As thrilling as it is to watch Clark Gable ride in and rescue Jane Russell from hostile Indians in The Tall Men, he must have felt a bit silly while filming it. At the time, Russell was already the queen of the Western parody, having demonstrated self-sufficiency in both The Paleface and Son of Paleface by saving Bob Hope over and over again from mortal dangers. And she wasn’t just any old hired hand, either — in Paleface, Russell played Calamity Jane, one of the most rough-and-tumble women in the history of the Old West. While the real life Calamity Jane likely didn’t have such a figure or swift comedic timing, she would surely have preferred Russell’s performance over that of Doris Day, who diluted the rugged character five years later in a light-hearted musical take.
Even when Russell wasn’t kidding around, she was still one for keeping a cool head around hot lead. In 1952 she starred in Montana Belle,
a fictional biopic about a Calamity-Jane-esque character who feuds with
a deadly gang of outlaws. So how is it that out of all the actresses in
Hollywood, Clark Gable wound up bailing out the one cowgirl who had
proved to be the most capable of taking care of herself (as well as her
leading men)? Chalk it up to the success of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
and the solidification of Russell’s appeal as an enduring sex symbol –
clearly audiences had wised up to the fact that she didn’t need a
six-shooter in her hand to knock ‘em dead.