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Movie Review

Calamity Jane

Reviewed by: Brett Willis

Better than Average
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
8 to Adult
Western, Musical
1 hr. 41 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Cover graphic from “Calamity Jane”
Featuring: Doris Day, Howard Keel, Allyn Ann McLerie, Philip Carey, Dick Wesson
Director: David Butler
Producer: _____
Distributor: Warner Bros.

Of all Doris Day’s musical roles, this one may be the strangest and most challenging. Set in the Old West in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, it’s very loosely based on the exploits of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok, and is intended as escapist entertainment rather than as a true-to-life commentary.

Many films use the “eternal love triangle” theme; in this case, it’s a rectangle. Calamity (Day) dresses, talks and shoots like a man, but is smitten with Lt. Danny Gilmartin (Philip Carey); her close friend, Wild Bill (Howard Keel, TV’s “Dallas”) has a similar crush on singer/actress Katie Brown (Allyn Ann McLerie); but Danny and Katie are interested in each other. Could be trouble a-brewin’ there. There are several memorable songs including “Higher than a Hawk,” “A Woman’s Touch” and the Oscar-winning “Secret Love.”

Content warnings

There’s no profanity, but a lot of profanity substitutes. The cowboys (and one cowgirl) do the standard Western stuff: drink, smoke, gamble, shoot holes in the saloon ceiling. There are several instances of dishonesty, and three different reasons for cross-dressing. The stage shows put on by the actresses (and by a man dressed as a woman) are slightly suggestive. There’s a lot of “instant love” and emphasis on outward beauty. Calamity is berated by Hickok for the “female thinking” behind her one-way attachment to Gilmartin. But Hickok isn’t any better; he sings that his love for a woman he’s just met is “deeper than a well,” but later transfers this “love” to someone else in the bat of an eyelash.

The stereotyped Indians are there only to be feared or shot; lip service is paid to the fact that the land was theirs first. Calam has a habit of gross exaggeration; in a song from the stage version which wasn’t used in the film, the entire saloon sings of her: “She’s not exactly lyin’ but she’s careless with the truth.” Most of the negative behavior is not glorified. It was hard to decide on a bottom recommended age; I let my 8-year-old daughter watch this film with a few scenes fast-forwarded, but discussed with her that the infatuation which is central to the plot isn’t real love. I don’t believe I’m being overly harsh here; I once played in the stage version of this musical myself, and enjoyed it (I was the saloon owner); so if anything I’m probably being a little lenient.

Positive content

Calam slowly realizes that it isn’t funny when people mistake her for a man. As Katie helps her fix up her cabin, Calam herself graduates from buckskins to jeans to a blouse and skirt. Mixed in with the “instant love” theme is a suggestion that maybe it would be smarter to pursue a relationship with someone you’ve known for a long time.

Viewer Comments
I liked it! It was clean, funny, sweet, overacted (as was the case in those days)… no one fornicates, swears or kills anyone else. A real relaxing show to watch. My Ratings: [Good / 3]
Kendall, age 20