(director: George Sidney; screenwriters: from the book by Dorothy and Herbert Fields/from the play by Rodgers & Hammerstein/Sidney Sheldon; cinematographer: Charles Rosher; editor: James E. Newcom; music: Irving Berlin/Adolph Deutsch; cast: Betty Hutton (Annie Oakley), Howard Keel (Frank Butler), Louis Calhern (Buffalo Bill), J. Carrol Naish (Chief Sitting Bull), Edward Arnold (Pawnee Bill), Keenan Wynn (Charlie Davenport), Benay Venuta (Dolly Tate), Clinton Sundberg (Foster Wilson); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Arthur Freed; Warner Bros. Home Video; 1950)

“Aloud and gaudy production of a hit play turned into a hit movie.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Dorothy Fields (“Swing Time”) and her brother Herbert Fields wrote the story. Irving Berlin composed the music for the hit 1946 Broadway stage version. Barbara Stanwyck starred in the adequate nostalgic 1935 straight movie drama version of the Annie Oakley story. Sidney Sheldon adapts it from its Broadway run to the screen. The troubled production underwent immediate problems with the sudden death of Frank Morgan when filming began. Louis Calhern was a last-minute replacement for Morgan to play Buffalo Bill. Also the delicate star Judy Garland after shooting a few scenes became too exhausted and ill to work and was let go, to be replaced by Betty Hutton. The energetic Hutton was resented by the crew for replacing the popular Garland and treated coldly throughout the shoot, though she ended up giving a physically demanding enthusiastic performance as the naive hillbilly who gets her man in the end. Veteran musical director George Sidney (“Pepe”/”Anchors Aweigh“/”Pal Joey”)replaced directors Busby Berkeley and Charlie Waters, and did an OK job holding things together, though his direction was too stodgy to add much vision to the film. Nevertheless, the film was both an artistic and commercial success. It was a loud and gaudy production of a hit play turned into a hit movie, one that’s well-suited for the masses–which is not a bad thing to say if you are not too judgmental about the merits of the enterprise and can just accept it for its socko entertainment value.

It tells the fictionalized version of the life of Annie Oakley (1860–1926), a sharpshooter from Ohio who married fellow sharpshooter Frank Butler. The film never slows down in telling its soppy love story, as the costume western/comedy/romance/musical is filled with shooting contests, vulgarized Indian dances, corny romantic wooing scenes and, best of all, lively Berlin songs such as “Doin’ What Comes Naturally,” “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun,” “Anything You Can Do,” “The Girl That I Marry,” “My Defenses are Down”, “They Say It’s Wonderful,” “I’m an Indian Too,” “Colonel Buffalo Bill,” “I Got the Sun in the Morning” and the rousing “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

The storyline has the tomboy illiterate hillbilly from Ohio, Annie Oakley (Betty Hutton), beating the world’s greatest marksman, the conceited Frank Butler (Howard Keel, in his debut film gets a chance to showoff his rich baritone voice), in a clay-target shooting contest staged by the traveling Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, that’s managed by Charlie Davenport (Keenan Wynn) and operated by showman Buffalo Bill (Louis Calhern). Annie falls in love at first sight with Frank and joins the traveling show as his assistant. After upsetting Frank by becoming the show’s star attraction and thereby losing him, the wily Chief Sitting Bull (J. Carrol Naish) convinces his adopted daughter Annie that it’s better to purposely lose a shooting match to the vain Frank as that will enable him to feel comfortable enough to ask for her hand in marriage.

A dispute between the Irving Berlin estate and MGM kept the film out of circulation from 1973 until 2000.