CALAMITY JANE (1953)

Starring: Doris Day, Howard Keel, Allyn Ann McLerie, Philip Carey

Written by: James O’Hanlon

Directed by: David Butler

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THE THREE P’S:


PREMISE:

Tomboy sharpshooter Calamity Jane, played by Doris Day, rides into Deadwood, Dakota one day boasting of her troubled journey through the Indian Territory. The men in the local saloon all laugh at her obvious over-exaggerations, but things turn grim when a bunch of their buddies run in claiming they were attacked by some of those dang Indians. One of them, the man Calamity has her love-horns set on, is Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin (Philip Carey). He was left behind, presumed dead. Furious and likely heartbroken, Calamity quickly sets to riding to the Sioux war party with her shooters, but they find Danny is very much alive.

“Welp, yer right. There ain’t no terlet down there. But that didn’t stop me from doin’ mah business!”

Meanwhile, the saloon mentioned earlier has sent for a gorgeous woman to appear on stage (for entertainment purposes, of course), given there aren’t that many women in town. The owner of the saloon is surprised and, frankly, up Schitt’s Creek when the woman he sent for, Frances Fryer, is in fact a male entertainer, Francis Fryer (played by Dick Wesson). Fryer is reluctantly persuaded to perform in drag as Chicago-based temptress Adelaid Adams, which as you can imagine… ends terribly. I mean… the guy looks like a toad in his regular clothing. As a woman? Watch out!

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“Them’s real hairy areolas you got there, missy.”

For reasons unknown, Calamity offers to travel to nearby Chicago and fetch the real Adelaid Adams.

In Chicago, Calamity sneaks backstage at her show and mistakes Miss. Adams’ maid, Katie Brown (Allyn Ann McLerie) for the real deal. Sensing an opportunity for stardom, the young and naive Katie keeps on pretendin’ and goes to Deadwood with Calamity Jane, who is labelled a hero for bringing the gorgeous starlet to town. (This is before the days of mobile phones, see, so with only tiny black & white photographs to go by, the drunk gentlemen can’t complain when the lady doesn’t look exactly like her picture)

As expected, miscommunications abound in hilarious Modern Family/Frasier styled fashion, as the residents of Deadwood slowly cotton on.

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The Windy City is miiiighty pretty! *toot*

PRAISE:

This wonderful musical is one of Doris Day’s best, and her performance in this carries the entire film. As someone who only watched this after her death, I was surprised at how laugh-out-loud funny it turned out to be. Nothing from over fifty years ago really tickles my funny bone quite like more modern films do, so I was deeply surprised. More so by Day’s comedic timing. There’s a moment where she realises Katie thought she was a man, and she laughs right from her gut, but then stops and thinks for a moment, then mutters: “Come to think of it, that ain’t so funny.”

The whole film is really quite unusually comedic. I’m surprised it succeeded at the box office, as it looks just like a cult classic with its weirdness.

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“Cheers to looking how women are meant to look!”

The songs are catchy as anything else from that era, and the film’s ability to make technically a real-life murderer a lovable misunderstood tomboy is perfectly realised.

Considering the horrendous car accident Doris Day was in when she was younger, I am impressed at her flexibility in this as she swings from the sides of a stagecoach, jumps on top of bars with split legs, and even swings from a chandelier in one of the many delightful but highly choreographed musical numbers.

Again, it’s all about Doris Day. She has in the past shown how remarkably before her time she was with her acting capabilities. It’s great to see she can go from serious (watch her criminally underrated performance in The Man Who Knew Too Much), to whacky (check her out in Calam… oh wait, that’s this). It’s a shame the only Oscar she was nominated for in her life was for the utterly boring Pillow Talk. 

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The only good thing about Pillow Talk is this mightily memed moment.

PROBLEMS:

I have to admit, although I only watched it in full earlier this year, I did in fact attempt it a few years back. I found it annoying and uninteresting, so I turned it off. Obviously I was in a bad mood, so perhaps this calls into question the film’s ability to appeal to anyone. Of course, this is reaching. But if you’re in a good mood and watch this for the first time you will have an absolute ball like I did.

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As someone unfamiliar with Howard Keel’s work, I was confused for the first thirty minutes.

I also don’t know whether to critique it on the awful fake backgrounds that were so common in films back then, because they’re some of the worst I’ve ever seen… but what can you do?

The only other complaint I have with the film is the almost insipid ballad ‘Secret Love’. Amazingly, this won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and yes. It’s lovely. It’s an original, catchy song. But having heard the song for decades, I was surprised at how unfitting it was in the moment. It’s chucked in there right towards the end, and goes so against the character’s goofy, wily ways that it is almost cringeworthy. It does not suit the themes or the style of the rest of the film, and for me that’s a shame. I don’t think any song should have gone here however. By this point in the film, it wasn’t necessary. Sure, she’d found her secret love, but that’s usually where they walk into the sunset happily ever after.

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Moments later you’d expect a bunch of cartoon bluebirds to trot down her arm.


FUN FACT:

Despite my distaste for the song in the film, Doris Day recorded the vocals in one take. Which is, of course, amazing.

COLONEL’S KERNELS:

I give this film four pops out of five kernels. I absolutely loved it, get gleeful when I think about it, and am glad to have it in my collection.

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