Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Barbara Stanwyck in "Annie Oakley" ( 1935 )

"Barbara Stanwyck is splendid in the role of Annie Oakley; this is indeed her most striking performance in a long time" 


Andre Sennwald, a New York Times reporter, stated the above shortly after seeing the premiere of Annie Oakley in December 1935 and there is no denying just how right he is. 

Annie Oakley is a rootin-tootin' grand picture that tells the ( albeit a bit fictional ) story of the sharp-shootin' pixie from the backwoods of Ohio - "Little Miss Sureshot" Annie Oakley, and Barbara Stanwyck is larger than life in her portrayal of the legendary star of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. 

Stanwyck, the tough-talking no-nonsense dame who sprang from the Bronx, was just beginning to find a footing in Hollywood in the mid-1930s. Warner Brothers studios was dishing her disappointing film projects and so she decided to take matters into her own hands and venture out as an independent player. Annie Oakley was her first feature with RKO studios and it gave her a hearty push into stardom. By 1939, she had an Oscar nomination under her belt ( for Stella Dallas ) and was raking in a hundred thousand dollars a year as salary. Miss Stanwyck had made herself a home in the limelight and would remain a shining star in the Hollywood galaxy until her dying day...and rightly so. As she proves in Annie Oakley, Barbara Stanwyck was able to take on any portrayal and truly make you believe she was the character you saw onscreen. 



The film begins with the famous match between Miss Oakley and Frank Butler, who has his name ( and character ) changed to Toby Walker for the film. The rather conceited Toby Walker, the top marksman in the country, has been recently signed to Buffalo Bill's touring Wild West extravaganza and while staying over one night at McLeod's hotel in Cincinnati he makes a bet with McLeod that he can beat any marksman in that "hick" town. McLeod pits him against Annie Oakley, the little lady who provides him with the quail for his diners...quail that are always free of buckshot, unlike the game other hunters provide him with. 



Annie, so sure of her shooting talent, puts her own money up for the bet as well as some that the townsfolk contributed from back home. When the time comes for the match however, she doesn't have the heart to beat Walker at his own game. Mainly because she thinks Toby Walker is the gosh darn prettiest fella she ever laid eyes on!

Annie's ability does not go unnoticed by Buffalo Bill's agent Jeff Hogarth ( Melvyn Douglas ) who hires her for the show regardless of her throwing the match. And then it's off to New York and all across America showcasing the marksmanship and brilliant riding skills of the cowboys and frontiersmen of the Wild West, all for the price of one dollar. 

At first, Toby Walker and Annie Oakley are rivals, but his heart of gold shines clear and bright to Annie and she falls for him hard. He teaches her tips on showmanship and they court behind the tepees all the while keeping up a front that they despise each other for publicity purposes. Preston Foster is charming as Toby Walker and they really do seem the ideal match.  

Annie Oakley boasts a chuck-wagon full of character actors such as silent comedian Andy Clyde as the cheap Scotsman, MacLeod, a superb Moroni Olson as Buffalo Bill, Pert Kelton as Toby's old flame, and small parts for Dick Elliott and Willie Best. Pert Kelton later went on to portray the first "Alice Kramden" in the original Honeymooners skits from The Jackie Gleason Show. 


Chief Thunderhead also shines as Sitting Bull, the ruler of the Souix tribe who fought against Custer in 1876. Here he grunts disapprovingly of the wild west heroics displayed by the men of the Buffalo Bill show and refuses to take a part in the public display....until Annie Oakley takes the stage, then he heartily adopts her as Little Miss Sureshot and joins the "the big happy group".

This was George Steven's first foray into the western genre and he marked this film with his signature stamp of excellence. The film wraps adventure with romance and comedy all in one briskly paced 90 minute package of entertainment, even if it does lack historical accuracy. Later, in the 1950s, Stevens would make the western genre his niche, directing such iconic films as Shane ( 1953 ) and Giant ( 1956 ). Barbara Stanwyck was another loyal cowboy; when asked what kind of film she enjoyed making most, her reply would inevitably be "westerns". 

In real life, Annie Oakley and Barbara Stanwyck were not unlike each other. Annie Oakley was a small-town gal who used her talent of marksmanship to catapult herself into international stardom. In a time when few women were celebrities she became a role model for other women, while Barbara Stanwyck was a "Little Miss Sureshot" in her own right : she aimed high at becoming a great actress in her time and she hit the bullseye dead center. Always a fighter, she embodied Annie Oakley's spirit of rugged determination and confidence in one's own abilities, as can be seen in this film. 

This post is our contribution to the Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon, a stupendous collection of reviews of each of Barbara Stanwyck's films from nearly 50 different bloggers, hosted by none other than Aubyn Eli, better known as The Girl with the White Parasol.  Be sure to check out all of the participants posts on the films of our favorite leading lady, Barbara Stanwyck. 

14 comments:

  1. There's a very nice energy to the movie and to your article.

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    1. Thank you Caftan Woman! I agree wholeheartedly ( about the movie having a nice energy ).

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  2. Ha! I loved how you said Barbara Stanwyck "sprang" from the Bronx.

    I like how you've written this, and I'm really looking forward to seeing "Annie Oakley".

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    1. Thank you Silver Screenings....yes, don't miss "Annie Oakley" the next time it plays on the tele. It's not as famous as the musical versions but its a great little film nonetheless.

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  3. Very good description of the film. Stanwyck was already a major star long before Annie Oakley. While it is far from my favorite of Barbara's film, she is adorable in the role, and it was her first western.

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    1. You're quite right, Stanwyck was a major star ( as far back as 1933 ) but I don't think she was really happy with any of the roles she was assigned by Warners. This was her first big break as an independent player. That must be a scary feeling: to leave a studio that you have been under contract with for years and venture out on your own trying to grab what feature film roles you can. Some actors tried and failed, but Stanwyck was a real trooper..and she deserved the fame she got!

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  4. This sounds great - after enjoying 'Annie Get Your Gun', I'll look forward to seeing this non-musical version in the future!

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    1. I hope you enjoy the movie! I like Annie Get Your Gun and Annie Oakley equally. Too bad this film didn't have brilliant Technicolor to boot!

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  5. Oh, this is one Stanwyck film I am dying to see! Thanks for the excellent post - I will be on the look out for it!

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    1. I hope it plays on television soon in that case. It is well worth checking out. Melvyn Douglas is rather sweet in the film too.

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  6. I really want to see this, but haven't managed to get my hands on a copy yet. Will try even harder now, thanks to your swell review!

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    1. Thank you Hamlette! Glad this review entices you to watch the film.

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  7. This is a really good movie. I was lucky to catch it in the beggining on Christmas night las year (yet it's not really suitalbe for Christmas!). It's nice to see the roles Barbara played in the 1930s, it's like wathcing the growth of a star.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Greetings!

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  8. This is one Stanwyck film I've been dying to catch up with. It's got the great George Stevens and it's got Barbara Stanwyck as the legendary Annie Oakley. Your review is a very nice tribute to the film and its stars. I really liked the comparison of Oakley and Stanwyck, the two "Miss Sureshots."

    I do kind of wish someone would make a more accurate movie about Annie Oakley since I find her real-life romance with Frank Butler to be very sweet. For some reason, Hollywood always tries to make Butler (or his equivalent character) into an arrogant asshole when in fact he was his wife's biggest supporter and promoter. But enough of that, I still think this movie sounds like a lot of fun and I'm going to pounce on it when I get a chance.

    Thanks so much for a fine contribution to the blogathon.

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