Rated: Approved (G)
Length: 107 min
Age: 4+ (5 or 6 for fuller comprehension) (commonsense media sez 6+)
Scary Factor: nothing scary
Violence: a lot of guns, naturally, but all used for target shooting; only one re-enactment of an Indian attack, make sure kids understand it’s all a big circus act and nobody is really being shot; Frank gets mad at one point and punches somebody, but it’s a rather isolated event
Other: racial insensitivity, depicting Native Americans as uncivilized for comic purposes; lots of “ugh’ and “how”-type dialogue
Interests: famous women, history, cowboys, Wild West, circus/theatrical, musicals
Next: for girl cowboys see Annie Oakley (1935), Calamity Jane (1953); for Wild West musicals see Calamity Jane (1953), The Harvey Girls (1946), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954); or visit your library to find historical accounts of the real Annie Oakley and her times
Based (loosely) on the true story of Annie Oakley, the backwoods sharpshooter who became a star in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in the 1880s, competing with and later marrying her co-star Frank Butler.
(NB. An earlier movie version of this story can be found in Annie Oakley (1935), starring Barbara Stanwyck, which covers the same ground but in black and white, and without the singing and dancing.)
This is a full-blown Broadway musical treatment of the story, with terrific songs by Irving Berlin, including “There’s No Business Like Show Business”. Bright, colourful, loud, and broadly acted, this will appeal to all ages, though it might be a little long for the youngest viewers. The acting is done at Broadway-style: crazily big and exaggerated. Betty Hutton mugs so hard throughout, I thought she was gonna hurt herself. This broad comedy just makes it goofier, which kids will appreciate.
Kids should also enjoy the rivalry between Frank and Annie, a classic battle of the sexes. Frank is obviously a blowhard at the beginning, and it’s nice to see Annie take him down a peg or two. Best moments are the shooting match at the start, and the comedic song “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” near the end, in which they both act like little kids.
Also on the plus side: trick shooting, fancy riding, lots of flashy costumes, splashy songs, all that show bizzy stuff. And despite all the gunplay there is no violence or danger at all – the only suspense in the plot revolves around whether or not Annie and Frank will end up together.
The only negatives are two: racial insensitivity and the 1950’s version of women’s lib (you can succeed, but within the male rules of the game). For the first… it’s rather hard to avoid the fact that the era this film is set in was steeped in the bigotry, fear and hatred roiled up by the Indian wars. At that time the general white populace regarded the indigenous peoples as dangerous savages, and that itself was part of the thrill and novelty of including them in a circus-like show. In this movie the hatred and violence of the recent past is played down, but unfortunately the “injuns” are still portrayed in a hokey stereotypical fashion for comedic effect. While Chief Sitting Bull is often found to be the voice of reason, he still speaks in an annoying “ugh” and “how” manner typical of movies from this time. The production number during which Annie is adopted by the Chief is the weakest point in the film, certainly. (In a close tie with the truly charmless rendition of “I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning”.)
While this film celebrates the life of a ground-breaking American heroine, it is disappointing that Hollywood conventions of the time still require her to “turn perty” and even throw a competition in order to get her man. Despite this, she is still a rather plucky and positive role model throughout, wearing her heart on her sleeve and working hard to succeed in show business and to learn to read and write.
Trivia: Judy Garland was set to play the lead role and some scenes and songs were already shot when she left – reports alternately say she “bowed out due to exhaustion” or she was “fired”.
In conclusion: This loud, colourful, sometimes goofy musical is appropriate for all ages, though it is a little long, and youngest may not follow all the snappy patter. Depiction of Native Americans could be better, but also could be worse.