Monday, 19 February 2001
Calamity Jane (1953)
Just edges out The Wild Bunch as my favourite Western. Mind you, if the bunch had ever bowled up in Deadwood they might have found themselves curiously unmanned by this pistol packin’ mama – Doris Day in drag firing guns all over the place while singing Webster & Fain show tunes could bring out the non-binary in anyone.
It was Warner Brothers’ answer to Annie Get Your Gun, and far from the first celluloid outing for the fabled frontierswoman. Jean Arthur played her with surprising raw intensity opposite Gary Cooper in The Plainsman (1936). Jane Russell sassed her up for Bob Hope comedy, The Paleface (1948). She shared equal billing in Yvonne De Carlo’s incarnation, alongside Howard Duff in Calamity Jane and Sam Bass (1949). Her very own star vehicle, courtesy of David Butler’s 1953 musical, was doubtless inevitable.
All of which is sadly ironic for the alcoholic, some-time prostitute, and probable fantasist, Martha Jane Canary, who achieved dime fiction fame in her lifetime due to largely unverified exploits and became a music hall curio before drinking herself to death, aged 51, in 1903. Her legendary love affair with Wild Bill Hickok was also a sham, reputedly: he repeatedly spurned her, so they buried her right next to him as a joke.