We’re back for some more fun, as we dig into the classic 1950 musical Annie Get Your Gun, starring Betty Hutton and Howard Keel!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Small Talk (1929)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1 (1929-1930) from ClassicFlix)
(Length: 25 minutes, 4 seconds)
Wheezer (Bobby Hutchins) is adopted, and the rest of the Little Rascals run away from the orphanage to come see him. This is the first sound short for the series, as evidenced by the title card (not to mention the silent start followed by all the noise created by the kids). Not too surprisingly, considering the new sound technology, the acting (from both kids and adults alike) is a little stiff. Still, there’s some charm and humor to be found, like with Wheezer’s attempt to call his friends on the phone, or Farina (Allen Hoskins) dealing with a parrot. It’s certainly enough fun that I look forward to watching more from this series!
And Now For The Main Feature…
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show (as led by Colonel William “Buffalo Bill” Cody played here by Louis Calhern) has arrived in Cincinnati, and everybody is excited about it. One person who is not, however, is hotel owner Foster Wilson (Clinton Sundberg), who is still angry about the trouble caused at his hotel by a rival Wild West show run by Pawnee Bill (Edward Arnold). Foster has Buffalo Bill’s whole troupe thrown out, even after the show’s star, sharpshooter Frank Butler (Howard Keel), offers him a side bet of $100 if the local champion sharpshooter can best him. However, Foster then runs into Annie Oakley (Betty Hutton) and her siblings. When Annie shows him how good of a shot she is, he rushes off to make the bet. While she waits for the match, Annie meets Frank, and is instantly smitten with him (although he admits to her that she is not his type). Later, at the match (after she realizes that he is the “swollen-headed stiff” that she’s up against), she bests him in the match. Buffalo Bill and Frank’s manager, Charlie Davenport (Keenan Wynn), want to have Annie join the show, although Frank, bitter at losing, doesn’t want her to. Annie overhears the conversation, and convinces Frank to let her join the show as his assistant. As they tour the country, Annie tries to learn to read and be more ladylike to appeal to Frank. Business starts falling off for the show, however, as they realize how much competition Pawnee Bill’s show is bringing them. So, Buffalo Bill and Charlie decide to promote Annie as their star attraction, with plans to have her do a special trick that she has been practicing. She is reluctant to do it, until Charlie sells her on the idea that Frank would be thrilled to see her do it. The reality is different, however, as Frank is jealous over her quick promotion to star billing, and he feels betrayed when he sees her perform the trick. He decides to leave the show and join Pawnee Bill’s show. Meanwhile, Chief Sitting Bull (J. Carroll Naish) was in the audience when Annie performed her stunt, and he decided to adopt her as his daughter. In doing so, he offers to put money in Buffalo Bill’s show, which enables them to go on a European tour. They perform for the various crown heads of Europe, who give Annie many medals for her shooting abilities. However, Annie still misses Frank, and the show is going broke (because they weren’t being paid to put on those “command performances”). So, Buffalo Bill offers to take the show back home, to Annie’s delight. On the boat trip back, the troupe is invited to a party being given by Pawnee Bill to welcome them back, and, assuming that Pawnee Bill is doing well financially, they try to plan a merger of the two shows to help everybody out. At the party, they learn that Pawnee Bill is also struggling, but they make plans for the merger by planning to sell Annie’s valuable medals. Annie and Frank are reunited, but his old jealousies are reawakened when he sees all her medals, and the two decide to have a shooting match to determine who is indeed the better shot. Will these two be able to reconcile, or will their petty pride keep them apart?
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II produced a musical show based on the life of sharpshooter Annie Oakley. The original plan was to have composer Jerome Kern write the score (with Dorothy Fields providing the lyrics), but Jerome Kern passed away only a few days into working on the show. Irving Berlin was brought in to put together the score, and the show (which starred Ethel Merman as Annie Oakley) became a big hit. With the various studios vying for the film rights, producer Arthur Freed was able to get them for MGM, with plans to have Judy Garland star. However, he made the mistake of making Busby Berkeley the director. a problem as many of Judy’s pill addictions had begun as a result of working on some movies with him years earlier. She tried, but under Berkeley’s direction she struggled again, slowly going downhill health-wise and unable to give a good performance. Berkeley was fired, but, it was too late, as the damage had been done, and Judy’s struggles resulted in her being fired from the movie. Other actresses were considered, but it was ultimately decided to borrow Betty Hutton from Paramount. And that was hardly the only casting change to occur, either, as Frank Morgan (originally cast as Buffalo Bill) passed away in his sleep (and was replaced by Louis Calhern). The role of Annie Oakley was one that Betty Hutton had wanted, but she found a cold reception from the cast and crew of the film (not helped by some of her public comments on the matter). Still, the movie proved to be a big hit, more than making up for its high production cost.
This is a movie that I have been enjoying for quite a while now! I will readily admit that Irving Berlin’s music is one of the biggest reasons I like it, with songs like “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “They Say It’s Wonderful,” “You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun,” Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly,” “I Got The Sun In The Morning,” “My Defenses Are Down” and “Anything You Can Do!” Howard Keel is good in what was his first lead role in a film musical (and, besides Irving Berlin’s music, was also part of the film’s appeal way back when I first saw this film). As to Betty Hutton and her performance, I have to say that I like her in this film. In some of the other films I’ve seen with her, she tends to be too much at times, but, being too young myself to have ever seen Ethel Merman in the role on stage (although I’ve seen her in a few other films she made both before and after this one), I think that Betty Hutton fits the part of Annie Oakley far better than Judy Garland could have (and I can say that, having seen the outtakes from the movie, which include footage that was shot for Judy for two of the songs). Plain and simple, this is one movie I really enjoy! The only really sour point about it (and that may have come from the Broadway show) was the ending, which is different from what actually happened historically, and, in the process, takes on a very sexist attitude that ruins things a little. But, for me, the rest of the film builds up more than enough goodwill to offset that. This is a very entertaining show business musical, and one I highly recommend!
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection. The Blu-ray makes use of a new transfer made from a 4K scan of most of the original nitrate Technicolor negatives. I say “most of” because two reels worth of the original negatives were burned up in the infamous Eastman house fire that claimed many film elements all those years ago. For those two sections, they made use of positive safety separations that had been made for protection for those moments. Regardless of the sources, this film looks ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL!! The color is as good as one could hope for, and the detail is much improved. Seriously, this Blu-ray is highly recommended (and, quite frankly, the only ways to see this movie are either via physical media or on TV, as they haven’t gotten the rights cleared yet to show this one digitally, either via digital copies or streaming)!
While this film has no connection to my reviews for June’s Star Of The Month (Claudette Colbert), it does effectively end the month! So stay tuned for tomorrow, when we shift gears to July’s star, James Cagney!
Film Length: 1 hour, 48 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
*ranked #7 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2021
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Howard Keel – Show Boat (1951)
Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949) – Edward Arnold
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