Film Title: Annie Get Your Gun
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Silent or Talkie: Talkie
- Betty Hutton
- Howard Keel
- Benay Venuta
- Louis Calhern
Annie Get Your Gun is a musical that was released in 1950 starring Betty Hutton as Annie Oakley, and Howard Keel as Frank Butler. This film, given praise as Oscar-worthy in original headlines, was based on a musical by Irving Berlin and was directed by George Sidney.
The story begins with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show rolling into town. There is a shooting competition, open to any of the best marksmen around, to face off against the champion Frank Butler. Annie Oakley enters and wins, impressing Buffalo Bill in the process. She joins the show and tries to pursue the love of Butler, a man driven by his ego. That ego makes it difficult for Annie to keep his affections strictly for herself. However, she does go by the motto: “you can’t get a man with a gun!” Right away, the basis of this plot may seem like a romance, but it is not as deeply woven into the fabric as a hard-boiled romance. After all, the film has to balance being a musical and a comedy. The only thing that really has to do with Annie Oakley in this musical, is the concept of Annie herself. For example, it focused on the key factors that made her famous – being an excellent markswoman, performing in the Wild West Show, and touring Europe. It is nowhere near being a musical biopic. Butler and Oakley were already married before they joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, instead of falling in love during the course of the tour as depicted in the film. However, despite any technicalities that a viewer might feel, this is a must-see for its great songs and energy, courtesy of Classic Hollywood’s favorite vitamin pill with legs – Betty Hutton.
Considering that Annie Oakley was poor, lived on a farm, and didn’t have any formal education, it’s basically a given that the character would be a hillbilly of sorts. When Betty Hutton appears on the screen with her natty blonde hair, dirty face, and raggedy clothing, she is the spitting image of how Americans picture hillbillies. Her classic energy, mannerisms, and the quirks incorporated into the work gave an aura of naivety, innocence, and childishness. This had a major impact on how she approached situations throughout the story. Another bonus was the ‘twang’ she added, authenticating her lack of education. Everything fit perfectly and Hutton sold the character with ease, from the humble beginnings to the cleaner, more progressive Annie that came later. However, even when she climbed up as a person, her sense of curiosity and naivety was still in tact. Hutton’s portrayal goes to show that you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.
Annie Get Your Gun was one of the top grossing movies for MGM. All the musical numbers in this movie were easy, and fun enough to be worth remembering. One thing that kept me on the fence was the vocal differences between Betty Hutton and Howard Keel. Their singing styles, once put together, either make the audience appreciate the break in redundancy, or yearn for more harmony. Even though the two characters only share three songs together, I couldn’t seem to figure out if their voices really “matched”. Keel had a very deep, almost operatic kind of singing style, while Hutton’s voice is boisterous and can easily become comical – albeit unintentionally. Needless to say, she has far less octaves than Keel.
The editing in this movie gets an overall A rating. The scenes flowed and transitioned very smoothly. It helped that there wasn’t a lot of precarious creative editing in the first place. Some say that when Annie Oakley is performing her secret trick for the first time, she comes across looking very fake in the close up shots. It’s apparent that Hutton is sitting on an automated horse with a backdrop. However, viewers need to take into consideration that the year is 1950, and most special effects were still man-made. If it had been filmed in black and white, this may not have been as obvious. But then again, the film would not have worked one bit if it were filmed in black and white – so the pros far outweigh the cons.
In regards to the DVD, this film is in perfect condition. The restoration is mint with crisp sound, especially during the musical numbers, and the vibrant and clean colors of the picture aren’t nearly as dusty as the Wild West. One great bonus included on the DVD is an introduction by modern Broadway Annie Oakley actress Susan Lucci. She gives the audience behind-the-scenes information about the movie itself, the real-life Annie Oakley, and other entertainment vehicles inspired by her. Other goodies include cast and crew reviews, a full length recording of “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” the Broadway production, awards, and a theatrical trailer. Last but not least, the four outtakes were extremely interesting and fun to watch.
Two of the outtakes consisted of numbers altered or cut from the completed film and the other two were the completed musical numbers, performed by Judy Garland. This reminded me about the old debate – would Judy Garland have made a better Annie Oakley than Betty Hutton? Regardless of the consensus, and the acknowledgement of Garland’s health problems that caused her to abandon the project, Hutton was an excellent choice. She brought something special to the film and its musical components. Comparing the “Doin’ What Comes Naturally” number, Hutton, with her country bumpkin looks, is something that the best dresser in the world would refuse to clean up, while Garland looks like she was just thrown in some tattered rags. She just didn’t sell the idea that Americans have about being a hillbilly. The scene would have had a different feel, and probably would’ve worked, if the studio gave Garland a more detailed image. Also, in the outtake of the “I’m an Indian Too” number, Garland looked uncomfortable, stiff and dull, quite opposite from her look in other films. Hutton’s performance of the same number had essentially captured the energy of a Native American ceremony. The completed scene was much faster paced than the original outtake. In the scenery for Garland’s take, everything looked much more soundstage and flat in color. In the final version, the environment was much more realistic. Overall, the debate of Garland vs. Hutton ends quite easily…and Hutton wins, Annie Get Your Gun ran the risk of being much slower paced with Garland in the lead. However, that would not be the case. Betty Hutton pulled it off with flying colors.
Taken in whole, this MGM gem would fit into any musical fan’s collection. At the very least, it deserves a renting from the local video store. The viewer will be rewarded with 107 minutes of pleasure and fun. Annie Get Your Gun gets an A for effort, overall appeal, and ample amusement!
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