Annie Oakley (1935): Western Biopic, Directed by George Stevens, Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Preston Foster, Melvyn Douglas

George Stevens directed Annie Oakley, the 1935 biopic adventure, starring Barbara Stanwyck as Annie Oakley, the noted (and notorious) ‘pistol-packin’ female.

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Theatrical release poster

The film was the first Western for both Stevens and Stanwyck; both would go on to make bigger and better Westerns (See Stevens’ Shane).

The story centers on her years with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, detailing her love for fellow performer, sharpshooter Toby Walker (played by Preston Foster).

She’s aided in her romantic foray by Chief Sitting Bull, played by real-life Native American Chief Thundercloud.

While based on the real life of Annie Oakley took some liberties with the details: Rather than focusing on her career, this feature centered on the love story between Annie and “Toby Walker,” the film’s stand-in for Oakley’s husband Frank Butler.

In the film, Oakley throws the couple’s famous Thanksgiving Day shooting match so that Walker won’t lose his job, a point made for film’s Depression-era audiences.

Oakley also spends much of the film pining away for Walker—they are separated while she tours in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show, but reunited by Sitting Bull just in time for a happy ending.

In this first Hollywood version of Oakley’s life, the facts of the Butlers’ long and happy marriage are pushed aside, and Frank Butler’s deliberate ceding of the spotlight to his wife is ignored.

The spectacle elements and Stanwyck’s boundless energy make this picture vastly entertaining, even if overall it doesn’t belong to the pantheon of Stevens’ best films.

The working title for the film was “Shooting Star.”

Cast

Barbara Stanwyck as Annie Oakley
Preston Foster as Toby Walker
Melvyn Douglas as Jeff Hogarth
Moroni Olsen as Col. William F. ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody
Pert Kelton as Vera Delmar
Andy Clyde as James MacIvor
Chief Thunderbird as Sitting Bull
Dick Elliott as Major Ned Buntline (uncredited, despite the sizeable supporting role)
Margaret Armstrong as Mrs. Oakley
Delmar Watson as Wesley Oakley
Adeline Craig as Susan Oakley
Richard Alexander as Crown Prince Wilhelm (uncredited)
Brandon Hurst as Doctor (uncredited)
Philo McCullough as Officer (uncredited)
Robert McKenzie as Sheriff Bixby (uncredited)
Blue Washington as Cook (uncredited)

Credits:

Directed by George Stevens

Screenplay by Joel Sayre, John Twist; based on story by Joseph Fields and Ewart Adamson

Produced by Cliff Reid Starring

Cinematography J. Roy Hunt

Edited by Jack Hively

Music by Alberto Colombo

Production and distribution company: RKO Pictures

Release date: November 15, 1935 (US)
Running time: 90 minutes

Budget: $354,000

Box office: $620,000