This film blows in from the Windy City with a hive full of honey
Written By: Michaela Clement-Haynes
Date: 5th April, 2015
Cowboys – check. Indians – check. Tomboy who turns out to be downright perdy – check. Well I’m sold! What? It’s also a musical. Bring it on.
My love for this film is no secret, but I hadn’t seen it in years and it was only by chance when the musical theatre production came to London that I remembered what a good film it is.
Calamity Jane is a rootin’ tootin’ showstopper of a musical. Set in the Wild West (South Dakota) our heroine finds out that for all her wily stubbornness and prowess with a gun, she thinks like a female, dealing with unrequited love and jealousy as well as the rest of us!
Doris Day takes the title role – the gun-slinging, foul mouthed scout who turns out to be more feminine than she gives herself credit for. We first see her astride the stagecoach singing her way home to Deadwood and the Deadwood Stage is a catchy and descriptive opening number, setting the scene for the rest of the film… we think. Yet what is so compelling about Calamity Jane is that the songs aren’t all of one genre. From stage numbers to power ballads, the cast run with each one and continue to surprise us with their expert singing and dancing – not to mention occasional cross-dressing!
As an actress, Doris Day is fabulous – you expect her to be saccharine but she’s not at all. She’s a feisty woman who steps up to this unique role, rasping for sarsaparilla as she shoots her pistol, yet charming us all when she sings. Her facial expressions are also brilliant – there’s no doubt that her face conveys each emotion perfectly, even if her body language is less extreme.
Allyn Ann McLerie as Katie Brown is a sweetheart. In fact she’s so nice that she’s borderline irritating, but her character development is also interesting to watch, although her character becomes less likeable as the film carries on.
Howard Keel (Bill Hickok) on the other hand is sexy. His stance, his demeanour and his poise – all sexy, but when he sings Higher Than a Hawk you can’t help but sigh longingly at how rich and sexy his voice is. His chemistry with Day is delightful, especially in their performance of I Can Do Without You – it’s clear they despise each other but also have a strong, mutual respect that turns into love and watching this relationship develop is a pleasure.
The Black Hills of Dakota is also a beautiful song, performed by the majority of the cast as they head to the fort’s ball. It’s soft and simple, yet so iconic. Personally I prefer it to the Academy-Award winning song Secret Love as it’s soothing and to me epitomises how Dakota should be, but then Secret Love is a classic and the lyrics (by James O’Hanlon) are beautiful.
Perhaps this film is a fairytale version of the true history of Calamity Jane, but it invites us into a unique take on the world of Cowboys and Indians. It’s a funny, catchy feel-good film for all the family. Whip crack-away!