as well, although only in the original mono. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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