Calamity Jane (1953)
Originally published March 21st, 2012
Calamity Jane was the latest film I watched for my Women in Film class and this movie is frustrating. It’s cute and has some good songs and Doris Day is beautiful no matter how hard she tries, but the issue of femininity and female competition over men really irked me. Part of this can be attributed to time period but hell, I’m taking a Women in Film class so I gotta get a little peeved at this film. If you’re looking for a better interpretation of Calamity Jane I’d recommend the series Deadwood, but for classic film fans this is a must-see musical and it’s pretty charming.
Calamity Jane (Doris Day) is in love with Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin (Philip Carey) but he doesn’t see it. Her best friend Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel) and the many other men in the town of Deadwood don’t even realize “Calam” is a girl at all, treating her like the whip-snapping, stagecoach climber that she is. When she goes to Chicago to convince big-time burlesque dancer Adelaide Adams to come to town to entertain the men, she comes to find out that Adelaide has quit and her maid Katie Brown (Allyn Ann McLerie) has taken her place. With Katie in tow the men of Deadwood are happy, until Lieutenant Danny finds himself falling for Katie.
So in a nutshell Calamity Jane lives on Doris Day’s performance. This is actually my first Doris Day movie and boy is she beautiful! Even when they cover her up in buckskin, hats, little makeup, and her hair up in a ponytail you can still see the natural beauty beneath. She’s also got hilarious comedic timing here that I don’t think would have been as good with another actor. When she first meets Katie as Adelaide, Katie assumes Calamity is a man (a common thing that happens in this film). Calamity loudly starts laughing, abruptly stops, and completely deadpan says “Hey that ain’t so funny.” I don’t know of any other actress who could have pulled that joke off and still looked adorable.
On that note, the movie does have some annoying views of women, mostly in terms of appearance. There are numerous jokes and comments made about Calamity not looking like a girl, most of them made by her bland cohort Wild Bill, but it’s for the Old West, it just seems to be harped on. Not to mention that in the town of Deadwood, Calamity seems to be the ONLY female there, heavily outnumbered by the men which makes you wonder how she hasn’t been sexually molested yet. There’s also the character of crossdresser Francis Fryer (Dick Wesson) who almost gets killed for NOT being a girl.
On the whole, Calamity Jane is cute but the roles of women are frustrating and the movie just wasn’t necessarily the “classic” I had heard about. For my first Doris Day film though, it was a pleasant experience.
Kristen Lopez View All
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.
I dont know if you are going to read this but i´ll post it anyway… the film calamity jane was a parody. at that time they couldnt just shoot an entire movie on a critical gender Topic and criticise the gender roles and the view on womens and mens behavior. so what they did was an absolute exaggeration of everything concerning the traditional gender roles. so that People who were smart enough at that time would get the messege they were sending anyway. the messege was not that women should Dress up nicel in order to be considered a real woman, but that this mindset is ludacris and shouldn´t be taken seriously.
Hi Alisha. I do believe elements within Calamity Jane are parody, specifically of the Western genre, and yes, certain gender/queer attitudes about the movie couldn’t be shown to 1950s audiences. There is definitely subtext there which you touched on. But, considering that Calamity gets the guy only after he sees her dressed up and because of Jane’s attitudes at the end, it’s heavily implying that women should dress a certain way. We should also remember Day’s persona as representative of the ideal 1950s woman, and what the era was perpetuating about women. Thanks for reading!
Interesting readings….I saw this film as a kid and haven’t seen it since. I remember being frustrated that Danny couldn’t see Calamity’s worth and instead falls for a “typical” female like Katie. I also remember thinking that at least Wild Bill seemed to like Calamity even before she gussied up.
On another note, this was this film that disillusioned me on Hollywood’s treatment of historical characters. Because of this I became fascinated with Calamity Jane, only to find out her real life wan’t nearly so carefree and rosy.