Thursday, February 20, 2014

BLUEBEARD 1972

When it comes to the preserved documentation of talent squandered and the irrefutable evidence of an artist in decline, few actors have as nagging a filmography as Richard Burton. And boy did he know it.

Indeed, it’s on the occasion of my having just finished reading (more like devouring) The Richard Burton Diaries – where he frequently rebukes the tiresome (to him) “myth” that his career is one of unrealized potential incarnate – that I was inspired to revisit this cult film curio from the “anything goes” 70s. Cult film, in this instance, being the term applied to any movie of dubious merit for which one harbors an affection that defies logical explanation.

In 1971, just before starting work on Bluebeard, Richard Burton wrote: “My lack of interest in my own career - past, present, or future - is almost total. All my life I think I have been secretly ashamed of being an actor. And the older I get, the more ashamed I get.” 
Well, that explains a lot. 
In fact, combined with the obvious allure of travel (the film was shot in Budapest, Hungary, a place the globe-trotting Burton's had never been) and a hefty paycheck, only apathy, self-loathing, and a subconscious need to publicly humiliate oneself can be the possible explanation for Burton’s head-scratching participation in Bluebeard: A big-budget, yet awfully cheap-looking, black comedy/horror movie that by rights should have been a throwaway exploitationer from Hammer Films starring Christopher Lee or Vincent Price (whom Burton wrote of purposely hoping to emulate in the role: “It has to be done with immense tongue in cheek. I will try to remember how the master –whasssisname – Vincent Price plays it.”).

Compared to the depths of degradation he was yet to fall into with The Klansman (1974), Exorcist II: The Heretic (1976), and The Medusa Touch (1977), Bluebeard actually represents something of  late-career high-point for Burton, signifying as it does a movie that, at least partially, intends to be laughed at.
Richard Burton as Baron Kurt Von Sepper
Joey Heatherton as Anne
Basically a Playboy magazine pictorial disguised as a film, Bluebeard is a tongue-in-cheek, post-WWI retelling of the 17th-century French folktale about a nobleman with a history of murdering his wives. Richard Burton plays Austrian (I think) war hero and famed fighter pilot Kurt Von Sepper, who hastily falls for and marries Anne, a spunky American cabaret performer assayed (emphasis on the first syllable, if you get my cruder meaning) by 70s variety show stalwart, Serta mattress pitchwoman, and erstwhile Bob Hope USO Tour frug-er, Joey Heatherton. True to the very grim original fairy tale, the Baron’s bride soon comes to learn of the gruesome deaths of her six predecessors (and a prostitute, for good measure) at the hands of her literally blue-bearded husband, and over the course of one very tense evening, is forced to rely on her wits(!) and assorted Scheherazadian ploys to avoid meeting a similar fate.
As movie set-ups go, this one isn't half bad. It's only in the execution (if you'll pardon the pun) where things start to go awry. The theme of the young wife suspecting her hubby of harboring a deep dark secret has been used effectively in movies for ages: in The Stranger (1946) a slow-on-the-pickup Loretta Young discovers she's wed a Nazi (you'd think a little thing like that would have come up during courtship); teen bride Elizabeth Taylor learns much-too-old-for-her Robert Taylor is a Soviet spy in Conspirator (1949); the thriller Julie (1956) finds Doris Day wed to man who may or may not have killed her first husband (how inconvenient!); and Hitchcock requires Joan Fontaine to sleep with one eye open in both Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941).

In this French/Italian/German production designed to showcase and undress its cast of international beauties, Miss Heatherton's unequivocal American-ness works rather well. Both as contrast (she has a delectably dissolute quality that makes her look like a debauched Sandra Dee) and in rendering her character believable as the one wife meddlesome enough to go snooping where she doesn't belong.
Richard Burton summed it up nicely: "Heatherton seems unbelievably ordinary, which might be good for the part. She has one of those one-on-every-corner, blonde, rather common, and at the drop of an insult I'm sure, rather bitchy faces."
Raquel Welch as Magdalena, the nymphomaniacal nun. Wife #4
Of course, top-billed Raquel Welch is also an American (total screen time: 8 minutes), but as Myra Breckinridge established, when Welch tries to be funny, she becomes so mannered and stilted that she barely even registers as human.

The device of having Heatherton forestall her execution by getting her homicidal husband to recount to her the whys and wherefores of each of his wives' deaths is a good one; for its fairy-tale framework is perfectly in keeping with Bluebeard's archly gothic tone, while the extensive use of lengthy flashbacks gives Bluebeard the feel of one of those tongue-in-cheek horror anthology movies popularized by Britain's Amicus Productions in the 70s (The House That Dripped Blood, Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, et al.).
Thus, with a solid horror film structure firmly in place and a script that asserts its dark/self-mocking humor at regular intervals, one would think that Bluebeard, in laying its "exploitation film" cards on the table, could effortlessly meet the  low bar requirements it set for itself. Not so.
Karin Schubert as Greta, the patient virgin. Wife #1
The impression one is left with from the film's wandering pacing and unfocused tone is that the filmmakers just don't have their hearts in the horror side of things. Blacklisted veteran director Edward Dmytryk, who clearly has seen better days (Murder My SweetRaintree County, The Caine Mutiny), has produced impressive work in many genres over the years, but demonstrates little of that flair here.
He has trouble arriving at and sustaining a consistent rhythm, the overlong Bluebeard frequently showing the strain of having to keep its featherweight premise aloft for its hefty two-plus-hours running time; he tends to undercut suspense (since we usually know right away what fault Bluebeard will find in his wives, the drawn out scenes of his slowly reaching the end of his rope feel like overlong setups for jokes we already know the punchline to); and he out and out flubs even the most cliche tropes of the genre (a shock reveal of a character thought to be out of the vicinity is botched entirely by having the camera placed practically across the room from the action). Equally problematic: it's hard to be induced to laugh at the exaggerated, purple performances Dmytryk elicits from his cast when one is not entirely sure: 1) They're in on the joke, 2) Capable of better.
Nathalie Delon (l.) as Erika, the latent lesbian babytalker. Wife #3
With her, Sybil Danning (r.) as a helpful prostitute
No, if Bluebeard can be accused of anything, it is of appearing to so aggressively court the lucrative softcore euro-sleaze exploitation market, that it treats every scene that doesn't actively involve the gratuitous disrobing, display, or objectification of a pulchritudinous actress as necessary, but unwanted, filler.
Virna Lisi as Elga, the atonal songbird. Wife #2
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
It’s a strange thing indeed to find oneself drawn to a film specifically because of the disaster potential inherent in the collective interaction of its assembled particulars. I submit for your approval: A once-respected, bomb-prone, alcoholic Shakespearean actor not known for either his dramatic restraint or light touch with comedy; a legendarily "difficult," not excessively talented, reigning global sex goddess trying hard to hold onto the title after a string of notable flops; a pouty American perpetual motion machine and heir to the sex-kitten throne after Ann-Margret abdicated with Carnal Knowledge; a bevy of international actresses of varying degrees of stateside recognizability (translated: the more obscure the actress, the more extensive the nudity); a director in his 60s taking a whack (pun again?) at trendy 70s permissiveness; all converging in a genre of film – a tongue in cheek black comedy gothic horror movie – alien to everyone involved.
Marilu Tolo as Brigitt, the masochistic feminist. Wife #5
Marveling at the myriad ways in which these discordant ingredients interact in Bluebeard is like watching one of those chemical reaction science demonstrations from when I was a kid. And it's just as much fun. There's the full-tilt sensory bombardment of having Richard Burton and Joey Heatherton "acting" together in the same scenes (so ill-matched they are actually MARVELOUS together). The visual clash of garish 70s art direction (one set looks like a furnished blood clot). And let's not forget the aural assault of the hollow, dubbed voices for many of the actresses, brushing up against Burton's free-flowing Austrian or Welsh or English accent, all buttressed unsteadily by Heatherton's flat, matter-of-fact,Yankee delivery on one side, and Welch's mechanical, mid-Atlantic elocution lesson whisper on the other. 
Agostina Belli as Caroline, the dispassionate free spirit. Wife # 6
The product of three screenwriters and no telling how many other “collaborators” (time and place is so inconsistent and poorly evoked in the costumes and makeup, each of Bluebeard’s wives appear to be a time traveler visiting from a different era...past and future), so many disparate ingredients are thrown into this Euro-sleaze potboiler that its working title could rightfully have been: Hungarian Goulash.
Audiences were puzzled by the insignia and flag used in Bluebeard. Although many thought it was a made-up substitute for a swastika, it is in fact a real-life crutch-cross (cross potent) symbol representing the Fatherland Front. An Austrian, anti-Nazi conservative group headed by Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss in 1933

PERFORMANCES
Although the lovely Nathalie Delon gives what I think is Bluebeard's best performance (she was the only wife I was sorry to see go), and the stunning Virna Lisi the most beautiful (that she allows her beauty to be camouflaged by costuming and makeup designed to emphasize the ridiculousness of her character, perhaps speaks well of the actress' lack of ego and sense of humor); I have to say that I am thoroughly charmed by Joey Heatherton in this and she is my absolute favorite performer in the film.
Dream Project Never to Be:
A film of Chekhov's Three Sisters starring Joey Heatherton, Tuesday Weld, and Connie Stevens
With that perpetually open mouthed, sex-haze look she falls back on whenever she finds herself at a loss for character motivation, Heatherton can be downright dreadful at times. But she also possesses that intangible, alchemic "something" that transforms bad acting, mediocre dancing, and a narcissistic self-absorption, into a special kind of camp, star quality.
Looking amazing and photographed the most flatteringly she's ever been in a film (she first worked with Bluebeard director Edward Dmytryk in 1964s Where Love Has Gone) and dressed in a collection of anachronistic frocks better suited to one of her Hullabaloo TV appearances, Heatherton nevertheless reveals a comic talent for the sarcastic throwaway line, imbues the sometimes sluggish film with a considerable amount of misdirected, giggle-inducing energy, and ultimately emerges the real star of Bluebeard. Oh, and did I mention she goes topless?
As Bluebeard, the man who invented your-fault divorce, Richard Burton is certainly game, and sometimes even appears to be enjoying hamming it up, but it's hard to laugh at an actor of his stature actually trying to emulate Vincent Price (who is the master of this sort of thing, but it IS this sort of thing). His Bluebeard doesn't really have any madness at his core. In fact, in too many scenes Burton appears to be either drunk, distracted, or bored...take your pick.
Edward Meeks as Sergio, Anne's unlikely partner in her cabaret act 

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Contemporary horror fans discovering Bluebeard are likely to find both the nudity and gore of this R-rated film to be well below even PG standards. But as for me, not having been weaned on Saw or whatever brand of torture porn passes for horror these days, I don't mind a bit that, outside of a pretty unwatchable hunting scene, the violence in Bluebeard is pretty bloodless.
Mathieu Carriere as the mysterious character known only as The Violinist
Where Bluebeard works best for me is in creating a suitably bizarre gothic atmosphere (silly and fun, but creepy) and in building suspense around how long it's going to take Heatherton to catch on to Bluebeard's "secret," and how she's is going to escape that castle before dawn (certainly not for lack of velocity. When Heatherton runs, flowing gown or not, the woman seriously floors it).
 "Oh, I love the castle! I love the park. The woods. These curtains. These walls. The furniture. I even like these strange photographs!"  Joey Heatherton, folks

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
When Bluebeard was first released, both Burton and Dmytryk went out of their way informing/warning everyone that the film was intended solely as a lark and a laugh (as if anyone seeing a movie titled Bluebeard [starring an actor wearing a literal blue beard] could mistake it for anything else). When critics and audiences failed to find much comedy, black or otherwise, in the sadism of the violence directed toward women; little humor in the grim choice of anti-Semitism and neo-Nazi fascism as a backstory plot point; and sat stone-faced at images of real-life animal slaughter in the hunting scene, their complaints were summarily dismissed as being born of taking it all too seriously, missing the point, and failing to understand that the movie was…here we go again…a  black comedy designed as escapist entertainment.
Von Sepper gets it in die nĂ¼sse 
A great many cult films, especially those poking fun at taboo/serious topics like murder and death, can come off as offensive. Of course, if it's a film by John Waters, Paul Morrissey, or David Lynch, causing offense is likely the whole point. But sometimes a film can cross a line for a viewer, and, so long as that individual doesn't try to censor a film or stop others from enjoying it, I think differing opinion should be respected without that person being told they are taking things too seriously or missing a film's point.
Researching Bluebeard online, I read many reviews citing the above reasons for not enjoying the film. And, this being the internet, those observations were met with caustic rejoinders citing said reviewer's inability to grasp that it was a horror comedy and therefore not to be taken seriously.
Anne attempts to distract Von Sepper with a delicious dessert
I have a tendency to roll my eyes - with a vengeance - any time I hear a filmmaker or fan launch into that overworked stock phrase, “It’s pure escapism, it’s meant to be entertaining,” when deflecting criticism directed at a film, or defending (I assume) our inalienable right to willful mindlessness.
That’s all very well, and to each his own. 

But if being a student of film has taught me anything, it’s that, historically speaking, pop culture’s so-called “mindless entertainments” – in the unguarded license they afford themselves – generally reveal far more about who we really are as people, than serious, contemplative films which tend to flatter us with images of how we like to think of ourselves.
Many considered a violent scene depicting Burton's character spearheading a fascist pogrom against Austrian Jews to be out of place (or at least poor taste) in a film Dymytrk described a being "Made purely for entertainment"
As comedian Ricky Gervais said (Oh God, I'm quoting Ricky Gervais...and using the word God in the bargain): "Just because you're offended doesn't mean you're right." And on the topic of reacting to potentially incendiary films, maybe I should add to that: Just because you take no offense doesn't mean you have a more profound understanding. No movie worth its salt doesn't divide audiences.

I think that Bluebeard is a great deal of gaudy, campy fun. A real "only in the 70s" oddity that is definitely worth a look. But that doesn't mean I'm unaware of its very real potential to offend. It's a dated relic of a time when male-centric Hollywood sought to counter the the cultural one-two punch of Women's Lib and the sexual revolution with movies that many perceived to be troublingly anti-woman (Roger Vadim's Pretty Maids All in a Row [1971] being the worst offender).

So, if you're inspired by this post to give Bluebeard a look, please proceed with caution. 
And be very, very afraid...


BONUS MATERIAL:
See Joey Do Her Thing!
A mouth-watering collection of fantabulous Joey Heatherton variety show clips from the 60s and 70s await you at The Redundant Variety Hour. Get ready to be transported to The Land of 1000 Dances! You can thank me later.

Joey's Best Performance Ever!
In 1986 Heatherton was acquitted on charges of having assaulted a passport office official.  Heatherton should consider the verdict her unofficial Oscar for the absolutely incredible impersonation she does of her accuser. Had she given her film roles this much gusto, she'd have been a major movie star! Watch the YouTube clip HERE

Copyright © Ken Anderson

Thursday, February 6, 2014

CALAMITY JANE 1953

A look at Doris Day’s filmography doesn't exactly yield (at least on the surface) a kaleidoscopic portrait of versatility when it comes to the kind of roles the extremely underrated actress has undertaken throughout her career. From her debut in 1948’s Romance on the High Seas, the studios made it their business to place Day in movies in which audiences were encouraged to partner the sunshiny implications of her alliterative stage name with the homespun effervescence suggested by her strapping good health; freckled, apple cheeks; and pleasantly toothsome smile. This, coupled with Day’s well-scrubbed sex-appeal, and soothing, honey-coated voice – which in spite of its clear-as-a-bell virtuosity, rarely strayed convincingly into the sultry or sensual – helped her to become one of the reigning boxoffice stars of the day (pun not only intended, but shoehorned). It also saddled her with an image of such strenuous and unrelenting wholesomeness that for years, the words “Doris Day movie” were a pop-culture punchline signifying a certain brand of clean-cut cinema artificiality.
Famously, director Roman Polanski used the term, “Like a Doris Day movie,” in describing the disconcertingly sunny look he wanted for the early scenes of Rosemary’s Baby; and only recently I've come to learn of the existence of the slang phrase, “Doris Day parking,” which apparently is the name given to a miraculously open parking space found exactly in front of the point of one’s destination. (An allusion to a familiar movie trope by no mean restricted to Doris Day films, in which characters always seem to find available, convenient parking near, or right in front of, the place they need to be…even in crowded cities.)

The rather tragic particulars of Doris Day’s real life, pooled with her personal values and a loyalty to her sometimes rabidly image-sensitive fanbase, has led Day, throughout her career, to shun some of the darker, more against-type  material offered her (Mike Nichol’s The Graduate, for example) that might have better showcased her range. (Fans reacted strongly to Doris smoking and drinking in Love Me or Leave Me, and as late as 1968, when the actress was well into her 40s, some fans bristled when, in her last film, With Six You Get Eggroll, her character – a widow, not the constant virgin she usually played –  goes to bed with Brian Keith before marrying.)
But Doris Day never set out to be a character actress. She was a star. And if the limitations of her squeaky-clean image and light-as-a-feather roles conspired to create in the public’s mind the impression that she was more a personality than an actress (especially during the “kitchen sink realism” era of the late 50s when her style of films began to fall out of favor), it’s nice to know that the passing of time has ultimately brought about a much-deserved reevaluation of her body of work. A reevaluation which rightfully places Doris Day amongst the most talented of Hollywood’s Golden Age stars.
Doris Day as Calamity Jane (nee Martha Jane Canary)
Howard Keel as Wild Bill Hickok (James Butler Hickok)
Allyn McLerie as Katie Brown
Philip Carey as Lt. Daniel Gilmartin
Calamity Jane, a tuneful, quadrilateral romance fashioned around the highly-fictionalized lives of real-life Old West figures, Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok, fools no one in its actually being a blatant, bald-faced, carbon copy of  Irving Berlin’s Broadway hit, Annie Get Your Gun, which Warner Bros. lost the screen rights to in a bidding war with MGM. The 1946 Ethel Merman musical was made into a film in 1950 starring Betty Hutton and Howard Keel; he playing essentially the same role he plays in Calamity Jane, albeit under a different name.
Dick Wesson as Francis Fryer
Calamity Jane was released to great success in 1953, and were not for the merit it earns on the strength of its own unique gifts, I’m certain its “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” similarities to Annie Get Your Gun would have branded it an embarrassing copycat. I've never read anything about what the creators of Annie Get Your Gun thought of Calamity Jane, but I’m surprised that two such similar products didn't lead to some kind of courtroom shootout at one time or another. That being said, as much as I like Betty Hutton (an acquired taste, to be sure) and think she acquits herself very nicely in a role she had to step into when an ailing Judy Garland was sacked, I much prefer the more modestly-budgeted Calamity Jane to Annie get Your Gun.
Deja Vu All Over Again
Howard Keel's face-off with Doris Day in the number, "I Can Do Without You," is a dead-ringer for Annie get Your Gun's "Anything You Can Do"
A staple of Saturday afternoon TV programming when I was a kid, Calamity Jane is the very first Doris Day movie I ever saw. And, discounting Love Me or Leave Me (1955) which features Day giving a standalone, powerhouse dramatic performance, Calamity Jane is my favorite of all of her films. Absolutely nothing else I've ever seen her in has matched Calamity Jane for flat-out, lift my spirits, always-puts-a-smile-on-my-face, double-barreled (to use the vernacular of the trailer) enjoyment.
Made at a time when original movie musicals were fast being replaced by adaptations of Broadway shows, Calamity Jane is, at 101 minutes, a brisk and snappy far cry from the butt-busting  roadshow behemoths that musicals would become in later years, and is an example of the Hollywood musical at its entertaining and  unpretentious, best. (Historical and artistic merit notwithstanding, I've never been too enthusiastic about the arty self-seriousness that overtook the movie musical in the post-Agnes de Mille/An American in Paris years).
Gale Robbins appears briefly as sagebrush songbird, Adelaid Adams
As befitting the time, the genre, and the film’s featherlight approach, Doris Day gives a performance that is oversized but never overdone. Liberated from having to be all sweetness and light, Day is allowed to give full vent to the tomboyish, outdoorsy quality (read: butch) that has always lurked beneath even her most glamorous screen appearances. Calamity Jane gives us a Doris Day at her most rambunctiously appealing, and, in being given lively support by a score of catchy songs by the Oscar-winning team of Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster (Love is a Many Splendored Thing), Calamity Jane ranks among a short roster of films I think provide near-ideal showcases for a particular star’s talents and strengths. A list that includes: Meet Me in St Louis for Judy Garland, Singin’ in the Rain for Gene Kelly, Funny Girl for Barbra Streisand, The Unsinkable Molly Brown for Debbie Reynolds, Mary Poppins for Julie Andrews, and Cabaret for Liza Minnelli. 
Doris Day croons the Oscar-winning song, "Secret Love"
Thanks to its gleefully butch heroine and subversively playful preoccupation with gender-normative behavior, Calamity Jane has grown into something of a Queer Cinema cult-favorite over the years. All that repressed, 50s-era skirting the issues of sex and gender allows for the contemporary attribution of gay-coding subtext  to the mismatched romances at the center of the plot. For years, "Secret Love" has been regarded as something of a gay anthem, with pop singer k.d. lang recording a rendition to play over the closing credits of the 1995 documentary, The Celluloid Closet.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS MOVIE
I’m not sure when it happened, but it has become a subtly dismissive form of insult to label anything as fun or purely entertaining. Pop stars Madonna and Lady Gaga became crashing bores after they stopped making infectious dance music and took up the mantle of serious artiste; likewise, Jerry Lewis ceased being even remotely funny (and he wasn't all that funny to begin with) once he and the French came to a meeting of the minds regarding his status as genius.
Pretentiousness and self-seriousness has killed a lot of what is lively about the lively arts, so when a film like Calamity Jane comes along, devoted as it is to providing its audience with a rollicking good time and plenty of toe-tapping music, it is by no means a minor statement to assert my fondness for this film chiefly because it succeeds in being such a cheerful and thoroughly captivating entertainment.
The Deadwood Stage (Whip-Crack-Away)
You'll have to look hard to find a sprightlier opening sequence for a movie musical than this bouncy, marvelously economical little ditty that gets across a staggering amount of expositional information while showing off Doris Day as a consummate musical performer. Her energy and charm is totally winning. And just check out how effortlessly she glides through Jack Donahue's athletic choreography and manages the timing of all those props!
The list of what works in Calamity Jane extends to the music (joyous, not a clunker in the bunch), performances (sharp as a tack), and pacing (glides along at a clip). But Calamity Jane starts out way ahead of the game by merely avoiding a few Musical 101 pitfalls that trip up filmmakers to this day:
Hire actors who can sing and dance
Seems a no-brainer, but after the mid-60s, Hollywood adhered to a perverse prerequisite of ONLY making musicals with individuals devoid of musical skill of any kind (see: Camelot, Man of LaMancha, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Paint Your Wagon, Lost Horizon).
Give songs a melody
I’m not calling for nursery rhymes or jungles, but hummable tunes of the sort that made the songs from The Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins ones children remembered and wanted to sing along with. Too many musicals today are hamstrung by over-sophisticated songs designed toward getting the composer a place on the Billboard charts ("Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas), or obvious Oscar-bait so lacking in distinction that the songs could be inserted into any number of films with no loss of relevance (pretty much everything written by Randy Newman).
Entertain
I don't mean keep it light or frothy; I simply mean keep in mind that things like pacing, good humor, and energy go a long way with audiences. When Vincente Minnelli excised each and every uptempo song from his film adaptation of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, one has to wonder, was it his express purpose for audiences not to have a good time?
Above: Character actor Dick Wesson's reluctant drag number, "Hive Full of Honey," is a comic highlight in Calamity Jane. Below: Wesson in drag again, fifteen years later in an episode of That Girl with Marlo Thomas.

PERFORMANCES
The price of being a Doris Day fan is having to resign oneself to the fact that only occasionally do her films measure up to her talent. Calamity Jane is such an occasion. Always a fine singer and actress, what’s impressive about Day in Calamity Jane is the sheer athleticism of her performance. Leaping about in form-fitting buckskin (which makes her resemble William Katt in Butch & Sundance: The Early Days) she displays a boisterous physicality that perfectly matches her full-throated brand of singing. A particular jaw-dropper is she's singing while sitting crossing-legged on the bar, then raises herself to he feet by pushing off of her ankles. Amazing!
My partner and I take particular pleasure in poking fun at Calamity Jane's over-emphatic, inconsistent western dialect; which consists of terms like "cigar-reets" and "sarsparilly," yet accommodates words like "malign." And don't get me started on her adjective/verb/noun formula for insults: "You mangy pack of dirt-scratchin' beetles!"
Growing up, strikingly handsome Philip Carey was more familiar to me as Granny Goose- the cowboy spokesman in a series of popular TV commercials for the potato chip company. But it was several years before I came to associate Calamity Jane's Katie Brown, engaging comedienne/singer/dancer Allyn McLerie, with Red Button's sardonic marathon dance partner in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, or as Tony Randall's comically stern secretary, Miss Ruebner, on his eponymous 1976 sitcom.
On the topic of the natural beauty of the Dakota Black Hills, Calamity Jane inadvertently proves that a lack of education  (ignorance) has always played a big part in Manifest Destiny and the legacy of entitlement. I saw Calamity Jane at a revival  theater once where I'm happy to say this exchange was met with a deafening chorus of "boos"
Howard Keel (who always seems to be on the losing end of a battle in trying to navigate his lips over his gorgeous but sizable teeth) makes for a very appealing co-star. As was the case with Annie Get Your Gun, he has the curious ability of making chauvinism look charming.


THE STUFF OF DREAMS
It’s easy to see how Calamity Jane gained a reputation as a paean to gender independence and a coded, gay-identity musical viewed through the prism of 50s repression. The amount of time the film invests in comedy centered on identity, drag, and gender role reversal is certainly intentional, as are the gender-normative romantic complications that don’t quite gel: tomboyish Calamity is in love with hyper-masculine Lt. Gilmartin, who has eyes for ultra-femme Katie Brown. Calamity’s best buddy, Bill Hickok, relentlessly teases Calamity about her lack of womanly virtues, and he too is smitten with the girlish Katie. But the overall impression it leaves of being a film about the oppressiveness of traditional gender is wholly unintentional.
Hickok has to appear in public in female Native-American "drag" as a form of shaming
Calamity Jane doesn’t know it, but it sets up a “Born This Way” dynamic with Calamity’s character. She is happiest and most at ease when she is just being herself (the only person she knows how to be) and the fact that her natural way of living her life is labeled “masculine” comes as news to her…she’s just being Calamity. In fact, it’s not until she visits “Chicagee” and gets a dose of the crossed messages her demeanor and mode of dress elicit (women flirt with her, men regard her as either an unsophisticated male or female curiosity), that it evens dawns on her that there is a different way for a woman to be.
Wannabe showgirl/maid Katie returns to Deadwood with Calamity. And if the cohabitating pair are revealed to share a livelier and more palpable chemistry than what has thus far been exhibited by either of the women with their rather stiffish male love interests, that fact has nothing to do with what the film is trying to convey intentionally, but everything to do with the natural, unforced butch/femme magnetism of Doris Day and Allyn McLerie.
Female duets are rare in musicals, and McLerie and Day shine in the marvelous, "A Woman's Touch"
Sure, Doris Day arguably looks “better” to our glamour-trained eyes after she gets her feminine makeover, but Calamity never again appears as carefree or seems to have as much fun as she did in the earlier part of the film. The otherwise playful film suddenly gets all misty-eyed and slow, as if both Calamity and the movie itself are reined in by her corset.

In the end, heterosexual love wins out and the gender roles realign, but I don’t think it takes a Queer Eye to see that the two lantern-jawed males make a more appropriate-looking pair, just as the duo of Katie and Calamity look made for each other.
Seriously, who wouldn't have wanted to see these two hook-up?
Calamity Jane predates Some Like it Hot by five years, but both films, in poking fun at sex, cross-dressing, and gender roles, unintentionally - through their adherence to the standardized cultural norms of the day - make telling (and subtly subversive) statements about the liberating effect of not always having to conform to society's rules of accepted gender behavior.

Bonus Material
In 1963, Carol Burnett starred in a TV adaptation of Calamity Jane. See a clip HERE.

Philip Carey in a Granny Goose Potato Chips commercial  HERE 

In 1963 Doris Day teamed with Robert Goulet for a studio album of songs from Annie Get Your Gun. Listen to their duet "Anything You Can Do" HERE

Hear Gil Peterson sing "Secret Love" in The Cool Ones  HERE


Copyright © Ken Anderson