Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1950)
Irritating at least one film blog editor-in-chief by lacking a comma in its title, Annie Get Your Gun is the story of rough-and-tumble redneck Annie Oakley (Betty Hutton) and her rise to sharpshootin’ superstardom in the late 1800s. Can her love of the spotlight and her adorable crush on fellow gunslinger Frank Butler (Howard Keel) truly coexist? Read this Wikipedia page if you’re a boring person that wants a boring historical answer. The rest of you, come with me for the fun, colorful, sexist answer!
I feel obligated by this experiment to tell you when I have no idea what a musical is about going in, and I truly thought Annie Get Your Gun was a straight-up Western. Knowing nothing about the real Annie Oakley either, I was expecting her to save a village of nice people from a gang of not-nice people using bullets and song, and was surprised to learn that she’s a lady with real good aim that joins a traveling Wild West show. So, how do they keep that interesting for 107 minutes?
A montage of gratuitous cleavage close-ups?
Welp, there’s a few themes that run through Annie’s rise to fame. First of all, she’s a girl, and girls ain’t s’posed to shoot good. Second, she’s dirt poor, so we get to see her adjust to a life of fancy clothes and make-up and bidets, I think, unless that’s Crocodile Dundee. Third, she’s in love with Frank Butler, the fella she outshot for top billing, so this all creates a tense relationship dynamic between them (that’s tied up pretty fucking horribly but we’ll cover that shitty business in the Other Stuff section).
“Whoa, you look nothing like the movie poster! How ’bout a bath, lady?”
Weirdly, most of these plot threads are resolved or delayed at the midway point, and then we mostly watch Annie travel around and show off her gun tricks until, you know, it’s time to throw an ending on. And that ending really sucks (I’ll talk about it, promise), which is a shame, because so much of the movie is legitimately entertaining.
More. Musicals. With guns. Please.
Where’s all that entertainment value coming from? Well…
Betty Hutton’s performance is so over-the-top. Pack it in, Nicolas Cage, Katy Perry, and that arm wrestling tournament to win $100,000 and an eighteen-wheeler, Betty’s got you all beat. Her Annie Oakley is like a children’s TV show host that was trapped in the woods for a decade and followed a trail of cocaine back to civilization. She’s more forced than this entire paragraph. Every expression, every movement, it just explodes off of the screen. It feels like she’s afraid they won’t see her in the back row and nobody bothered to tell her this was a movie, not a play. And I found every goddamn minute of it charming as hell. Look, this is the face she makes when she falls in love:
Short of crossing her eyes and masturbating furiously, there’s no topping this.
The guy Annie loves that’s infinitely more boring than her is Frank Butler, played by Howard Keel. He’s kind of a bland cowboy douche but we’re supposed to like him but we don’t because he’s not Annie and I think I’m using “we” when referring to myself?
We hates him–oh, shit, I’ve gone full Gollum!
There’s also Keenan Wynn as the jovial show manager Charlie Davenport, Louis Calhern as the somewhat also jovial show founder Col. Buffalo Bill Cody, and J. Carrol Naish as the stoic but occasionally surprisingly jovial Chief Sitting Bull, but none of them are Annie, so who cares?
Hi again, Annie!
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
The very first tune is an advertisement for the wonders of the traveling Wild West show titled “Colonel Buffalo Bill.” It has a couple of clever lines but is mostly about promoting just how many Indians get fucking murdered in this production.
“It’s like the second half of Avatar but with none of the tiptoeing around the obvious subtext!”
Our introduction to Annie Oakley’s way of life is “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly.” It’s about how Annie’s people don’t need no fancy book-learnin’ to drink and screw and get rowdy, and to be perfectly honest, it’s a Sarah Palin speech set to music. (Seriously, read the lyrics.) Annie’s goofy gestures and exaggerated voices make this redneck theme song a hell of a lot of fun, though.
Frank sings some lame song about the kind of girl he’d like to marry called “The Girl I Marry” and yawn, zzzzz, fart. Then Annie laments that she’s so skilled with a rifle but crap at attracting men in “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun.” It’s funny and violent and honest and psychotic and relatable, five things every song should be.
This is just NRA burlesque at this point.
And then, my first “holy shit, that’s from this?” moment was upon hearing “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” I never knew this was a song not about dancing on Broadway, but skeet shooting in the Old West. It’s also contextually great; this is Annie’s awakening to the world of fame that awaits her, and there are a few patches of sly darkness hiding amongst the glitz.
Aww, look at that lil’ spirit waiting to be crushed.
Then Frank and Annie team up for the entirely so-so “It’s Wonderful,” one of those big close-up love duets where they look like they’re trying to blow into each other’s mouths.
“Jesus, I’m right here, dude.”
Oh, fuck, and then… ugh, guys, the relationship in this movie is kind of fucked up. Frank is basically bitter that Annie is a better marksman than him. Rather than just, you know, get over it and be proud of the woman he loves, he gets a song about how it makes his widdle peeny feel small to be inferior to a vagina-owning gun expert. The tone of “My Defenses Are Down” is all over the map. He’s sad, he’s in love, he’s emasculated, he feels silly… in his own words, “being miserable is gonna be fun.” Okay.
“Being happy for my partner is not an option!”
And then there totally wasn’t anything racist called “I’m an Indian, Too.”
Wait, oops, I meant the exact opposite of the previous sentence.
To prove that stardom hasn’t gone to her head, Annie reflects on how she doesn’t need fancy shit to be happy, and sings the incredibly chipper “I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning.” It’s a nice song and that’s that.
It goes well with all the ridiculously expensive dresses.
Aaaaand for our second “holy shit, that’s in this?” Frank and Annie butt heads in “Anything You Can Do.” It’s goofy and fun and the perfect duet for these two wildly competitive lovers clashing to the bitter end.
Okay, they’re just screaming into each other’s mouths now.
Anyway, good job with those songs, Irving Berlin, but there should also be a special shout-out to the horse choreographers for both “My Defenses Are Down” and a gigantic equine ballet during a reprise of “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
Did I type “ballet”? I meant “battle.” All these horses kill each other.
OTHER (SPOILERY) STUFF:
- Okay, for only the people that have seen this all the way through, what the fuck is up with that ending? Annie kicks all the asses in every shooting competition ever and then suddenly, ha, she loses a contest on purpose to keep her man’s bruised ego intact? And Sitting Bull is in on it like this is some sage bit of wisdom? Holy fucknuggets. I thought this was one of the most progressive movies from its era I’d ever seen, and in the last ten minutes they just up and shit their pants. It retroactively ruined scenes I was prepared to call surprisingly feminist. Were it up to me, I’d end the flick on “Anything You Can Do.” Have Frank and Annie realize their perpetual competitiveness is what gives their relationship its spark. Guh. This ending was such a bummer that I’m afraid to look up if the real Annie Oakley did the same thing.
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
So hey, either of the songs about Indians in Annie Get Your Gun are a prime candidate for Worst Lyric, and while I thought the jokes about tribesmen named Running Nose and Falling Pants in “I’m an Indian, Too” were admirably tasteless, I have to hand the “award” to “Colonel Buffalo Bill” for the following triple threat of cultural insensitivity, lazy repetition, and forced rhyme…
“It’s Indians! (Indians?)
Very notable, cut-your-throatable Indians!”
Annie Get Your Gun was fantastic until it wasn’t. It started strong with a great story, an unforgettable performance from its leading lady, and killer songs, but it fizzled at the halfway point. There were moments of recovery, but the ending left a bad taste in my mouth. Still, I’m glad I watched it. I love you, Annie Oakley.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)