Calamity Jane (1984)

 

 

 

 

Director:     James Goldstone. 

Starring:    Jane Alexander (Calamity Jane, aka Martha Jane Canary),  Frederic Forrest (Wild Bill Hickok),  Ken Kercheval (Buffalo Bill Cody),  Walter Olkewicz (Will Lull),  Talia Balsam (Jean Irene O'Neill),  Walter Scott (Charlie Burke),  David Hemmings (Captain James O'Neill),  Isabell O'Connor (Nell Bandis),  Jack Murdock (Reverend Warren),  Larry Cedar (Reverend Sipes),  Doug Toby (Jackie),  Laurie O'Brien (Mamie, Abilene Hooker),  Sara Gilbert (Jean, age 7), Gillian Eaton (Mrs. Helen O'Neill),  Don Hepner (Barker).

supposed friend of Wild Bill Hickok

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Calamity Jane rides as fast as she can to a run-down shack where Wild Bill Hickok is holed-up.  Two men are outside the shack trying to kill Bill.  Calamity rushes over to an window and falls into the room.  Bill is ready to shoot the person dead, but he suddenly sees that it's a woman.  His hesitation allows one of the  attacking men to graze Hickok's head on the left side.  Jane throws a blanket on the fire and waits for the next attack, but suddenly Bill awakens and shoots one of the men and then the other.  He then goes unconscious. 

Calamity nurses Bill.  Hickok awakens and asks who is this woman?  She says she is Martha Jane Canary (the last name pronounced like a cannery, not a canary).  She asks Bill for confirmation that he is Wild Bill Hickok.  She is very pleased with herself for having been the "saving grace" of Wild Bill Hickok.  Bill, however, has a different take on what happened.  He tells her:  "Seems to me saving grace I wouldn't have got shot in the first place, if it hadn't have been for your hair tumbling down."  Calamity says she came a little late, but she came in handy anyway. 

Riding with Hickok Calamity explains she overheard  a plan to shoot Wild Bill.  She tells him about herself.  Her most recent venture was driving a supply wagon for the army.  She was fired after a corporal told the colonel that she took a river swim in the altogether.  She became a laundress at Fort Fetterman (about 11 miles northwest of present-day Douglas, Wyoming on the North Platte River).

At night Calamity says that someday the army will rehire her as a scout, like Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody.  Bill says she should just try to stay out of those swimming lakes.  Calamity says she wants the men to know that she's a female and can do anything a man can do or better.  Bill kisses her several times.  They have sex.

Bill and Jane ride on the stagecoach.  Two priests ask if Bill is the Wild Bill Hickok of western fame?  That he is.  The older priest doesn't approve of Bill going out with "fancy women" (which must have flattered Jane).  He hopes that Bill will live pure in heart and body because he's the idol of boys all around the United States.  As they ride on, three robbers try to stop the stage.  Calamity shoots one of the robbers.  A robber shoots the stage coach driver, named Will Lull.  Wild Bill shoots another of the robbers.  Calamity Jane crawls up to take over the reins.  The third robber gets up close enough to look into the interior of the coach and when he recognizes Hickok, he pulls his horse up fast to avoid getting killed. 

At night Calamity continues nursing the stage coach driver, while Wild Bill and the older minister get drunk and sing religious hymns.  The preacher decides to marry Martha Jane Canary and James Butler Hickok and so he performs a wedding ceremony for the couple.  Of course, without a marriage license none of this is legal.  Bill kisses his new bride.  The minister writes out a license on paper and gives it to Calamity.  She is going to hold on to that license. 

Calamity now drives the stage coach to Abilene, Kansas.  Bill tells the two ministers that they better not mention anything about the wedding to anyone or he is going to inform on the two men to their religious convention.  He also says he is going to have to think up something to tell Calamity to let her down easy. 

Calamity buys an outfit that makes her more of a match to Hickok's style.  Hickok says it looks good on her.  He buys her a new horse called Satan.  She is thrilled, but then realizes that this is Bill's way of shucking her off him.  He explains to her that he would not be able to get a job as a marshal if they knew he was married.  So Calamity resigns herself to not being married.  She says she will get a job driving freight for awhile.  She adds that she will get a room in a boarding house and he could come visit her sometimes. 

Calamity starts working on a show to get herself into a wild west show.  Bill gets a job as marshal of Abilene.  She tells Bill her act will be better than that circus performer Agnes Lake who Bill thinks is so high-classed.  He has a surprise for Calamity.  Buffalo Bill Cody is in town and he wants her to get dressed up to meet him.  As she dresses she knows that she's pregnant. 

Bill and Cody have dinner together.  Cody wants Hickok to join his wild west show.  All of a sudden Jane comes into the saloon dressed up like one of the saloon women.   She comes over and Bill introduces her to Cody.  He then nastily says to Calamity:  "What happened to you?  You look like some painted harlot."  Jane ignores the remark and sits down at the table.  Another woman tells Jane that she should leave.  This makes Jane very angry and she slugs the young woman.  Wild Bill grabs her saying she needs to cool down.  Jane leaves the saloon in a huff. 

In her room she cries over what happened.  Bill comes in to console her.  She tells Bill:  "I just wanted to show you that I can be pretty too."   He hugs and kisses her. 

Wild Bill says he's turning in his badge and going with Bill Cody to be in his wild west show.  He says he feels he's standing in a puddle of sand and doesn't want to drag her down with him.  She asks Bill to get a ranch for the two of them and they can raise a family.  Bill just says that he would be no good as a rancher.  He says he fears that the ranch and Calamity would eventually smother him.

Bill heads out of Abilene by himself. 

Martha Jane decides to head out to the Black Hills of South Dakota to try her hand at swishing for gold from a stream.  There she has her baby.  The stage coach driver whose life Calamity saved comes out with a hunting party to check on Jane.  He finds her with her new baby and both of them looking extremely undernourished.  A wealthy Englishman and his wife are out hunting in the West.  When the man sees the half-starved baby he signals for his wife to come over to Jane's little half-shack.  His wife has not been able to get pregnant. 

A black woman named Nell Bandis is hired to take care of Jane and the baby.  When Jane awakens she sees Nell and asks her who is she?  Nell explains, but at first Jane doesn't want the woman taking care of her and her baby.  But Jane is still too weak to take care of herself and the baby. 

Nell explains that the wealthy rich man living in England, Captain James O'Neill, and his wife Helen want to adopt Jane's daughter.   At first, Jane absolutely rejects the idea.  Then she is insulted by the couple's offering to pay her some money for the child.  After thinking about it some more, Jane realizes that her girl would grow up a bastard child and she starts crying.  Nell hugs her to help calm her down. 

Jane hands over her baby to Mrs. Helen O'Neill.  Helen tells her the baby's name will be Jean Irene O'Neill.  Then Helen gets on the stage.  Mr. O'Neill tries to give Jane some money, but she won't accept it.  So he takes a part of the money and is able to give that to Jane.  He also says that she can write to her daughter in England.  And some day they may possibly be able to meet again. 

A group of Indians start to chase the stage that Calamity is driving.  Jane stands on her head on the driver's sea with her legs in the air while she whoops with her mouth.  The Indians figure she is crazy and leave her alone. 

In town a man is beating an ox.  Jane tells him to stop that.  With his whip, the man knocks Jane's hat off her head.  She tells him to pick it up, but he just ignores.  So she pulls out her pistol and says:  "And if you don't, fill you so full of holes that carcass of yourn won't even shed rain." So the man picks up the hat, wipes it off and hands it over to Jane.  She says that was mighty thoughtful of him. 

An Indian lad keeps following Jane so they become friends.  They learn to write together. Will Lull comes over to see Martha Jane and tells her that Wild Bill is over in the saloon.  Jane wants to go right to him, but Will warns her that the word is that Bill is married to that show girl Agnes Lake. 

She rushes over to the saloon saying Bill married her first.  She hears a shot and rushes over to the saloon asking what happened.  She goes in to find Wild Bill bent over a poker table dead.  Jane cries over the body.

Jane comes into town driving the stage coach.  Her boss asks her where are her passengers?  Jane is so drunk that she didn't even know that she left the passengers behind at the last stop.  The boss fires her.  

Jane now serves as a cook for the men working on the railroad.  A young man, named Charley Burke, and a partner of Will Lull, falls in love with her and wants to marry her, but she is just not interested.  He gives her a letter from Captain O'Neill.  After the death of his wife, he and his adopted daughter Jean settled in Richmond, Virginia.  Jean says she's going to go see her daughter and the captain.  Charley is not happy to hear this.  He kisses Jane.  She tells him to watch over her horse Satan until she gets back.  If she doesn't come back, the horse belongs to Charley. 

Playing poker with the men, Calamity brags that she was with Gen. Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn as an Injun scout.  Charley gave her some money with which to play poker and now she wins big.  With her winnings, she is ale to go to Richmond to see her girl and the captain.  The little girl stands at the top of the stairs and Jane is shocked to see how big she is.  She rushes up to see the girl, who has heard all about Calamity Jane (but does not know that she is adopted).  The little girl asks to open the locket around Jane's neck.  Inside is a portrait of Hickok.    

Jane gives some money she saved up to the captain for Jean's education.  She cries and dabs her eyes with a handkerchief.  She asks the captain if it would be all right if she took a room in a boarding house in Richmond.  The captain says there's a problem.  He and Jean are most often on board ship traveling around the world.  Jane decides to return to the west.  She virtually runs out of the house. 

Out west Jane gets stinking drunk by a campfire.  She howls along with the wolves. 

Charley Burke comes to see Jane who is living over a saloon.  He tells her he has come to marry her.   She's not too enthused about the idea.  But she does go out to see her horse Satan.  Charley tells her he has been in love with her from the first time he saw her.  And now he wants to marry her.  Jane thinks about it and then says to Charley:  "Never say Calamity Jane won't try something new." 

They try to make a go of it on a small ranch, but after awhile Jane starts getting restless.  She lets her old horse Satan go off alone to die in peace.  She tells Charley that time is slipping away and she has nothing to show for it.  So she's leaving.  She urges him to sell the ranch and go back to his home state of Texas.  She goes back to Deadwood, South Dakota. 

Calamity successfully rides a bull on a bet and wins lots of betting money.  She is now a bar tender in Will Lull's saloon.  A little delegation of four women come in to force Jane to leave Deadwood because she's a bad influence on the town.  She takes on all four women.  One of the blondes tries to cut off Jane's hair, but Jane cuts off the woman's hair knot instead.  The women leave the saloon. 

Jane starts working in a carnival  She tells her story to anyone who will listen.  One of the men says she's not Calamity Jane, so a drunken Jane starts shooting at objects.  Just then Bill Cody, her daughter and Captain O'Neill show up in front of her.  The daughter is now a young woman.  Jane is embarrassed and ducks into her tent.  Jean insists on going to see Calamity.  She asks Jane to come to a reception at her father's place. 

Jane goes to the reception with Jean who introduces her as Calamity Jane.  Cody comes over and says that Jane is now famous all over the world.  Captain O'Neill asks Jane to please stay until after everyone is gone and just the three of them will have a talk together.  He asks Jane if she would like to tell her daughter who she really is?  Jane says she will stay.  Cody then talks to her about joining his wild west show headed for Europe. 

Jane starts to speak in private with Jean, but she still can't tell her the truth.  Instead, she tells Jean thanks for making her feel that tonight is her night. 

Jane goes over to the carnival.  She dreams that she is back in her western clothes doing acrobatic tricks riding off the back of her horse.  She then bows to her make-believe audience. 

Calamity Jean got her wish.  She was buried next to the grave of Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood. 

 

Very enjoyable film even if the real facts are lacking.  I have read that there is no confirmation that Calamity Jane was ever really close to Wild Bill.  And there's only Jane's own writings claiming she had married Bill.  In 1881she married Texan Clinton Burke and had a baby girl, named Jane, who was given over to foster parents.  She returned to the Black Hills in 1903.  The functional illiterate worked as a laundress in a brothel.  She died there at the age of 51, 53 or 56.  She loved to exaggerate her accomplishments and it's still difficult to try to discover what is real and what is false about her life.  Nevertheless, my wife and I both liked the film.  Jane Alexander did a great job as Calamity Jane and so too did Frederic Forrest as Wild Bill.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

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