Black and white, 1935
RKO Radio Pictures
Directed by George Stevens
Runtime: 90 minutes
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck (Annie Oakley), Preston Foster (Toby Walker), Melvyn Douglas (Jeff Hogarth), Moroni Olsen (William 'Buffalo Bill' Cody), Pert Kelton (Vera Delmar), Andy Clyde (James MacIvor), Chief Thunderbird (Sitting Bull)
Four men sit on the front stoop of an old general store, discussing an upcoming election. A young woman, Annie Oakley, rides up to the shop in a wagon and gazes at a poster of a famous sharpshooter, Toby Walker, who has just signed on to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
Oakley, known by everyone in her small rural home as a fantastic sharpshooter, brings a load of quail she has hunted to the general store. The shop owner sells the birds to a nearby hotel to be prepared for their dinner guests. Oakley always shoots the birds in the head so that the meat won't need to be cleaned of buckshot.
The owner of this hotel, James MacIvor, spots Toby Walker in his saloon. Knowing the accuracy of his quail hunter (but not realizing she is a woman), MacIvor makes a bet with Walker that he can find a shooter to beat him in a marksmanship contest. He sends for Oakley, who excitedly agrees to partake in the contest.
When she arrives to take on Walker, everyone is shocked to discover she is not a man. As the contest wears on with Oakley matching Walker shot for shot, she ends up feeling sorry for him and allowing him to win. The talent scout for Buffalo Bill's show realizes confronts her with his suspicion that she threw the contest. Oakley admits that she didn't have the heart to beat Walker. The scout offers her a job with the Wild West Show and she accepts.
At first, Buffalo Bill Cody is reluctant to take Oakley into his act, but he relents. As she is introduced to the men in the show, they are equally apprehensive, but they withhold judgment until she has proven herself. As Oakley demonstrates her talent, Cody worries that she doesn't have enough "color" or showmanship to be entertaining. Walker, in both a noble and selfish gesture (he finds her attractive), decides to help Oakley develop her showmanship.
There are several scenes depicting the various acts in the Wild West Show, including bronco-busting cowboys, steer wrestling, bull riding, cowboy and Indian battles, and Russian Cossacks performing horsemanship and trick riding. Sitting Bull joins the show after watching Oakley and christens her "Little Sureshot."
Walker & Oakley are pitted against each other in show; their shooting exhibitions are billed as a "battle of the sexes." The two grow close personally behind the scenes, but they pretend to dislike each other in public to encourage the press and public reaction around their act. As time progresses, the act grows, and her billing ends up higher than his.
Meanwhile, some tensions grow between a group of men and the Indian performers. The men try to shoot Sitting Bull as he relaxes in the show's camp. Walker steps in to help stop the shooting, but in the process a gun goes off near his face, spraying powder into his eyes and harming his vision.
Not wanting to admit his vision is compromised, Walker doesn't tell anyone about the fact that he is having trouble seeing targets. In a contest with Oakley, she holds a quarter in her hand for Walker to shoot. Though he tries to beg his way out of it, he is egged on by the crowd and accidentally shoots Oakley in the hand. Walker is fired by the show and they try to keep him away from Oakley. He then decides he is no good for her and disappears.
Oakley's hand eventually heals, and the show moves on to engagements in Europe including London, Paris, Vienna, Rome, and St. Petersburg. While traveling, Oakley reads an article that explains the gunpowder accident causing Walker's loss of eyesight (his doctor confessed the truth). Finally understanding what happened, she looks forward to trying to find Walker and reconcile with him.
When the show returns to New York, Walker, who is now working in a shooting gallery, comes to see the performance. Sitting Bull spots Walker in the crowd, and pursues him through the streets of New York as he tries to get away. Sitting Bull finds Walker and brings Oakley to him so the two can finally reunite.
Plot keywords: Annie Oakley, William "Buffalo Bill" Cody, Sitting Bull, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, sharpshooter, shooting contest, rodeo, trick riding, wild west show
Scenery: some "backwoods" shots mainly in closeup, rodeo/stadium shots
Annie Oakley is available on DVD.
Classic Westerns on TCM
Westerns on Fox Movie Channel