Calamity Jane (1953)

Warner Bros.' sky highest, smile widest, wild and woolliest Western of 'em all!

Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok fuss, feud and fall in love. At first, Calamity is too busy fighting Indians and cracking a bullwhip to pay attention to such girlie things as dresses and perfume. She soon changes her mind when Katie Brown arrives in town.

As fizzy as a Sarsparilla.
Calamity Jane is directed by David Butler and written by James O'Hanlon. It stars Doris Day, Howard Keel, Allyn Ann McLerie, Phillip Carey & Dick Wesson. The score features music by Sammy Fain and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. Out of Warner Brothers, the film is seen as a response to the success of MGM's production of Annie Get Your Gun in 1950, where Keel was also starring. Plot here is loosely based on the life of Wild West heroine Calamity Jane (Day) and explores the relationship between Wild Bill Hickok (Keel) and herself.
I guess the first thing that should be said is that this is no biography of one Martha Jane Cannary Burke (AKA: Calamity Jane), in truth this is more a comedy musical romp built around that famous frontiers woman, so with it being very basic on narrative and direction, this is predominantly appealing to the film fan with musical leanings. However, on that score the film is utterly delightful, such as it is fronted by the spirited lead performances from Day & Keel and a handful of truly great tunes headed by the Oscar winning "Secret Love" (Day luminous and vocally on peak form).
Pic also earns some bonus points for giving Day the chance to play something other than the naive innocent girl next door type (it was a personal favourite role of hers). She gets to be spunky and brash without ever losing that adorable appeal that carried her throughout her career. The play on sexual stereotypes is rather humorous without being twee, something that you feel director Butler was under appreciated for, while Wilfred M. Cline's gorgeous colour photography enhances the playfulness of it all.
Seen now as a feminist fantasy with a gay following thanks to "Secret Love", there's no denying the film is all very Hollywoodized - with characters so animated they could actually burst. But all told, if one is able to forgive and see past its tiny flaws then this is a film guaranteed to light up the darkest of wintry days. 7.5/10

Warner Bros. Pictures by David Butler, James O'Hanlon.
Stars: Doris Day, Howard Keel, Allyn Ann McLerie, Philip Carey.

Genres: Comedy, Musical, Romance, Western

Keywords: musical wild bill hickok calamity jane 19th century


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