Plot: In the days of the old West, Catherine (Cat) Ballou (Jane Fonda) takes the train home, after finishing school. She does her best to appear proper, but peeks at potboilers about the notorious Kid Shelleen inside her book. On the train, she meets escaping cattle rustler Clay Boone (Michael Callan) and his uncle Jed (Dwayne Hickman). She is attracted to Clay, but not interested in becoming involved with a criminal.
Cat is angry and upset when she gets home and sees that her father (John Marley) is being pressured to give up his land. He is killed by hired gun Tim Strawn. When her father’s ranch hand, an Indian named Jackson (Tom Nardini) and Clay and Jed are not brave enough to help her fight back, she sends for Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin).
Kid arrives, a hopeless drunk. But they help him pull himself together, and they get their revenge. Cat is captured and sentenced to be hung, but is saved at the last minute by her friends.
Discussion: This cheerful satire of conventional Westerns is a lot of fun, with attractive performers and an Oscar -winning performance by Lee Marvin in the dual roles of Shelleen and Strawn. Stubby Kaye (“Guys and Dolls”) and Nat “King” Cole show up as something between a Greek chorus and medieval minstrels, singing the story as it unfolds. It is good for kids to see a movie with a strong, brave, and resourceful young woman, who is an effective and inspiring leader (though they all have crushes on her).
Questions for Kids:
· Why was Cat so effective at leading Clay, Jed, Kid, and Jackson?
· Do you agree with her decision to take matters into her own hands?
· How does she compare to other Western heroes, like Shane?
Connections: Watch for a character named “Butch Cassidy” in a minor role, four years before Paul Newman and Robert Redford appeared in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” by William Goldman. Marvin appeared more often as the kind of tough guy he parodies in this movie, for example, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” Jed is played by television’s Dobe Gillis, Dwayne Hickman.