Monday, August 01, 2005

DVD: Cat Ballou (1965)

Like Mr. White and Mr. Blonde, I’m a big Lee Marvin fan. For years I’ve been lobbying for membership in the semi-secret society known as the Sons of Lee Marvin, even though I’ve heard the dues are steep and the hazing brutal. I should be a shoo-in; I share the actor’s signature philtrum, and I’ve been told by those in the know that our calves are similar.

But until recently, I’d never seen Marvin’s Oscar-winning performance in this comedy western.

He gets not one but two roles, the drunken gunman Kid Shelleen and the hired killer Tim Strawn, complete with steel nose. Marvin is somehow able to underplay his overplaying; his Shelleen is broadly funny but always real. I also loved Stubby Kaye and Nat King Cole as the wandering minstrels who narrate the story.

But honestly? I thought this movie was lousy.

Rosemarie, as usual, made a swift and accurate diagnosis: “There’s nothing worse than a star vehicle built around someone you don’t particularly like.” Jane Fonda, always a studied actress, is too modern for her role as a virginal schoolmarm. It doesn’t help that her character has been saddled with a tragic story in what is purportedly a comedy.

And that’s my main problem with the movie: it just ain’t funny.

Marvin doesn’t actually have that much screen time. I guess dual supporting roles equal a lead. I’m certainly not going to begrudge the man his Oscar, even though his competition that year included Rod Steiger in THE PAWNBROKER and one of my all-time favorite performances, Richard Burton in THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD. Actors always win for the wrong movies. It’s not like the Academy was going to acknowledge Marvin for POINT BLANK.