Have you ever received news of a betrothal and thought, “I give it six months”?
Now, that’s not to say that marriages that seem to be a bad idea are a bad idea, or that the couple isn’t willing to Make It Work. Surprising things can happen.
But not always. Sometimes you want to steer a person away from Impending Doom, even though they may not appreciate your helpful advice.
That’s how we felt when we watched Annie Get Your Gun, the 1950 film adaptation of the hugely successful Broadway musical comedy.
Movie Annie is charismatic and competitive, but she has an overpowering blind spot: fellow sharpshooter Frank Butler (Howard Keel).
Although Annie has lived a hardscrabble life sans education or niceties, Hutton portrays her as a confident, decisive woman. She has three young siblings in tow and has learned to Make Do with limited resources. For example, when her little brother has the sniffles, she says, “Jake, stop your sniffling. Whatcha got a sleeve for?”
Then she meets and falls in love with Frank Butler, star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. He’s a womanizer in western garb, festooned with fringes, sparkles, and – get this – his initials. His outfits are almost never without publicity, which tells you everything you need to know about this character.
He is not without good looks or marksmanship skills, but, alas, he loves cultured women who wear pink gowns and white gloves up to here.
Annie doesn’t fit that profile, although she does give herself a makeover after being hired on by the Wild West Show. This results in Butler’s attention, and a job as his assistant.
But there’s a Problem: Annie Oakley is a better sharpshooter than he – his monogrammed wardrobe notwithstanding – and that he cannot forgive.
Butler: “Anybody can miss a shot.”
Annie: “I can’t.”
She wrestles with that age-old dilemma: Should you squash your talent and ambition to be with the one you love?
It also raises a more serious question. How long can such a marriage possibly last?
The Broadway production of Annie Get Your Gun, starring Ethel Merman, opened in 1946 and ran for 1,147 performances. The book was written by prolific Broadway lyricist/librettist Dorothy Fields and her brother, Herbert.
Irving Berlin composed the music, and almost every song is Famous. Even if you’ve never seen the film or stage play, you’ll recognize these tunes.
Filming, though, was difficult. Judy Garland was originally hired to play Annie, but that fell through due to health reasons. Then director Busby Berkeley was fired, and was replaced by George Sidney. Howard Keel broke his leg during filming and, early in production, actor Frank Morgan, who was cast as Buffalo Bill, suffered a fatal heart attack.
You’d never know any of this by watching the finished product, and it became one of the top-grossing films of the year. Even the curmudgeonly Bosley Crowther of the New York Times praised it.
Sadly, this film portrays First Nations people as lazy freeloaders (some scenes are cringing), although the character Chief Sitting Bull is often the Most Sensible Person in the Room.
Annie Get Your Gun is a lot of fun, even if you can’t imagine the characters of Frank Butler and Annie Oakley living happily ever after.
Annie Get Your Gun: starring Betty Hutton, Howard Keel, Louis Calhern. Directed by George Sidney. Written by Sidney Sheldon. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1950, Technicolor, 107 mins.