Annie Oakley (George Stevens / U.S., 1935):

The easeful procession of vaudeville gags gets its feminist bent early, with the windy champion marksman’s mistress (Pert Kelton) blithely invading the saloon. (Two graybeards storm out: "Nothing’s sacred anymore!") Barbara Stanwyck’s Annie Oakley is a humble backwoods tomboy who goes from hunting quail to headlining Buffalo Bill’s (Moroni Olsen) Wild West Show on the strength of her sharpshooting match with Frank Butler (Preston Foster). She misses her target on purpose to spare him the humiliation, he returns the favor by teaching her showmanship until the "shooting machine" has become the "Little Sure Shot" prodigy. She outclasses her mentor ("She’s had a chance to get used to your good looks") yet they stay together, a façade of rivalry veils their romance. George Stevens amply appreciates the showbiz synergy of performers and audiences in the carnival arena, a benevolent tinsel commune that accommodates Buffalo Bill tossing back his tresses and Sitting Bull’s (Chief Thunderbird) Laurel & Hardy double-take at a pull-down bed that keeps disappearing behind his back. Best of all, it gives rousing documentary views of the barnstorming young Stanwyck out-running, out-riding, and out-maneuvering the cowboys around her, and flooding her character's intuitive movements and emotions with unerring freshness. "Not bad for a paleface," the retired warrior nods. Much groundwork is laid for A Star Is Born, the droll tableau vivant of the company posing for a photograph is one of several inventions lifted by Eastwood (Bronco Billy), Altman witheringly recast the whole thing as a historical death march. With Melvyn Douglas, Andy Clyde, and Margaret Armstrong. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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