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CALAMITY JANE (director: David Butler; screenwriter: James O’Hanlon; cinematographer: Wilfrid M. Cline; editor: Irene Morra; music: Sammy Fain; cast: Doris Day (Calamity Jane), Howard Keel (Wild Bill Hickok), Allyn McLerie (Katie Brown), Philip Carey (Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin), Dick Wesson (Francis Fryer), Paul Harvey (Henry Miller), Chubby Johnson (Rattlesnake), Gale Robbins (Adelaid Adams); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Jacobs; Warner Brothers; 1953)
“A modest studio-set musical Western.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A modest studio-set musical Western that is modeled after Annie Get Your Gun, but doesn’t turn out as well. Its biggest plus is the tomboyish Doris Day’s energetic performance as the buckskin wearing Calamity Jane. But that’s offset by the indifferent direction of David Butler (“The Little Colonel”/”The Road to Morocco”) and the weak script by James O’Hanlon. Calamity is a rootin’-tootin’ boastful marks-woman with a penchant for exaggerating the truth rather than plain lying, who is best friends with Deadwood’s most fearsome gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel). Wild Bill thinks of her only as a friend until she turns to wearing a blouse and skirt.

Paul Francis Webster and Sammy Fain got an Oscar for ”Secret Love” as the best song of the year. There were several other memorable numbers that include the rousing opening song “Deadwood Stage,” the curious ballad “Higher Than A Hawk,” “I Can Do Without You,” “Just Blew in From the Windy City,”and “Take me Back to the Black Hills of Dakota.” Doris also sings a delightful duet with Allyn Ann McLerie “A Woman’s Touch.” Howard Keel is asked to do little but belts out “My Love is Deeper Than A Well” with his rich baritone voice.

The plot begins cooking when Calamity comes to the aid of the Golden Garter saloon keeper when he disappoints his horny men patrons who expected a female singer from New York and instead get Francis Fryer in drag. The patrons favorite is showgal Adelaid Adams and Calamity promises she’ll go to Chicago and bring her back to Deadwood City, if they stop rioting. Calamity brings back Adelaid’s maid Katie Brown (Allyn McLerie), who yearns for a showbiz career and doesn’t let onto Calamity her real identity when they meet backstage in the Windy City. Back in Deadwood the men who only saw Adelaid from a picture distributed in cigarette packs, think Katie is Adelaid until she starts singing. Katie then breaks down and tells the truth. But when given the chance to perform, on the insistence of Calamity, she proves herself as a singer and to pay back Calamity for giving her this big showbiz break promises to make a “lady” out of her. Calamity has a schoolgirl crush on handsome cavalry Lt. Danny Gilmartin (Philip Carey), but he falls for Katie and she for him. But Wild Bill picks up the slack when he notices she doesn’t look like a man anymore and the rest of the tale is sorting out the right match-ups for the foursome, as Calamity discovers she always loved Wild Bill.

If you’re looking for something accurate about some real colorful Old West characters like Calamity and Wild Bill, forget it. This is a very very loose interpretation of such historical events. It should also be noted that the film had a large appeal with lesbian audiences, as the sweet relationship between Calamity and Katie seemed up for misinterpretation as being possibly romantic due to several sequences including the one where Katie paints in a loving way “Calam and Katie” on the front door.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”