Doris Day is one of my favorite actresses
. Westerns are my favorite movie genre. I also love musicals. So WHY haven't I seen Calamity Jane
Actually, it feels like I have seen part of it before. I suspect it was shown on AMC when I was in college, and I caught a little of it, but didn't like it enough to write it down on my list of movies to seek out and watch all of. And I can understand why, as the parts I felt like I'd seen before were all in the first third of the movie, and that first third was not my favorite thing ever, to be honest. I might like it better on rewatching, now that I know where the story is heading, but that's because this movie surprised me. Twice.
I watched this over two nights, making it through the first two thirds the first night and finishing the rest the next. Honestly, I was not very engaged the first night, and if I hadn't been watching for the Doris Day Blogathon, I probably wouldn't have finished it. That was the first surprise, that a Doris Day musical western was just not interesting me very much!
The second surprise came the next night, when I finished the movie. Because the final act did NOT go where I was expecting it to go, but went to some deeper and better places, and I absolutely loved the way it all wrapped up. In fact, I went from "well, this is nice, but I'll sell my copy to the used book store" to "this deserves a place on my movie shelves."
Calamity Jane (Doris Day) is a buckskin-wearing, whip-cracking, gun-toting, enemy-shooting, tough-talking, swaggering kind of gal. Her best friend, Wild Bill Hickock (Howard Keel), is just about the only person in Deadwood who's willing to stand up to her hot temper or stand beside her in a fight. But Calamity Jane doesn't see Bill as anything but a chum -- she has her sights trained on a handsome cavalry lieutenant (Philip Carey) she's rescued from some marauding Sioux.
The local saloon owner thinks he's hired a woman named Frances Fryer, and he advertises that she'll be singing and dancing at his saloon. When a man named Francis Fryer (Dick Wesson) arrives instead, the cowboy audience is none too happy about the attempt to pass off Francis as Frances. Calamity Jane stops them from ripping the whole building down by vowing to go to Chicago and bring back the prettiest singer and dancer ever: Adelaid Adams (Gale Robbins).
Only, she doesn't. Once again, we have a case of mistaken identity, for it's actually Adelaid Adams's maid Katie Brown (Allyn McLerie) who comes back to Deadwood, pretending she's the famous entertainer. The crowd at the saloon is a little more forgiving of this mistake, since Katie is pretty and spunky and plenty entertaining in her own right. But Calamity Jane is humiliated because Katie lied to her, which made her lie to the townsfolk. And Bill Hickock is humiliated because of a bet he made with Calamity and thought he'd lost -- he thinks she tricked everyone just to make him look foolish.
To make matters worse, that handsome lieutenant takes a shine to Katie Brown, and then Bill does too, and for a while, Calamity Jane appears to be losing everyone and everything she cared about in her whole life, all at once. But, she doesn't, and everything turns out just fine in the end.
I really expected the story to go the route of "once Calamity Jane learns to conform to societal expectations, she'll find her happiness." Because there was this message all through the beginning of "because Calamity Jane does not look or dress or act like Adelaid Adams, she is not womanly enough to interest a man." And... it did not. Yes, Calamity Jane wears a beautiful dress to a ball, where the people who had always half thought of her as a scrappy little man suddenly discover she is a scrappy little woman instead. Yes, she finds her happiness. But she doesn't quit wearing buckskins most of the time (though she does get some clean ones). She doesn't quit riding horses and wearing a sidearm and racing off to do whatever she thinks needs doing. She still keeps sliding through the window of a stagecoach from above instead of opening the door, too.
In short, Calamity Jane does not need to change to find her happiness. Instead, she needs to understand herself fully instead of bullheadedly refusing to do anything anyone else tells her to do, whether she wants to do it or not. She learns to accept herself for herself, and only then does she find she's in love with someone who, as Mr. Rogers always said when I was a kid, likes her just the way she is.
I think, if I had seen this movie as a teen, it may have saved me some angsty grinding of the teeth. Because Calamity's journey is very similar to my own journey, and I'm thankful to the Lord that he sent me my own Cowboy to appreciate me and love me and understand me just the way I am, rather than trying to convince me to fit into a pre-approved box or pigeonhole. Maybe seeing this would have given me hope that such guys exist.
Or maybe I would have been so disturbed by Howard Keel's lack of mustache that I would have only watched it once, back then. Because, to someone who is very used to seeing him gloriously mustachioed in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and Showboat (1951), it WAS a little disturbing to hear his voice come out of this seeming-stranger's face!
I mean, I do accept that he's the same guy... but it was pretty weird at first!!!
Is this movie family friendly? Pretty much. There's the Frances/Francis mix-up, in which Francis does wear a dress and try to convince the audience he's a girl, but he is very obviously NOT, and very obviously doing this only under duress. There are some attitudes and dialog concerning Native Americans that you might need to let kids know are not acceptable today. There is some mild Wild West violence, and I do mean very mild. No cussing.
Now, both Adelaide and Katie sing and dance in what looks like a strapless swimsuit, which Calamity says she would never wear because she has different ideas about modesty than that. But their musical numbers are just cute and flirty, not overtly sensual. I would let my kids watch this, and we just might do that this summer when I re-institute our weekly lunchtime movie schedule.
This post is my contribution to the Sixth Annual Doris Day Blogathon
hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood. I'm so glad this event gave me an excuse to watch this movie at last! It was a great way to celebrate what would have been Doris Day's 100th birthday, which is April 3.