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Calamity Jane

July 1, 2012

Calamity Jane (1953)
Director: David Butler
Actors: Doris Day, Howard Keel, Allyn Ann McLerie

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Synopsis: Calamity Jane (Doris Day), a tomboy-ish cowgirl in a small outpost in the Dakota territory, is forced to deal with suppressed matters of the heart and her own femininity when a celebrated actress arrives in town.

Review: Calamity Jane really is a relic of the past, a complete anachronism to today’s ultra calibrated, pre-packaged cinematic landscape. First, it’s both a musical and western – arguably the two most faded of cinema’s staple genres. But it’s also the way in which its story is told – bold, camp and clear indicator of cinema’s lineage to theatre and a vaudeville tradition. Doris Day’s gallant and broad performance emblematises this tone, and probably to modern, uninitiated sensibilities it’s hysterically over-egged.

Calamity Jane has more to it though than its seeming innocence: there are nice sly undercurrents where gender and racial stereotypes are interrogated – the travelling actor who has to perform as a woman, Howard Keel’s Bill Hickox who has to dress as an Indian when he loses a bet, and Day’s Calamity Jane herself – who goes from asexual cowgirl, to aggressive love-rival, to civilised, ballgown-wearing lady in the space of the film. Whether Calamity’s journey is a validation of femininity or subjugation to a patriarchal view of women is another matter though…(July 2012)

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