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  • Gareth Crook

Calamity Jane (1953) - 6/10

I was talking with a friend about how I’ve come to accept that I love musicals, after denying it for years, and wondered if it stems from my mother having a VHS tape of Calamity Jane that got a real hammering in the 80s. I’m sure I hated it at the time, probably because I wanted to watch cartoons, but I don’t think I’ve ever sat down with it and given it a proper watch. So here goes… In case you’re not aware, we’re in the Wild West. It’s not that wild, but there is a lot of singing. In fact it doesn’t hold back, with ‘The Deadwood Stage’ “whip crack(ing) away” bringing Calamity Jane (Doris Day) into town to the local saloon, the Golden Garter. Now there’s some questionable gender politics at play here. Calamity is accepted by the yeehaw cowboys of Deadwood because she dresses and acts like them. It struggles with the role of Native Americans too, who according to 50s American Hollywood politics were “painted vermin”. Different times I guess, but still it’s dated badly. Calamity is only interested in fending off Indians on the trail, telling tall tales about it and delivering goods to the great unwashed. Oh and Danny (Philip Carey), she’s “kinda soft” on him, although it’s clear that’s not gonna work out. Everything is a bit upside down actually and I guess that’s the fun, no one is quite what they seem to be. Particularly Francis Fryer (Dick Wesson) an entertainer mistakenly booked as a woman, then forced to dress up as one or get lynched. Not really. There’s no serious violence here, just plenty of farce and a cast of caricatures. Honestly if it weren’t for the songs, I’m not sure this would’ve got very far. Calamity has a good heart and sets out to help the Golden Garter that’s in need of a proper starlet actress to entertain the braindead masses. Setting out to find Adelaid Adams (Gale Robbins) who’s rather pompous, she insteads mistakes her for Katie Brown (Allyn Ann McLerie) a wannabe actress who spots her chance at making it to the stage, only to find it’s in the backwater. Deadwater fawns over her and after moving in with Calamity, soon everyone, including Wild Bill Hicock (Howard Keel) sees a different side to Calamity, as the inevitable change from cowboy clobber to pretty frocks takes place. Schmaltz right? This is all safe and saccharine, but it’s entertaining too. Utterly ridiculous, but entertaining… and I’ll have “whip crack away” stuck in my head for weeks!



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