Blu-ray Review: Cat Ballou - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Specialty reissue label Twilight Time has surely made a lot of vintage Western fans happy with their recent limited edition Cat Ballou Blu-ray. The enduring popularity of this 1965 comedic romp can largely be attributed to nostalgia. Sure, it's irreverent. And yes, it features legendary stars Jane Fonda (in the titular role) and Lee Marvin. In fact, Marvin won the Oscar for his dual role as drunken gunfighter Kid Shelleen and notorious bad guy Tim Strawn. The film was also nominated for an additional four Academy Awards. But, when viewed just over a half-century later, director Elliot Silverstein's film is painfully dated in most respects.

Also noteworthy, however, is vocalist extraordinaire Nat "King" Cole in his final film role as one of two "Shouters." Cole and Stubby Kaye show up periodically as a kind of Greek chorus, singing the plot-outlining, Oscar-nominated "The Ballad of Cat Ballou." Cole was dealing with lung cancer throughout shooting. Sadly, the star didn't live to see the release of the film. The song remains an amusing highlight of the film and the performances by Cole and Kaye are priceless.

Ultimately, Cat Ballou continues to hold strong appeal for those with fond memories of its original release and for those who first experienced the film as a young child. The tale of how Catherine Ballou (Fonda) became an outlaw in the process of avenging her murdered father (John Marley) plays out like a silly kid's flick. Marvin's hammy, over the top shenanigans certainly retain some historical value. It resulted in his only Academy Award (his only nomination, too). I guess the Oscar was a career-capping honor of sorts, because it certainly isn't the Dirty Dozen star's defining performance. 
Cat Ballou BD cover (301x380).jpg Incidentally, Walter Newman and Frank R. Pierson's screenplay (based on the novel by ) was also Oscar-nominated. Again, for those willing to lighten up and enjoy it for the fluff it is, Ballou can be charitably categorized as breezily entertaining. But the Academy displayed a real lapse in taste with this nomination (not that the Academy isn't prone to such lapses). Newman and Pierson's adaptation never stood a chance against Robert Bolt's Doctor Zhivago.

Twilight Time gives us a beautiful high definition presentation of Cat Ballou, with a richly colorful and remarkably clean transfer of Jack Marta's cinematography. For audio, we get two lossless options: DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0. Fans of Frank De Vol's Oscar-nominated score will love these mixes. As is customary for TT releases, the score is also available as a DTS-HD MA 2.0 isolated mix.

The robust supplemental feature package includes two audio commentaries: one with actors Michael Callan and Dwayne Hickman, the other with film historians Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer, and Paul Scrabo. "Lee and Pamela: A Romance" is an excellent 34-minute featurette presented in high definition. From the promotional archives, we get the vintage featurette "The Legend of Cat Ballou" and the original theatrical trailer.

Twilight Time's Cat Ballou Blu-ray edition is limited to 3,000. Visit Screen Archives for ordering information.

Cat Ballou booklet cover (299x380).jpg

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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