I loved this movie when I was a kid, but watching Calamity Jane (1953) leaves me feeling rather conflicted as a grown-ass woman in the 21st century. Sure, I still enjoy Doris Day as a rowdy cowgirl, belting out songs, shootin’ and spittin’, and slidin’ on the tavern bar, just like one of the guys but with a bright blonde ponytail behind her hat. And I mostly don’t mind the criss-crossed love stories between Jane (who everyone calls “Calam,” WTF?) with Wild Bill Hickock and Katie Brown with Lieutenant Danny.
What bugs me is the obligatory feminizing of Calam by Katie, especially in the song “A Woman’s Touch” when they tidy up Calamity Jane’s rundown old shack. That whole scene couldn’t be more 1950s if it was lifted wholesale from Leave It to Beaver and that was June Cleaver sweeping up the place in high heels and pearls (OK, that’d come out in ’57, but still). None of this makeover is relevant to the real story of Calamity Jane or the western frontier, it’s just super mega patriarchal cliches shoved down your throat, with lyrics like: “A woman and a whisk-broom can accomplish so darn much / So never underestimate a woman’s touch.” URGH.
Oh, the costumes? Yup, they’re in the standard ye-olde-timey historical vein for the ’50s, using modern materials and construction with a few period shapes and touches. Katie’s blue velvet traveling outfit is rather impressive for looking like an 1880s bustle gown, and later in the film, when Calamity Jane strips off her pink ballgown, she is wearing a Victorian-esque corset, petticoat, bloomers, et. al., so bonus point there.
Obviously, you don’t go into old Hollywood musicals looking for historical accuracy — usually, what you get is a colorful mishmash of nostalgic escapism with stellar song and dance. And on that level, Calamity Jane delivers, but it also deeply reminds me that kids can use some better role models than women advising each other to wear dresses and clean house.
How have the movies you watched as a kid held up?