Many would stay away from this film for three reasons: 1. It’s old, made in 1936, 2. It’s filmed in black & white, and 3. It’s directed by Cecil B. Demille, a director that has become known more for his flamboyant style than realistic depiction of historical events (Fun fact that will be sure to make you the center of attention at your next party: the “B” in his name stands for Blount).
To those people I say this: Would you refuse a bottle of wine because it was old? Would you not eat an Oreo cookie because it’s black & white? And do you really watch a movie to learn history?
The Plainsman tells the story of Wild Bill Hickok (Gary Cooper), Calamity Jane (Jean Arthur), and Buffalo Bill Cody (Unimportant actor #1). Cooper shows himself to be an actor of seemingly effortlessness. Jean Arthur portrays her character with a charming tom-boyishness that is totally appealing. Her early scene where she first comes upon Cooper after a long absence, her scene where she delivers groceries to Buffalo Bill & his new wife, and her final line to Cooper are reasons alone to watch the film.
The real reason for the movie’s success is Cecil B. Demille. Were his movies flamboyant? A dictionary defines flamboyant as: Tending to attract attention because of their exuberance, confidence, and stylishness. This movie has all of that, and it’s a pleasure to behold. While he obviously knows how to set up scenes and move the camera, as well as having the rear-view projection perfectly match what’s happening in front of the projection, he also knows the importance of his actors speaking lines that make you want to listen to the movie, not just watch it. Lines such as:
Wounded Scout to Hickok: Thought you was off to war!
Hickok: War’s over.
Wounded Scout: (LOOKING AT TWO ARROWS STICKING IN HIS BODY) Yeah, just beginning where I come from.
Hickok: (WIPING OFF KISS FROM CALAMITY JANE).
Calamity Jane: Aww, you aint wipin’ it off you’re rubbin’ it in!
Calamity Jane: Tip that hat when you speak to a lady!
Hickok: I will . . . when I speak to a lady.
Not to mention people calling each other “Slab-sided bird totin rat”, “Mangy old coyote”, and “Four-flushing mule!” Those don’t sound like very nice things to call people, but it’s much better than the profanity-laced diatribes that pass as dialogues in most contemporary movies.
So get yersef some Oreos, invite some youngin over fer a spell, and share a gander at a classic by that Demille fella. You’d be pertnear puttin some cineematic educattin in that ole noggin!