Jane Alexander and Sara Gilbert in Calamity Jane (1984)

No Calamity Here

Over the years Calamity Jane has appeared in various movies from Jean Arthur's performance in the 1936 movie "The Plainsman" to probably the most well known version being Doris Day's characterisation in the 1953 musical "Calamity Jane". But one of the most interesting is the 1984 TV movie starring Jane Alexander as Calamity Jane. I say that because this is a serious biopic which rather than focussing on other notable characters focuses on Calamity herself.

Now I am no historian but one thing I do know is that the life of Calamity Jane has various versions. Some accounts suggest she married Wild Bill Hickok whilst others suggest she was more obsessed with his celebrity status and they never married. So I am going to say right up front I am not entirely sure how much fact, fiction and poetic speculation is going on in "Calamity Jane" but the storyline which is pieced together is both interesting and entertaining.

Frederic Forrest and Ken Kercheval in Calamity Jane (1984)

The first half of the movie focuses on the relationship between Calamity and Wild Bill Hickok and goes as far as to suggest that they got married whilst travelling with two Reverends in a drunken ceremony around a camp fire. But what it also does is also follow the supposed story that she ended up having a child by Hickok which is one of the many disputed tales surrounding Calamity Jane. It is what happens to the child which dominates the rest of the movie and I will leave that for you to discover for yourself.

But in truth what makes "Calamity Jane" an entertaining movie is in the performance of Jane Alexander and the way Calamity Jane is represented. This is one multi layered character as we have that well known touch of rough and ready about her and that sense of daring, putting herself into danger without a care as she proved herself equal to many a man. We also see an almost naivety about her, not so much dumb just not as quick as others to catch on. But we also get to see that beneath the rough and ready exterior she wanted Hickok to love and treat her like other women but is unable to carry off the finesse of a dolled up woman. It makes for a character which you feel for and Jane Alexander brings that side to life brilliantly that quiet heart break over not being treated like a pretty woman and what happens to her daughter.

"Calamity Jane" is a movie which does belong to Jane Alexander but that is not to say she doesn't get some good support. Frederic Forrest is brilliant as Wild Bill Hickok and gives his character a nice layer of depth as you can sense some genuine fondness for Calamity but a quiet desire to live life on his terms rather than tied down. Plus those who are sharp eyed will spot a young Sara Gilbert as Calamity's young daughter Jean.

What this all boils down to is that "Calamity Jane" is a wonderfully acted movie about the life of Calamity Jane or at least one version of her life. The success of the movie relies partly on the writing but mainly on Jane Alexander who manages to deliver this fascinating character who is tough but with a sensitive side which is hurting behind the facade.