Calamity Jane is a "Wild West"-themed film released in 1953. It is (very) 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 Brothers in response to the success of Annie Get Your Gun.
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.
The songs and screenplay form the basis of a stage musical of the same name that has had a number of productions. The film was also adapted for television in 1963, with Carol Burnett in the title role.
Calamity Jane (Doris Day) rides into Deadwood, South Dakota on the stagecoach. 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. Unfortunately, the men are anything but pleased when the latest "woman" turns out to be a man named Francis Fryer, who does a stage act in drag and goes under the name Frances Fryer. Calamity vows to get them the one woman they are all drooling over: singer Adelaide Adams, who is in Chicago. Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel) 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 goes to Chicago, where Adams is giving a farewell performance. Adelaide gives her costumes to her maid, Katie Brown (Allyn McLerie), who tries on one of the dresses and starts to sing. When Calamity walks in, Katie tricks her into thinking she is Adams so she can fulfill her dream of being on stage.
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 Adelaide 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 friends, and Katie moves into Calamity's cabin with her. One night, Bill and Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin (Philip Carey), who Calamity is in love with, take the women to a party at Fort Scully. Calamity becomes jealous after she catches Danny kissing Katie and storms home where she throws all of Katie's stuff into cases.
Calamity later confronts Katie while she is performing, and warns her to get out of town. But Katie is not intimidated. She takes a gun, and tells Calamity to hold up her glass. 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. Calamity is heartbroken, and reveals she was crazy about Danny, while Bill admits that he was in love with Katie. Bill and Calamity embrace and when Bill asks her what happened to that lieutenant she was telling him about, she answers "I've never even heard of him."
The next day, Calamity sings "Secret Love" before she rides into town. She finds that Katie has left for Chicago. Calamity mounts another horse and catches up with the stagecoach. She tells Katie that she is marrying Bill; the two women embrace.
A double wedding follows. When Bill finds Calamity's gun under her wedding dress, she says 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.
The music was included in an album of the same name, though some of the songs from the album were re-recorded rather than taken from the soundtrack.
Though the film portrays Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok as lovers, it is unclear whether that was the case in real life. The pair were friends, but many historians have disputed Calamity Jane's claims that she and Hickok were romantically involved.
The movie's lesbian undertones
In spite of its apparent heterosexual plot (for sake of Hollywood’s 1950s censorship), the movie has distinct and strong lesbian undertones. Calamity’s unself-conscious butchiness is evident. When she’s walking in a Chicago street a scarlet woman makes a pass at her. When she approaches the theatre’s back entrance, her butch looks causes the homophobic laughter of three passing chorus girls. She’s obviously fascinated by singer Adelaide Adams’ beauty as well as by that of Katie Brown’s. When she arrives at Deadwood, proudly escorting Katie, she quickly becomes jealous of her when some of the men show interest in the singer. Later the two women go living together in a cabin and Calamity rebuffs a prospective male visitor. Calamity in male attire sings the ambivalent "Secret Love" before eagerly riding to town and Katie. When she learns that her friend had left to Chicago she’s distraught. She catches up Katie in the stagecoach and she lovingly embraces her friend. At the end, each woman marries their unconvincing male sweethearts and leave town in the same stagecoach…