Cat Ballou, The Court Jester

Cat Ballou (1965) *** : Jane Fonda plays Cat Ballou, back in the days when she was not only acting but also accepting sexy kittenish roles, a rancher’s daughter out to avenge the murder of said rancher by the bad guys who run the town. Yep, it’s a sex Western, one that gives us the one-of-a-kind performances of Fonda and of Lee Marvin, who has two roles – an alcoholic gunslinger who’s supposed to be Cat’s savior and a mean, dastardly hit man with a prosthetic nose – and who won himself an Oscar for his delightful work. But it’s not just the lighthearted performances of the actors that floats this film, it’s also the riveting, uproarious script. The pace is never dull – there are some Westerns that’ll slow things down to kind of add mood to a story, but not this one. This would make a nice double-bill with another of Fonda’s sexy early roles, “Barbarella.”

The Court Jester (1956) **** : Not much goes wrong with this movie, a delightful spoof of action-costumer movies. Danny Kaye is an absolute delight as the young rebel impersonating a jester in the court of an evil king (although in this film, his evil is blunted) but mistaken for a hit man. There have been few performers who could light up an entire scene by their mere presence, and Kaye is one of them. Who in this day could do what he did? He could sing, he could dance, and he could make you laugh so hard you could only take liquids the next day. And in this movie he gets a chance to do all three, plus do some swashbuckling! Also along for the ride are the elegant Glynis Johns, who plays his superior in the slight rebel force trying to return the throne to its rightful owner, and Basil Rathbone, who could play the clever, suave cad as good as anyone in movies. Film buffs may remember Rathbone’s turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham in 1939’s “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” which starred the eminent Errol Flynn. In that movie, Rathbone has a memorable sword-fighting scene with Flynn; here, that scene is copied, with Kaye a hilarious stand-in for Errol. This movie is a true delight, a must-see for all ages.

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