Calamity Jane (film)

Calamity Jane is a 1953 American Technicolor western musical film loosely based on the life of Wild West heroine Calamity Jane, and explores an alleged romance between Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok in the American Old West. The film starred Doris Day as the title character and Howard Keel as Hickok. It was devised by Warner Bros. in response to the success of Annie Get Your Gun.

Calamity Jane
Theatrical poster
Directed byDavid Butler
Produced byWilliam Jacobs
Written byJames O'Hanlon
StarringDoris Day
Howard Keel
Allyn Ann McLerie
CinematographyWilfrid M. Cline
Edited byIrene Morra
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
November 4, 1953
Running time
101 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish (U.S. [1]

It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song ("Secret Love", Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster) and was also nominated for Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Sound, Recording (William A. Mueller).[2] The songs and screenplay form the basis of a stage musical of the same name that has had a number of productions.


Calamity Jane (Doris Day) rides into Deadwood, Dakota Territory as shotgun messenger on the stagecoach. When boasting of her stagecoach's hazardous journey through Indian Territory the men laugh at her exaggerated account of an attack by the Sioux. No one is laughing when survivors of an Indian attack come through and relate that the man Calamity has set her sights on, US Cavalry Lt Danny Gilmartin (Philip Carey) was killed. When Calamity presses the survivors for the way Gilmartin was killed they admit they don't know and fled in fright. An enraged Calamity rides into the encampment of a Sioux war party with her six shooters blazing to rescue the captured Danny.

Meanwhile, the local saloon bar, the Golden Garter, sends for beautiful women to appear on the stage and entertain the residents of a town with few females. The saloon owner is surprised when his latest booking, a Frances Fryer, arrives in town and turns out to be a man named Francis Fryer (Dick Wesson). Fryer is reluctantly persuaded to perform a stage act in drag, and during an increasingly confident performance his wig is lost, revealing him as a man. The audience begin to storm out. Calamity, thinking quickly in all the panic, vows to get them the one woman they are all drooling over: singer Adelaid Adams (Gale Robbins), who is in Chicago. Francis Fryer points out that Adams wouldn't be seen dead in that town but Calamity is still determined to bring her. Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel) laughs at the idea and tells Calamity that the night Adams steps on the stage, he will come to the opening dressed as a Sioux squaw lugging a papoose.

Calamity travels to Chicago, where Adams is giving a farewell performance (she was on her way to Europe directly after the performance). Adelaid, sick of the 'primitive' Chicago, gives her costumes to her maid, Katie Brown (Allyn McLerie), who dreams of becoming a stage singer. She tries on one of the dresses and starts to sing. When Calamity walks in, she mistakes Katie for Adelaid. Katie takes advantage of the error and poses as Adelaid Adams to make her dream come true.

The ride back to Deadwood is rocky, as they are chased by Indians. Later, when Katie gives her first performance, Calamity says she didn't sound that way in Chicago. When Calamity tells Katie to sing out, she bursts into tears and admits that she is not Adelaid Adams. The Golden Garter falls silent. Everyone present is on the verge of rioting, but Calamity fires a shot into the air and defends Katie. They allow Katie to carry on, and her performance wins them over. On the balcony above, Bill Hickok, dressed as an Indian woman, ropes Calamity and hangs her high and dry.

Calamity and Katie become good friends, and Katie moves into Calamity's cabin with her. At first the cabin is shabby and in disrepair but Katie suggests they fix it up with the help of a "Woman's Touch". In order to attract Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin, the man she's madly in love with, Calamity dresses, looks and acts more like a lady. Later that day, Danny and Wild Bill Hickok (who are both in love with Katie) pay a visit to Calamity's cabin. Katie manages to lure Bill out of the cabin for a few minutes; while alone with Danny, she tells him straight out that Calamity loves him and that she, Katie is trying to stay away from him to keep her friendship. However, Danny tells Katie he is not interested in Calamity. Later, Katie tells the two men that Calamity has changed and had a makeover proving she will be accepted at a local ball the following weekend. They draw straws and Danny wins, meaning he'll go with Katie. Now in a pink ballgown and looking quite a lady, Calamity pretends to be fine with the arrangement but is stung when Danny gives her a soft kiss on the forehead. On the way to the ball, all the attendants riding in their wagons sing about the beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

At the ball, Calamity becomes increasingly jealous while watching Katie and Danny dance together. They adjourn to the garden where, as Danny holds her and moves in for a kiss, Katie can no longer resist him. Angry and betrayed, in the ballroom Calamity shoots the punch cup out of Katie's hand and everybody is horrified. Back at the cabin, Calamity throws out Katie's things and threatens to shoot her if she ever sees her again, but the scene ends with Calamity in floods of tears.

Calamity later confronts Katie while she is performing, and warns her to get out of town. But Katie is not frightened. She borrows a gun from one of the cowboys, and tells Calamity to hold up her glass. Taunting her about being too afraid, she boldly holds it up. A gunshot finally rings out, and the glass falls from Calamity's hand, but it wasn't Katie who fired; it was Bill, who lets Katie take all the credit. Humiliated, Calamity storms out. But before she can mount her horse, Bill grabs her, throws her onto his horse-drawn cart and rides off.

In the woods, Bill tries to talk some sense into Calamity, and reveals that he shot the glass out of her hand to teach her a lesson and that scaring Katie out of town would not stop Danny from loving her. Calamity is heartbroken, and reveals she was crazy about Danny (whom she had earlier saved from capture by Indians), while Bill admits that he was in love with Katie. Calamity tells Bill there won't be another man like Danny, not for her, however she and Bill end up in a passionate embrace and kiss, and she realizes it was him she loved all along. And when Bill asks her what happened to that lieutenant she was telling him about, she answers "I've never heard of him."

The sun rises on a new day where a much happier Calamity sings "Secret Love" before she rides into town, but when she talks to the people, they just ignore her. She finds that Katie decided alone to leave for Chicago, feeling guilty about betraying her best friend. Danny is furious with Calamity for driving Katie out of town and demands she listen to him read a note Katie left. Calamity leaps back onto her horse and chases after the stagecoach, eventually catching up with it. She tells Katie she isn't in love with Danny and is marrying Bill, and the two women become friends again.

A double wedding follows. When Bill finds Calamity's gun under her wedding dress, she jokes it's just in case any more actresses roll in from Chicago. The movie ends with the two happy couples riding out of town on the stage.[3]



The score, with music by Sammy Fain and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, includes:

The music was included in the album of the same name, though some of the songs from the album were re-recorded rather than taken from the soundtrack.


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


The film has been popular with some queer female audiences for its depiction of a character which can be read as lesbian, and was screened at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in 2006.[8] Film critic Jamie Stuart points to the film's lesbian overtones in Jane being played as a strong, independent woman who shares a house with a woman, the two of them painting "Calam and Katie" in a heart on its door.[8] Armond White sees the film as approaching sexuality and queerness in a way that Hollywood was not openly able to do, describing the empathy and envy between Jane and Katie's characters as "a landmark display of girl-on-girl attraction".[9] Out magazine described the film's award-winning song, "Secret Love", as "the first gay anthem".[9]


Though the film portrays Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok as lovers, historians have found no proof that they were more than acquaintances. Jane claimed after Hickok's death that she had not only been his lover but also his wife and the mother of his child, but she offered no substantiation of her claims. Many of her contemporaries considered her a teller of tall tales (as portrayed in the film to humorous effect) who exaggerated her links to more famous frontier figures, and some insisted Hickok did not even particularly like her. But when she died decades after Hickok, friends buried her beside him at her request.


  1. 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954', Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955
  2. "The 26th Academy Awards (1954) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-20.
  3. For music, lyrics and libretto of subsequent stage play and musical adapted after the Warner Bros Film, also see: Vocal score- "Calamity Jane (Operetta in Two Acts)" Amateur Operatic Version Warner Chappell Music Ltd copyright 2006 by Faber Music Ltd (ISBN 0-57152792-2). Libretto- "Calamity Jane A Musical Western" adapted by Ronald Hanmer & Phil Park from the stage play by Charles K. Freeman after the Warner Bros Film written by James O'Hanlon. Licensed to Josef Weinberger Ltd, London by arrangement with Tams-Witmark Music Library NYC. (Copyright 1962 by Tams-Witmark Music Library, New York. ISMN979-0-57005-498-5)
  4. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-18.
  5. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-18.
  6. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-18.
  7. "AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-18.
  8. Stuart, Jamie (2008). Performing Queer Female Identity on Screen: A Critical Analysis of Five Recent Films. McFarland. ISBN 9780786439713. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  9. White, Armond (29 June 2017). "The First Gay Anthem: Calamity Jane's 'Secret Love'". Retrieved 9 June 2019.


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