Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Overlooked Movies -- Steamboat Round the Bend

I didn't think Steamboat Round the Bend was on DVD, but it turns out that it is, though it was made available only recently. Probably one reason it wasn't available is the last name on the poster at the left. Stepin Fetchit isn't exactly the most PC character in movies from this era, and this one's no exception.  Still, he's featured in one significant scene that makes fun of the Old South in an unexpected way (especially in 1935, the year this movie was released).

Judy and I watched Steamboat Round the Bend on Public Television many years ago, and there are parts of it that we've never forgotten.  We even quote it to each other now and then.  One reason I enjoyed it was that I'd never seen Will Rogers in a movie before, and he was still remembered and talked about by a lot of people in my family as I was growing up.  My father was a bit of an aviation buff as a boy, and a story he repeated often was about the time he met Wiley Post, the pilot of the plane in the crash that killed both him and Rogers in the same year this movie appeared.

The plot involves Rogers as a con man whose nephew is in real trouble. Rogers needs to raise some money to pay the nephew's legal fees, so he puts some wax dummies from a defunct museum in a steamboat and travels the Mississippi, pulling at small towns to exhibit his dummies and make a little money.  Each stop leads to some (usually) humorous situation, but the laughs are not generally the slapstick kind.  It's gentle humor, which is in keeping with Rogers' persona.  Some of the other players get most of the laughs, in fact.  The movie was directed by John Ford, so if you think it's going to be melodramatic and sentimental, you won't be disappointed.

Will Rogers wasn't a trained actor, or much of an actor at all, but he does just fine playing someone who's more or less himself.  I was interested to see Irwin S. Cobb, who's better known (to me, anyway) as a writer than an actor. He's just fine, and so is the rest of the supporting cast.  Most of them are better than good.

Steamboat Round the Bend is going on 80 years old now, so it's definitely old-fashioned.  I can't imagine an audience of young people sitting still for it, but for an old guy like me, it's just fine.  I love the look of the steamboats and the river, and it would be hard to get that look now, if not impossible.  If you're up for a bit of nostalgia, check this one out.


Deb said...

Trivia for the day: Anne Shirley was not the actress's real name. She was using her own name until she played the lead in an adaptation of "Anne of Green Gables" and she liked the character's name so much, she adopted it as her stage name. (If memory serves, actor Gig Young got his name in much the same way.)

/Here endeth the lesson.

Unknown said...