KCETers have a chance this Sunday (at 9 and 11PM) to get nailed in the face with some smoking-hot Hollywood history. In fact, Annie, Get Your Gun is one of those classics that the heartiest of film buffs may never have gotten around to watching. The 1950 musical adaptation blends the life of history's most famous sharpshooter with a healthy dose of Hollywood and Broadway -- that is, creative liberty and showtunes -- for an overall effect that you just can't get in a theater today. But in case the prospect of singin', dancin', shootin' speck-tack-you-lahr isn't enough to convince you to tune in, here are eight reasons why Annie, Get Your Gun is well worth your time.
One Kickass Little Lady. Like I said, the film may not be a historically accurate representation of the life of the woman born Phoebe Ann Mosey but known to the world as Annie Oakley, but that doesn't mean Oakley doesn't deserve her spot in American history. Back in 1885, when sharpshooting, world-traveling stardom was an unusual life plan available to American women, Oakley proved that a cocktail of moxie, gumption and sniper-like accuracy could break boundaries. Glass ceiling? Oakley shot a hole right through it and somersaulted onto the other side. A lot of what's the in Annie, Get Your Gun actually did happen -- including becoming a confidante of Sitting Bull him and showing off her skill for Queen Victoria. But some even cooler feats were left out. Oakley challenged Theodore Roosevelt to allow women into the U.S. armed forces. Though he declined, he did name his Rough Riders after the show team commanded by showman Buffalo Bill Cody. Even cooler? Oakley once shot the cherry off a cigarette being smoked by Kaiser Wilhelm II. And the coolest of all? During World War I, Oakley demonstrated some ovaries of steel by writing the Kaiser a letter requesting a second shot at him.
"Oh, Hey! It's That Song!" Full disclosure: I'm a musical newbie. I've seen Hedwig and Rocky Horror, but I know relatively little of the vast library of classic musicals. If you're like me, watching Annie, Get Your Gun offers some necessary pop cultural education. The Irving Berlin-penned soundtrack includes two classics that I never knew originated in this play: "There's No Business Like Show Business" and "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)." These oft-referenced numbers had to come from somewhere, right? They came from here.
There's a story behind the movie. From the bright, blue Western vistas and wide-eyed, energetic song-and-dance numbers, you wouldn't guess that Annie, Get Your Gun was controversial. But before the comedically adept Betty Hutton scored the lead role, the star was Judy Garland. For this once-unstoppable star, getting canned -- officially due to ill health, though more accurately for her deteriorating mental condition -- losing out on the role of Annie Oakley marked the end of her time as Hollywood's golden girl. Though her career was spiraling, Garland managed one visit to the set of Annie, Get Your Gun. According to an interview Hutton gave in 2000 with Turner Classic Movies, Hutton greeted Garland warmly, "only to be answered by a string of profanities." Ah, Hollywood. Film buffs may be interested to see the surviving footage of Garland struggling to maintain uprightness during her scenes as Annie.
Amy Poehler. Okay, Amy Poehler isn't in Annie, Get Your Gun. But fans of Poehler's comedy will get a kick out of Betty Hutton's performance. Hutton approaches the role with a zeal that might remind you of the SNL star's more high-energy characters. In fact, if Poehler has never played Hutton's version of Oakley, it's a darn shame, because these two performers share a spiritual connection.
Benay Venuta. Someone who is in the movie is Benay Venuta. The actress, perhaps best known now for her role in Bullets Over Broadway, plays the prissy sissy who cannot deal with Oakley's rambunctious nature. But I'm just amused that her name is Benay Venuta. That's fun to say. Try saying it in various funny accents!
"Wow, They Can't Do That in Movies Anymore." That's what you may be saying after you watch certain scenes of the film involving Native American characters. There's a casual racism that underlies the white characters' treatment of them that shows just how much attitudes have shifted since 1950. In particular, the number "I'm an Indian Too" -- which includes the lyrics "Just like Battle Axe, Hatchet Face, Eagle Nose / Like those Indians, I'm an Indian too!" -- may make you cringe, all the more so because the singer is Hutton, whose blonde locks make her look more like the Swiss Miss girl than a Native American.
"They Can't Do That in Movies Anymore," Part 2. It's not stated in the film itself, of course, but it's worth noting: Despite setbacks stemming form an ailing Judy Garland, this movie came in ahead of schedule and under budget. When do you hear about that happening in Hollywood anymore?
You're Lucky You Get to Watch It at All. Why? Until 2000, Annie, Get Your Gun wasn't available on home video as a result of a 1973 legal battle between MGM and the estate of Irving Berlin that effectively halted the film's distribution. The songwriter died in 1989, but for 11 more years the film didn't get a proper VHS or DVD release. Now not only has it been freed from the vault, it's being played in the comfort of your home. What a world we live in.
Drew Mackie is a pop culture writer for Wonderwall.com, MSN's Entertainment and Celebrity news vertical. His writing has also appeared in the Santa Barbara Independent.
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