American Experience: Annie Oakley – DVD Review

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Riva Freifeld

Laura Linney….Narrator
Marilyn Spanier….Annie Oakley

PBS Home Video presents American Experience – Annie Oakley Screenplay by Ken Chowder. Running time: 54 minutes. Unrated. Aired on May 8, 2006. DVD released Nov. 14, 2006.

The Show

How refreshing it is when an educational documentary actually educates me. Count me among those who constantly confused Annie Oakley with Calamity Jane. Both frontier women were known for their use of guns, headlining Wild West shows and musicals based on their lives. The big difference is that Calamity Jane really was a legend of the Wild West. Annie Oakley’s fame came from being in Wild West shows. So instead of a documentary about Annie Oakley battling it out with outlaws and the Apache, we hear about a shotgun weilding woman who dominated indoor and outdoor stages. That’s not meant to belittle Oakley since this documentary allows her shooting skills to shine. She redefined a woman’s role in showbiz.

Oakley had a tough life growing up in rural Ohio after her father died. She discovered her talent for shooting as a teenager when she earned a living hunting animals. Shooting was a spectator sport and she quickly made a name for herself by taking on guys. She could pick the ash off a cigarette. Her marksmanship transformed her into a star as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Her fame made her more popular than Bill and that rubbed the old guy wrong. The documentary covers all of her various feuds including Randolph Hearst. The publisher refused to apologize when his papers ran a fake news story saying she was a broke cocaine addict. Annie fought to clear her name and preserve her legacy.

Unlike the American Experience episode about Jesse James, there’s plenty of photos and film of Oakley to flesh out her story. There’s footage taken by Edison of Annie doing a shooting demonstration. Also covered in motion is her final live performance from a Long Island show. A few moments have been recreated with actors, but they mix well with the vintage film and photographs. Instead of merely being told about her life, quotations from her autobiography help give us her perspective on events. We don’t have to rely on the interviewed historians talking for her.

After watching this episode, I won’t be confusing Annie Oakley with Calamity Jane. The documentary is both educational and entertaining. This is a great gift for a young teenage female who prefers a day at the shooting range to camping out for Cheetah Girls tickets.

The DVD:

The Video:

The picture is 1:78:1 anamorphic.

The Audio:

The soundtrack is in stereo. There are no subtitles, but it is closed captioned.
Special Features:

There’s a gallery with six posters from Buffalo Bill’s various tours.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for American Experience – Annie Oakley
(OUT OF 10)






Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.