In this blogathon, hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings, it’s all about actors playing more than one role in a single film. This is certainly a fascinating blogathon topic and as such, I’ll be looking at two films, highly appropriate for a blogathon dedicated to duality!
My first submission is the 1965 comedy western Cat Ballou, featuring Lee Marvin in dual roles, winning an Academy Award for his performance(s).
Cat Ballou is about aspiring schoolteacher Catherine “Cat” Ballou (Jane Fonda) who discovers that the Wolf City Development Corporation is attempting to force her father off his land, in order to obtain lucrative water rights and who’ve hired vicious gunman Tim Strawn (Lee Marvin) to scare him off. Deciding to take action, she hires legendary gunman Kid Shelleen (Marvin again) to protect her father. Unfortunately, Shelleen turns out to be a bufoonish drunk who can’t even shoot the broad side of a barn.
A far cry from the likes of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance where Marvin played the meanest, coldest, most dangerous villain you could ever imagine, in Cat Ballou he gets to (mostly) let go of his “tough guy” persona and has a ball clowning it up as the stumbling, pratfalling Shelleen. The scene in which they are about to bury Cat’s father is a particular highlight; unaware of what is going on, he proceeds to sing “Happy Birthday” and blows out the candles at the end of the coffin!
There is also some depth to his character as well, as he grows increasingly protective of Cat and sobers up so that he can confront Strawn. When trying to hit his target in an early scene, there is definite determination in his eyes and despite having his problems, he sticks with the band of outlaws, working for the fifty dollars that he was paid. Throughout the film, mainly through Cat’s influence, he regains a sense of purpose and begins to feel as good as he did “back in the old days”.
However, he also gets to do the whole “Lee Marvin: Tough Guy” bit in his second role as Tim Strawn, the dangerous gunman hired by the Wolf City Development Corporation and who had his nose bitten off in a fight. I must admit that the first time I watched Cat Ballou, I didn’t actually realise that Strawn was also played by Marvin as well (I guess the silver nose and the fake moustache hid his face pretty well!) It is eventually revealed that Shelleen and Strawn are brothers, so I guess that’s why Marvin was chosen to play both roles.
The two characters share a single scene together towards the end, where a sobered up Shelleen confronts Strawn and though we only see Strawn’s back (courtesy of a body double), Marvin’s voice is heard speaking Strawn’s lines.
Marvin clearly has a lot of fun playing both roles, both the silly and serious, and its good to see another side of him but I don’t think that the roles are particularly Oscar worthy. Shelleen is an inconsistent character; first he’s practically unconscious because of the drink and elsewhere, he’s quite sharp and crafty. And then for the finale, he inexplicably goes back to being drunk again. In addition, the character of Strawn doesn’t make much of an impact, since he only appears in a couple of scenes and his character is not explored at all, the audience just has to pretty much assume that he’s an incredibly vicious gunman who mustn’t be crossed.
In summary, though I’m admittedly a bit sceptical about whether it’s an Oscar worthy performance, Lee Marvin gets to have fun playing the bufoonish Kid Shelleen while also getting to be the tough guy Tim Strawn. He is a loveable lead and injects the film with a sense of fun and wackiness.
Thanks again to Christina and Silver Screenings, be sure to check out those other blogathon entries and come back in a day or so for my second post, which focuses on a certain beloved Australian actress . . .