Doris Day in Calamity Jane (1953)

A Calamity Day

When Henry Miller (Paul Harvey), the owner of the Golden Garter in Deadwood, hires Francis Fryer (Dick Wesson) to perform he thinks he's hired a woman and so is shocked when Francis turns out to be a man. With the audience unimpressed, tomboy Calamity Jane (Doris Day) promises that she will go to Chicago and bring back the big star Adelaid Adams to perform at the Golden Garter, but ends up bringing back her maid Katie (Allyn Ann McLerie) when she mistakes her for the big star. As they become friends it soon becomes apparent that Calamity's friends Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel) and Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin (Philip Carey) fancy Katie causing unrest as Calamity secretly loves Danny.

Out of all Doris Day's musicals, and there have been many, "Calamity Jane" is probably the biggest and best known. Telling a fictional tale, although one loosely based upon the supposed relationship between Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok, it is full on performances, comedy, memorable songs and some very entertaining dance scenes. But "Calamity Jane" also has something unmistakably Doris Day about it, that being Day playing the feisty tomboy character who by the end of the movie transforms into a more refined lady, something which happened more than a couple of times in her movie career.

Allyn Ann McLerie and Doris Day in Calamity Jane (1953)

Right from the opening scenes which sees Calamity riding in on the Deadwood stage coach "Calamity Jane" sets the tempo for what is to come with both a full on performance from Doris Day as she bellows out "The Deadwood Stage (Whip-Crack-Away)". And so it goes on at quite a pace as we get greeted with some great song and dance scenes whilst we are introduced to all the main characters in Deadwood including Wild Bill Hickok and Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin who Calamity valiantly rescues from the Indians. If it wasn't for such high octane performances and great songs it would almost feel rushed as it literally gallops through the initial set up.

When it settles down "Calamity Jane" also has quite a fun storyline to back up all the song and dance numbers with the folks of Deadwood idolizing big time performer Adelaid Adams who Calamity promises to bring to Deadwood. But having gone to Chicago, or Chicagi as Calamity pronounces it, mistakes Adelaid's maid Katie as her and brings her back instead to perform at the Golden Garter. One of the themes which runs throughout "Calamity Jane" is one of mistaken identity such as that when Calamity mistakes Katie for Adelaid, but there are others such as the humorous signing of a performer called Francis Fryer to perform who going by their name is hired as a woman but turns out to be a man leading to an entertaining drag act. There is also the initial meeting between Katie and Calamity where dressed up in her tomboy clothes Calamity is mistaken for being a man.

Of course there's more to "Calamity Jane" than just mistaken identity and coupled with turning Calamity from a tomboy into a lady is a romance, well this is a Doris Day musical so what do you expect. Now being harsh I could say that all this metamorphosing into a lady and romance is overly obvious, but then it's what you expect from a musical, fluffy, fun and delivering that completely expected happy ever after ending after some more confusion on the romantic front. Plus Doris Day who had proven before in the likes of "On Moonlight Bay" that she could play a tomboy is perfectly cast as Calamity Jane to go through the transformation from feisty tomboy to lady.

Whilst Doris Day is undoubtedly the star of "Calamity Jane" delivering a brilliant performance full of comedy as well as singing many of the movie's more memorable songs she shares the spotlight with some other big name stars. Howard Keel shows up as Wild Bill Hickok delivering powerful musical numbers as well as a nice line of comedy in the scenes he shares with Doris Day. And Philip Carey offers an equally fine performance as love interest Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin. Considering this was only her fourth movie it is a very confident performance from McLerie drawing on her experience working on the stage.

What this all boils down to is that "Calamity Jane" is a very good musical full of big numbers coupled with some great performances delivering boundless energy and fun. The storyline is predictable but in many ways that's what you expect from a musical and as such works as does the pairing of Doris Day and Howard Keel although Allyn Ann McLerie comes close to stealing the movie from under them.