[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]
“A man never trifles with gals who carry rifles — oh, you can’t get a man with a gun.”
A scraggly sharpshooter named Annie Oakley (Betty Hutton) becomes famous in the Wild West Show put on by Buffalo Bill Cody (Louis Calhern), but finds that her enormous crush on her performance partner (Howard Keel) is disrupted by their ongoing rivalry.
- Battle of the Sexes
- Betty Hutton Films
- Edward Arnold Films
- Howard Keel Films
- Strong Females
Peary doesn’t list this infamously troubled musical (plagued by production concerns, and then out of circulation from 1973 until 2001) in his GFTFF — but he does nominate Hutton as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars book, so I decided to check it out as a potential “Missing Title”, and review it here. Sadly, I don’t believe it is “must see”. Despite a rousing score of hummable classic tunes by Irving Berlin (including “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun”, “Doin’ What Comes Naturally”, “I Got the Sun in the Morning”, “Anything You Can Do”, and “There’s No Business Like Show Business”, to name just a few), the storyline itself simply fails to engage. As in Calamity Jane (1953), the story centers on a rough-and-tumble female sharpshooter who must “clean herself up” and become more “feminine” in order to attract the man she loves (indeed, the narrative parallels are downright uncanny); however, while Doris Day’s Calamity Jane is a memorable three-dimensional character with plenty of personality and sass, Hutton’s Annie is simply hyperkinetic and somewhat annoying.
This is not necessarily the fault of Hutton, who invests her character with as much energetic enthusiasm as she gave to just about every other role she played; I believe the fault lies primarily with the narrative, which portrays tomboyish Annie as instantly infatuated with Keel’s “Frank Butler” (presumably for comedic value). Her slack-jawed reaction upon viewing him (repeated several times) simply comes across as cartoonish. Meanwhile, the subplot involving Annie’s “adoption” as the honorary daughter of Chief Sitting Bull (J. Carrol Naish) is not only silly, but leads to a number of downright offensive scenes with Native Americans. (Yes, I know, it’s all part of how things were perceived during that era — but that doesn’t stop it from being utterly unappealing.) In sum, while Hutton’s performance is worth a look, and the film itself was one of the most popular musicals of its time, this one is simply recommended rather than Must See.
Note: Check out Wikipedia’s article for more information about the film’s troubled production history; it originally starred Judy Garland, who became too ill to continue, and was ultimately fired by MGM.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Betty Hutton as Annie Oakley
- A host of fine, rousingly performed Irving Berlin tunes
No, but it’s recommended for one-time viewing simply to see Hutton in her most (in)famous role — and to enjoy the score.