Annie Get Your Gun was another MGM musical about the Old West. After having a troubled start that involved firing original star Judy Garland, the movie found its formula. Basically, riotous star Betty Hutton was meant to play the rural Annie Oakley. Hutton had a wilder personality and was much more believable as a Wild Woman of the West. Hell, I’d go so far as to say she carries the movie. Sorry to all the Howard Keel fans out there.
Betty Hutton makes for an amazing Annie Oakley. When we first meet her with her brothers and sisters, it’s easy to watch. She’s a wild raconteur that shoots varmints and busts into songs. Plus, I find vintage Betty Hutton to be pretty cute. Annie Get Your Gun is a simple film that plays as an on-location musical adaptation of a pretty typical stage show. So, what’s the takeaway here?
Annie Get Your Gun was a huge hit because it was a way of the common purpose to see an almost-direct adaptation of a huge Broadway show. There is something uniquely democratic about movie musicals. What I don’t get is where do you draw the line for the love with this film? Does Annie Get Your Gun get more praise due to people loving the show or the film? How many fans of this film do you know?
The MGM musical was being used as a catch-all at this point in time. Whether it was a Western, a Union drama or even a show about country kids…MGM was like those chuckleheads better be singing and dancing. In a decade’s time, the well will have run dry on just slamming any film into the formula. Honestly, I could see the wheels coming off this ride as early as Annie Get Your Gun. It’s pretty and the music is great, but that’s all of it.
What’s funny about Annie Get Your Gun is the introduction of the classic song “There’s No Business Like Show Business”. Broadway historians will laugh at me for calling attention to the fact that the movie is a show about celebrity first and a Western second. While that is true, there is issues of tone and character balance to consider. As it is, the film suffers from a lot of contemporary celebrity culture leaking into tales of the past. Still, the tune is catchy.
I still don’t totally understand why Ethel Merman didn’t make the translation from Broadway to the film adaptation. The pessimist in me will say it’s because MGM thought she was too old and ugly. Annie Get Your Gun was a big expensive film and part of movie magic is making people believe in the fantasy. I buy Betty Hutton as a wild young thing that impresses the older men scouring the West for a hidden treasure.
Everything about Ethel Merman just screams Broadway. Some actors just can’t play well as anything outside of their known quadrants. I think Dale Dickey would be an excellent older Annie Oakley, but I wouldn’t buy her as a rocket scientist. It’s unfair when you think about it, but it’s only a natural part of human bias.
Annie Get Your Gun was taken out of distribution from 1973 to 2000. The Berlin estate squabbled with MGM over music rights and then everything went sideways. As such, you had one of MGM’s biggest musical hits missing the VHS generation until the 21st Century. While stage show revivals kept the tale alive, that’s a big part of why Broadway fans don’t bring up this story when talking about musical highlights of that time. Thankfully, Warner Archive has stepped up to save it for Classic Film lovers everywhere.
The Warner Archive Blu-ray comes with a ton of special features ported over from the 2000 DVD release. You get outtake musical numbers and an intro from Susan Lucci. Plus, you get audio outtakes from the songs that Judy Garland recorded before she got canned off the film. You even get some Frank Morgan tracks, but I thought Morgan died before he recorded songs. If that wasn’t enough, you get a trailer too. Pretty good for the little Classic Film powerhouse that could survive even incorrect Twitter proclamations.