Calamity Jane

Movie review by
Kat Halstead, Common Sense Media
Calamity Jane Movie Poster Image
Colorful '50s musical has problematic portrayals, language.
  • NR
  • 1953
  • 101 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

The movie is intended to entertain, not educate. However, kids will get a glimpse of a bygone era and hear about a real-life historical American figure -- albeit a fictitious version.

Positive Messages

Attempting to help others is a positive force, even if it doesn't work out. The importance of owning up to and attempting to rectify mistakes. Individuality and self-empowerment are celebrated, though there's also some pressure to fit in.

Positive Role Models

Calamity Jane bucks female stereotypes of the time, favoring gun-slinging, brawling, and drinking over concern with appearance, homemaking, or manners. This lends the movie a feminist slant, though when Jane does don a dress and do her hair, she's seen as more worthy by those around her. Other women are admired for their beauty, and men are shown as authority figures or behaving badly in bars. Native Americans are represented in a racist, stereotypical fashion and are negatively referred to.

Violence & Scariness

Guns are worn on holsters and frequently shot, though more often into the air and in playful shoot-outs than at a specific target. Bullets and arrows are fired between frontierspeople and Native Americans, and there's reference to killing people, although no injuries are shown. A character is kidnapped and tied up. Bottles and glasses are smashed and characters playfully brawl in the bar.

Sexy Stuff

Romance and kissing.

Language

Racist terms include Native Americans being referred to as "redskin naked heathens," "painted varmints," and "copperheads." Occasional insults such as "white-bellied," "toothless buffalo," and "bonehead" are also used.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cigars are frequently smoked and traded. Much of the movie is set in a saloon bar where characters drink alcohol; some appear drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Calamity Jane is an upbeat 1950s musical about a frontierswoman who spends much of her time in the local saloon bar drinking, fighting, and telling tall tales. The character of Calamity Jane (Doris Day) -- loosely based on a real-life American woman -- goes some way to challenging gender stereotypes of the time. But her against-the-grain attitude is reined in a little toward the end. The movie includes some problematic views -- partly around the way a woman "should" behave, but mostly in its racist representation of and reference to Native Americans and minstrel shows. This includes slurs such as "redskins." Characters also regularly drink alcohol, smoke cigars, and shoot guns, but rarely to cause injury. There's some romance -- and kissing -- within the story, with Jane and her friend Katy (Allyn Ann McLerie) competing for the affection of Lieutenant Gilmartin (Philip Carey). The overall feel is upbeat and positive, with some catchy song and dance numbers, as well as slapstick physical comedy.

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What's the story?

In CALAMITY JANE, a spirited but clumsy frontierswoman (Doris Day) attempts to save the reputation of a local saloon by traveling to Chicago to persuade a glamorous actress to perform there. But when she accidentally returns with the star's ambitious maid, Katy (Allyn Ann McLerie), she convinces the locals to give her a chance, and soon the women become close friends. As Katy's charms rub off on the locals -- and a little on Jane -- the two soon find themselves competing for the affection of handsome Lieutenant Gilmartin (Philip Carey), much to the annoyance of Jane's friend Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel).

Is it any good?

A whip-cracking classic full of frontier fun, this is a colorful musical comedy featuring Day in one of her most lovable roles. The iconic actress channels all her energy into shaking off her "every woman" image to challenge gender norms -- with a ludicrously macho voice and a wonderfully unbecoming walk -- as the chaotic but well-meaning cowgirl who spends more time fine-tuning her outrageous stories than her wayward hair.

The movie's songs themselves are up there with the best, with Day's timing in "Just Blew in from the Windy City" a wonder to behold, while "Secret Love" offers a tender and beautifully choreographed moment. Calamity Jane's racist references to Native Americans and minstrel shows are undeniably problematic. But there's still great joy to be found in Day's strong, fearless portrayal of a woman left to her own devices who can drink and shoot the town's men under the table. This is a warm, lively celebration of the Wild West carried throughout by Day's natural wit and charm.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how women are represented in Calamity Jane. How does Jane differ from the early 1950s stereotype of a woman? Would you describe her as a strong female character? If so, why? Why do media role models matter?

  • Discuss some of the racist language and portrayals in the movie. Does the time period that the movie was made in excuse its problematic content? Why is it important to call these things out now?

  • How does the movie present smoking and drinking? Do you think the characters drink too much? Does their behavior seem realistic/believable? Are there consequences for what they do? Why does that matter?

  • What do you think is Jane's most important relationship, and what does she learn from it?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love musicals

Character Strengths

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