Our Rating: ★★★★☆
L Factor: Gender Bender
Short Take: Back in the days when subtext was the closest thing to a lesbian character in film, this musical provided a crossdressing heroine.
Alternate Titles:
Year: 1953
Duration: 101 min
Language: USA/English
MPAA: Not Rated
Director: David Butler
Writer: James O’Hanlon
Starring: Doris Day, Howard Keel, Allyn Ann McLerie, Philip Carey

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Calamity Jane

Back in the days when subtext was the closest thing to a lesbian character in film, Calamity Jane provided plenty of fodder for alternative interpretations of the crossdressing Western hero played by Doris Day. Outfitted in buckskins, slinging guns and riding the stage like the men, Calamity is a well known figure in American folklore who made her name as a scout, trick rider and sharpshooter.

In this musical, ‘Calam’ is often mistaken for a man, especially when she arrives in Chicago, where she is eyed by a woman on the street and then scares Katie (Allyn Ann McLerie), who thinks a man has entered her dressing room. She brings Katie back to Deadwood, where the two live cozily together in Calam’s cabin. Later when Katie leaves town, her note says that she loves both Danny (Philip Carey) and Jane, prompting Calam (not Danny) to jump on a horse and bring her back.

Right before this, Calamity sings ‘My Secret Love,’ a song with tremendous potential for a different reading. Was she singing about Katie? The maintext of the film says no, she was singing about Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel), whom she marries soon afterward. There are some unpleasant messages about how a real woman must wear a dress to get a man, but Calam does wear a gun with her wedding dress. Beware of some 1950s ‘Injun’ stereotypes as well.

In real life, it is rumored that Calamity was a lesbian, although she claimed to have been secretly married to Hickok. See The Celluloid Closet for kd lang’s rendition of ‘My Secret Love.’ (AB)