Friday, February 02, 2024

Calamity Jane (and Wild Bill)

They were the great did-they-or-didn’t-they question of the Old West. There have always been plenty of stories that claim Calamity Jane (Martha Jane Canary) and Wild Bill Hickok were a romantic couple and even married, including the assertions of their supposed daughter. Evidence suggests they never tied the knot, but they certainly traveled in the same Deadwood circles. Regardless, Canary would not have taken kindly to the cold-blooded shooting of Hickok, her whatever. In fact, she sets out for some frontier justice in Terry Miles’ Calamity Jane, which releases today on VOD.

Rather awkwardly, Calamity Jane was behind bars for some disorderly conduct during Hickok’s fateful poker game with the no-good, cowardly Jack McCall. Honest Sheriff Mason went to great lengths to deliver her there safely, despite an attempted hold-up of their stage. Frankly, he needed Calamity Jane’s assistance, so he is favorably disposed towards her. Nevertheless, when she slips away during an escape orchestrated by “Abigail,” a psychotic prisoner scheduled to be hung in the morning, Mason forms a posse to capture both her and the fugitive McCall. It is a sad posse of three, including him, but they have grit.

Naturally, McCall enlists Abigail’s gang to deliver him to his well-heeled brother’s mining camp, beyond the reach of the law. However, Calamity Jane gets some help of her own from the undertaker, who usually gets a free pass through outlaw territory. You know how those bodies start to smell.

Emily Bett Rickards does a solid job talking tough and shooting straight as the title gunslinger. However, it its is the colorful supporting cast that really elevates the movie. Tim Rozon’s Sheriff Mason is almost as bad as Calamity Jane, but he also sells the lawman’s tragic backstory. Priscilla Faia is all kinds of dirty and nasty as Abigail. Despite his name over the title on the key art, Stephen Amell has limited screen time as Hickok, but his is appropriately flamboyant as the reckless legend.

Screenwriters Leon Langford and Collin Watts clearly understood the historical figures and how they were embroidering the Old West lore. Of course, there is a long tradition of piling on the tall tales, starting with Calamity Canary herself, when she was drumming up publicity for her personal appearance tour.

It seems like there are as many cheap oaters coming out now as there were at the height of the genre’s popularity. Basically,
Calamity Jane is pretty much what you would look for in a low-budget western. Satisfyingly to the point, Calamity Jane is now available on VOD.