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Movie Musical Monday, February 27th: ‘Calamity Jane’

February 27, 2012

Good morning, and Happy Movie Musical Monday!

Last week MMM took a corporate holiday, but now we’re back with 1953’s Calamity Jane; or as I like to call it: That Other Musical About a Woman Who Shoots a Gun and Wears Tassels But Isn’t Annie Oakley.

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Warner Brothers made this movie after MGM’s successful film adaptation of Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun in 1950, starring Betty Hutton (who replaced a “problematic” Judy Garland) and Howard Keel.  Jack Warner had originally made a bid for the movie rights to the stage musical, but lost out.  So they made this movie instead.  The film industry does this a lot: within the span of approximately two years, you can see about two-three versions of the same movie either in production or released.  I thought we pretty much covered this point two weeks ago, but seriously, guys: this happens all the time.

Since Warner Brothers was (is) no fool (except that one time they thought George Clooney should be Batman), they helped ensure Box Office $uccess by manning themselves with some big-name talent–since of course they couldn’t claim to have an original idea/concept. (But what are those worth, really?  Stick to a formula that sells, people.) The solution was to pair up All-American Doris Day–who would have played Annie Oakley if they had gotten the rights all those years ago–and Howard Keel.

“Wait–,” you’re saying, “–didn’t Howard Keel also star in Annie Get Your Gun?”

Yes.  Yes he did.  Remember what I said parenthetically just two paragraph groupings ago about formulas?  CONNECT THE DOTS, PEOPLE.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on Howard Keel, shall we?  Dreamboat Howard Keel:

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Howard Keel was in several movie musicals, offering up his good-looking, straight-talking, leading man qualities, with a devilish grin and a sense of the easy-going louse about him.  Which all people love.  But we’ll get back to that.

Incidentally, the music in this film was composed by a man who wrote song scores for Disney, with lyrics by the guy who wrote the Spiderman theme song.  I’m not kidding.

WHAT IS THIS MUSICAL ABOUT?

Calamity Jane–known to most people as “Calam”–works as a hired gun for the local stage coach company.  Essentially she escorts the coach on rides to and from the city of Deadwood, and shoots (or whips, as we see in the opening number “The Deadwood Stage (Whip-Crack-Away)”) at any Indians that may chase them along their route.  I feel it necessary to at this juncture to remind you that this movie was made in the 1950s, so while Calam shoots her gun off quite a bit throughout the film, she never actually hits anyone.  Firstly, because she’s a woman–and who would believe that?  Secondly, because no one would believe that Doris Day would shoot anyone.  Ever.

But regardless of being able to hit moving targets or not, our impression of Jane is that she’s not exactly a lady in the strictest of terms.  She arrives at the Golden Garter (Deadwood’s saloon/theatre/house-of-ill-repute) wearing a buckskin suit and an old army cap, orders a sarsaparilla, and starts telling tall tales to the men, including Wild Bill Hickok (Keel) about the number of Sioux she’s killed today.  She loses their interest, though, to the beautiful and scantily clad actress Adelaide Adams, whose picture is printed on a cigarette card.  Now, before the West was won and corporate America installed printing presses across the nation, ensuring glossy paper images of Kardashians and teen moms for merely $3.99 an issue (still too much), people used to get their celebrity and beautiful-lady photographs (less the teen moms) by collecting cards that came tucked inside their cigarette packages.  Think of these cards as the prize at the bottom of a cereal box.  Except instead of being left with a stomach full of gluten and a plastic top, you’d get cancer and something to stare at through half-open eyes during your quality time alone in the outhouse.  Later on, cigarette companies would switch from cards to lapel pins, now hot collectors items, some of which are also very clever (though possibly more hazardous in certain activities, due to those sharp pin points).

But back to the musical:  Two men enter the bar, battered and bruised.  They’ve just been in an ambush and it sounds like the man Jane is TOTALLY CRUSHING ON may have been killed, but they don’t really know since they had to run for ten miles before they finally escaped the “savages.” (The movie’s word, not mine.) So Jane, having that gumption of hers, which is of course totally unfeminine by this period’s standards, goes off to try to see if Lt.-What’s-His-Face-Who-Isn’t-Howard-Keel-So-Why-Would-I-Even-Have-Remembered-His-Name-In-The-First-Place is still alive.  She gets to the camp where he was taken, and the Sioux run off leaving her pretty boy Lieutenant tied to a tree.  She turns him loose, and they ride back to Deadwood on the same horse.

Romantically speaking, this is a mistake.  It’s common knowledge that no man could ever be interested in a woman who saves his life—unless he has saved her at some point before (you thought you were just going to jump in there with some Han-Leia argument, but I beat you to it by citing the exception to this generally accepted rule).  This might be the way you make a great comrade in arms, but seriously ladies: it’s not how you’re gonna get a ring on it.  As we’ve all been told over and over again, “You can’t get a man with a gu“–wait a minute, that’s that other musical, isn’t it, sorry.

Calam, having no sense of feminine finesse, arrives back at the bar thinking things are probably moving steadily along for her and Danny (I think his name was Danny, but again he’s still not Howard Keel, so it still doesn’t actually matter), and continues telling tales, exaggerating the rescue.  Bill Hickok doesn’t buy it.  He begins to walk away, and Calam shoots near his foot and challenges him.  He spins around, shoots the gun out of her hand, and then asks, “Why don’t you ever fix your hair?”  BOOM.  Exit.

^—-This is what I was talking about earlier: chauvinism is sexy and desirable.  Everybody loves a man who puts a woman in her place.  You seriously don’t believe me?

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You still don’t believe me?

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No, but really: still?
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Regarding the last image: that one’s a little extreme, and I would advise leaving before the coat hangers come out or he decides to use that electric drill.
Again, though, this is a movie musical: our louses are largely inoffensive, exteriorly gruff but interiorly lovable, and eventually redeem themselves in the audience’s eyes for the love of the right woman.  Even Billy Bigelow came around! (I mean, after he was dead, but…you know…)* At the very least, this quasi-jerk Bill Hickok is way more interesting than that well dressed, well-mannered soldier boy, that needs rescuing from a girl–BLECH.
But enough set-up–it’s time to insert a plot crisis! Henry Miller, proprietor of the Golden Garter, had hired an actress names Francis Fryer to come and entertain the boys.  But due to some confusion about names that could either be used for boys or girls, Francis arrives and looks strikingly similar to a man–which is in fact what he turns out to be.  Miller’s in a jam, so he throws Francis on stage wearing a dress to an audience of men liquored up enough to mistake what is clearly a man dressed in drag, for a woman of a generous build and proportions—not to mention very pronounced biceps.  No one except Calam seems to realize it for the longest time:
So everyone is angry at Miller and they’re ready to riot when Calam, in her traditional fashion of wanting to be the hero (READ: penis envy), says that another actress is on her way to town to entertain these varmints.  Not only that, it’s THE actress that every one is excusing themselves to the outhouse for: Adelaide Adams.  This of course is a BIG FAT LIE, and Calam is forced to concede in private to Hickok and Miller that the only way out of this is if she goes to Chicago herself and brings back Ms. Adams.  Hickok scoffs at the idea, and then the two of them sing a very charming duet that is this movie’s answer to “Anything You Can Do”:
Now we know these two must actually be subconsciously in love, because in movie musicals only people who really want each other can show this much disdain for one another.  Moving on…
…to Chicago!  Calam arrives in town just in time to see the closing night of Adelaide Adams’s act.  Turns out Ms. Adams is unimpressed by American theatre and is traveling to Europe where the really serious work is.  She tells her dresser and maid Katie that she’ll give her a gift of all of her old costumes (“Here you go, peasant!”), then laughs condescendingly at Katie’s dream of going on the stage, and leaves.  Katie’s left alone in the dressing room and pulls an Eve Harrington by immediately getting into one of Adelaide’s costumes (the same costume she was wearing on the cigarette card) and prancing around in front of the mirror singing one of Adelaide’s songs.  Calam barges in, introduces herself, and after some small confusion (Katie mistakes our heroine for a man at first) explains that she’s there to take Adelaide Adams to Deadwood.  Calamity, however, has mistaken Katie for being Adelaide.  And Katie, desperate for a chance to actually work as an actress, decides to risk it and goes along pretending that she is in fact Adelaide Adams.  And so they travel back to Deadwood together.
(Are you still with me?  Okay.  I promise it gets way easier from here on out.)
They arrive in town, and are greeted by the entire male population, including Hickok and Lt. What’s-His-Face, who are all over Katie like turkey vultures on road kill.  But that night at the theatre, Katie realizes that she is essentially living the actor’s nightmare trying to pass off as a great star of the stage when she has no experience, and flops big time during her first number.  Calam tries to stop the crowd from heckling her, and then Katie reveals she is not Adelaide Adams at all.  There is more disquiet, until finally Calam appeals to the mob-scene-about-to-happen to give the girl a chance.  Katie starts the number over again, this time putting herself into it.  The result is a much more rife of 1950’s sex appeal, and she goes over big.
Since there are so few women in town (evidenced by the fact that you never really see any at all), it’s agreed that Katie will move in to Calam’s cabin and the girls will become roomies.  Of course, when you move in with Calamity Jane, you have to expect that things aren’t going to necessarily be up to working order.  Thank goodness Katie has arrived, to totally Martha Stewart the cabin–which she knows all about since she used to be a maid, remember?  And she shares her clothes with totally-granola-and-venison-jerky CJ, who finally puts on bloomers and ties a ribbon in her hair.

If this song doesn’t drill 1950s feminine ideals home, nothing will.  You may have thought you were mistaken, that you didn’t actually hear anyone sing, “The pies and cakes a woman bakes/Can make a feller tell her/That he loves her very much.”  But trust me, you did.  And Calamity’s response: “It can?”

“Yes, Jane”, calls the Sexual Politics of the Time: “Keep walking out of the cave.  We have nylons and shampoo out here, and avocado kitchenettes.”

Pretty soon all the boys in town know that Katie is bunking out with Calam, and Howard Keel and Lt. Not-As-Interesting-Even-With-An-Army-Pension-Coming have a horse race to visit and ask her (Katie–DUH) to a ball at the local fort.  While our man HK is out being manly and chopping firewood (getting some practice in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, no doubt), the Guy-Who-Still-Doesn’t-Have-Howard-Keel’s-Jawline professes his affection for Katie.  While Katie is tempted, she’s hesitant because the bonds of sisterhood say you don’t date the boys your girlfriend likes, especially when that girlfriend knows how to use a gun. (Of course, “Katie” is a character living within a narrative Warner Brothers has established, and therefore doesn’t realize that “Doris Day” actually poses no threat to her.) She tells Danny (I really think his name was Danny) that she can’t because CJ is in love with him.  Danny-Boy laughs at this, and says that he and Calam are just good friends and that “she even saved my life once.”  HOLY SHIT WHAT DID I SAY LIKE A MILLION PARAGRAPHS AGO?  Seriously, guys: that line carries all of the baggage of the Gentleman Caller comparing Laura to his sister.  Oof.  God, Jim: How could you say that?  Blue Roses.  BLUE…ROSES!

Anyway, HK comes back in and breaks up that little party, then he and Lt. Jim-The-Murderer-Of-Dreams draw straws to see who gets to take Katie to the ball.  Bill comes up short, so he has to take Calamity, who enters shortly after covered in mud and tries to seem less disappointed with the results than she actually is.  But at least she was spared the truth about Danny-Jim-Archetype.  For now.

At the ball, all the men are shocked to see Calam cleaned up and actually looking like a lady, especially Mr. Hickok.  Everyone’s having a grand time, until lo and behold: CJ spots Katie on the receiving end of a very passionate kiss from That-Guy-Who-Probably-Isn’t-Worth-This-Running-Joke.  So what does she do?  She goes all Snapped on Katie’s ass, grabs a gun, and shoots a punch glass out of her former BFFL’s hand to get her point across.  Then she has Bill drive her home, where she packs up all of Katie’s stuff, throws it out, and has a good cry by the fireplace.

An unspecific amount of time elapses, and Calam shows up at the Golden Garter one night and interrupts Katie’s number to tell her she better get out of town the next day on the stage coach that brought her in.  Katie responds by asking for a gun and attempting to shoot a glass out of Calam’s hand.  The glass is shot and broken, and everyone is amazed.  Katie is even more popular than ever, and CJ looks like a crazy, shamed, bitch.  She leaves, depressed, accompanied by Bill who takes her out in a wagon and admits that he was the one who shot the glass in her hand, in order to teach her this lesson: You can’t run around with guns telling people to leave town, because that’s not going to make anyone love you, silly!  CJ cries more and says that she just really loved Danny-Or-Whoever, and Bill admits that he had loved Katie.  Sharing in their mutual misery, the two sit together on a rock, and Calamity confides that she had fantasized about getting married, building a cabin, and raising youngin’s.  And upon this admission, proving that she really is a woman due to her desire for a domestic lifestyle, Bill kisses her and their subconscious love moves to their frontal lobes.  Hooray!

The next morning, Doris Day sings an Academy Award-winning song about the discovery of love, and then goes to share this news with Katie.  But what’s this?  Katie’s already left on the stage coach headed out of town!  Oh no!  CJ is busy being wracked with guilt when The-Idiot-Who-I-Am-So-Over-Writing-About shows up to rub salt in the wound by reading her a letter Katie left him about why she’s leaving: to essentially not stand in the way of CJ and Loser-Boy’s love.  So Calamity, who basically needs a moment of human empathy, is being scolded by this guy who, seriously: I mean, what are you doing standing around crying to some girl about how SHE made a woman leave you?  GET ON A HORSE AND GO GET YOUR WOMAN YOURSELF AND BRING HER BACK.  Oh, no, but you’re not going to do that, are you?  No: you’d much rather guilt some dame into DOING IT HERSELF, for which you will then tell her that she is UNFEMININE, because you decided you’d PLAY THE WOMAN and STAY AT HOME AND CRY about your lost love, while she rode off and ACTUALLY DID SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  And intermittently over the coming years, you will still make a point of casually putting her down for this, reminding her that she was acting outside of her gender definition.

Nothing makes sense.

Luckily, Doris Day turns out to be more of a man than That-Dude will ever be, rides out to the stage coach, jumps off her horse, dives through the window, tells Katie she’s marrying Bill, and gets the coach turned around, heading back to Deadwood for a double wedding.  And since everyone got married before anything indecent happened, the moral ideals and sexual identifications of the 1950s were maintained.  Pretty much.

End of musical!

HIDDEN GEM SONGS:

  1. Hive Full of Honey: As I think is made clear by the video of this number, this is a GREAT drag song.   The kitsch value is WAY HIGH, but it might also work as audition song for any show girl character (Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, Gladys Bumps in Pal Joey) with the right arrangement.  That being said, I don’t think it could ever be better than with a man singing it.
  2. Just Blew In From the Windy City: THIS is the uptempo song you want for your Annie Oakley (or even Ado Annie) audition.  Just cut the soft shoe and you’re golden.

That’s all for this week.  Thanks for dropping by, and Happy Movie Musical Monday!

*For the record, the author of this post is not impressed by chauvinism.  It’s pretty disgusting and only showcases insecurities on behalf of the person spouting it/expressing it physically.  So please don’t take my tongue-in-cheek humor seriously.  Because there are no excuses for you, Mr. Chris Brown.  Or even Billy Bigelow, for that matter.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2012 11:51 am

    I love how wry this post is. And I feel like I’m learning so much by reading this series!!

  2. California Triple-Threat permalink
    March 1, 2012 10:22 pm

    This is hilarious! Calamity Jane has always been one of my favorite musicals, and you are spot on.

  3. The Reflective Artist permalink
    March 2, 2012 12:37 am

    Thanks, ladies! Glad you’re enjoying these!

  4. March 8, 2012 4:48 pm

    I LOVED the movie as a girl; in fact, I still love it. I want to go home right now and watch it. And the post was HILARIOUS. 🙂

    • The Reflective Artist permalink
      March 11, 2012 11:28 am

      Thanks so much! So glad you liked it. And yes–this movie is awesome in so many ways.

      • March 11, 2012 3:36 pm

        Also, I really enjoy the Musical Monday posts in general. 🙂 Thanks for doing them! It’s a nice way to start the week.

  5. steve Menden Sr permalink
    March 21, 2012 9:46 am

    its been a life long dream to meet Doris Day! What a truly wonderful person! She cares about all God’s creatures great and small! We need more people like her in our world. A great example for my daughters is Doris Day!

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