Adapted from the popular Broadway musical starring Ethel Merman in the title role, Annie Get Your Gun tells the story of the backwoods sharpshooter (Betty Hutton) who rose to stardom in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Recruited for a shooting match with the show’s star Frank Butler (Howard Keel) when a local innkeeper spies the bedraggled, tomboyish Annie Oakley’s rifle-slinging prowess, she falls in love with her rival. When she replaces Frank as Buffalo Bill’s (Louis Calhern) main attraction, though, she soon realizes the bitter truth of one of her show-stopping numbers: “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun.” It’s a shotgun wedding made in Heaven for the battling couple, though, as Annie, with the help of adopted pa Sitting Bull (J. Carroll Naish) and Wild West show manager Charlie Davenport (Keenan Wynn) realizes that to win the prize it’s sometimes necessary to come in second.
Director George Sidney replaced Busby Berkeley at Annie’s helm and inherited a troubled production. Original Annie Judy Garland fell ill; original Buffalo Bill Frank Morgan died. Both had to be replaced, scene reshot, and score re-recorded. None of that turmoil is evident on screen in this eye-popping Technicolor production. Hutton may not have Garland’s vocal chops, but she makes Annie her own with her superior comic talent. With a handful of Irving Berlin standards including “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “The Girl That I Marry,” “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” and “Anything You Can Do,” few musicals can boast a livelier or more memorable soundtrack.
Perhaps best of all is the film’s finale, which has to be seen to be believed. In this final reprise of “There’s No Business like Show Business,” staged by Sidney and choreographer Robert Alton, the happy couple on horseback is surrounded by hundreds of horses and riders spiraling out around them. It is a magnificent piece of choreography and astounding, considering the difficulties inherent in working with animals to be begin with.
Released in 1950, this is not the most sensitive film in the world. Modern viewers may be put off by the portrayal of most of the American Indian characters as gluttonous buffoons, not to mention Annie’s most unfeminist acquiescence to Frank’s ego. There’s a reason, though, the play has been revived over and over again and has been running in an updated, more PC-friendly version on Broadway in recent years. The score is irresistible and the story itself, warts and all, seduces with its rifle-toting romance on the range.
Cast: Betty Hutton, Howard Keel, Edward Arnold, J. Carrol Naish, Louis Calhern,
Director: George Sidney
Producer: Arthur Freed
Original Story: Dorothy Fields, Herbert Fields
Director of Photography: Charles Rosher Jr.
Editor: James E. Newman
Composers: Irving Berlin, Adolph Deutsch
Screenwriter: Sidney Sheldon
Production Designers: Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse
USA / MGM / 107 minutes / 1950