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Thursday, December 17, 2015

CALAMITY JANE -- Movie Review by Porfle

CALAMITY JANE (1953) takes place in a dreamy Technicolor version of the Old West straight out of the matinee oaters of the 30s and 40s.  In fact, when we get our first long shot of the town of Deadwood, it looks almost like a cowpoke version of Oz. 

The film hits the ground running with Doris Day's rousing opening number, "The Deadwood Stage (Whip-Crack-Away!)", in which she sails into town riding shotgun on the stagecoach and then makes her way into the saloon-slash-theater "The Golden Garter" to regale all her friends with tall tales of her latest exploits.

Doris Day is a hoot playing a blonde, female version of Gabby Hayes who, as the film progresses and she acquires a few wardrobe and makeup refinements, gradually reveals her true hidden beauty to her stunned male friends including Howard Keel's "Wild Bill" Hickock. 

Keel is his usual tall, oak-solid self with a singing voice as deep as the ocean.  Philip Carey is adequate though a tad nondescript as dashing cavalry officer Lt. Daniel Gilmartin.  The rest of the cast is populated by a delightful assortment of motley Western types along with Dick Wesson as tenderfoot actor Francis Fryer from back East (who must perform in drag when the Golden Garter's owner accidentally books him as a female performer).  Keep a sharp eye out for Glenn Strange and Bess Flowers in bit parts as well.

Allyn Ann McLerie, who would later play a matronly schoolmarm in the John Wayne classic THE COWBOYS, makes a wonderful transition from shy, homely maid to ravishing dancehall singer as Katie Brown.  When Calamity travels to Chicago to ask sought-after beauty Adelaid Adams to perform at the Golden Garter, she mistakes Miss Adams' maid Katie for the famous singer and fetches back her instead. 

The nervous Katie's true identity is quickly revealed during her disastrous debut performance, but with Calamity's prompting the rowdy audience gives her a second chance and, with renewed self-confidence, she wins them over on her own.

While the first half of the movie is an endlessly frothy fountain of fun, the second threatens to bog down in romantic plot complications when the four main characters--Calamity, Bill, Katie, and Danny--all fall in love with the wrong people.  Fortunately, the film is carried along by some genuine heartfelt sentiment (mainly through song) before bursting forth with the requisite happy-ending vibes as everyone gets paired up like we know they're meant to be.

The songs by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster are just plain delightful.  In addition to the exhilarating "The Deadwood Stage (Whip-Crack-Away!)", Doris gets to perform such toe-tappers as "Just Blew in from the Windy City", "A Woman's Touch" (with Allyn Ann McLerie), and her duelling duet with Keel, "I Can Do Without You."  I'd forgotten that the Billboard chart-topper "Secret Love" originated from this show, so it was to my very pleasant surprise to hear Doris' beautiful rendition of it late in the film. 

Keel solos on the love song "My Heart Is Higher Than a Hawk (Deeper Than a Well)" and McLerie gets two onstage numbers, "Hive Full of Honey" and "It's Harry I'm Planning to Marry", while displaying one of the shapeliest pairs of gams you're likely to see in quite a spell.  A reprise of the film's opening number takes us into the feelgood fadeout with a goofy smile on our faces and a renewed appreciation for the divine Dodo.


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