Beginnings and Endings

Cat Ballou: adapted from the novel by Roy Chanslor by Walter Newman and Frank Pierson; directed by Elliot Silverstein; starring Jane Fonda (Cat Ballou), Lee Marvin (Kid Shelleen/ Tim Strawn), Nat King Cole (Shouter) and Stubby Kaye (Shouter) (1965): A comic-musical elegy to the end of the movie Western as a viable box-office commodity, Cat Ballou was a huge hit that made Jane Fonda a movie star and got Lee Marvin a Best Actor Oscar for playing both the good and bad gunslingers.

Much of the younger male cast is weirdly bland, though they all try hard to be funny. Marvin actually is funny, as is whatever stunt man did the insane riding tricks the drunk gunslinger performs on a couple of occasions.

You could file this under the Farewell to the Western category of movies, a category that stretches from the farce of Blazing Saddles through the dramedy of Cat Ballou and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid all the way to the drama of Unforgiven, The Shootist, and True Grit. There’s a lot of singing from Stubby Kaye and Nat King Cole, whose balladeers serve as both narration and Greek Chorus for the goings-on. Recommended.

Stripes: written by Len Blum, Daniel Goldberg, and Harold Ramis; directed by Ivan Reitman; starring Bill Murray (John), Harold Ramis (Russell), Warren Oates (Hulka), John Candy (Ox), P.J. Soles (Stella), and Sean Young (Louise) (1981): Bill Murray’s first starring role in a genuine box-office blockbuster remains enjoyable more than 30 years later. It’s interesting to note how careful the movie is to avoid killing anyone in the pursuit of laughs. It’s also interesting to note how ridiculous the romance sub-plot is.

John Candy is great in his first major supporting role as “New Teen Heart-throb” Ox[burger], and Warren Oates is all angry grimaces and comic menace in what was, I believe, his last screen role. Harold Ramis can’t act, even a little, but he sure could write successful film comedies. Ivan Reitman directs with his usual shaggy charm. Bill Paxton gets a credit as one of the platoon, though I didn’t spot him. Recommended.

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