Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Steamboat Round the Bend (1935)

Earlier this year I was very fortunate to purchase the 24-film Ford at Fox DVD collection for an amazingly low price.

Some of the John Ford films in the set are old friends, including DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK (1939), YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939), and MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946), but many of the movies included are brand-new to me. This includes the Will Rogers films DOCTOR BULL (1933), JUDGE PRIEST (1934), and tonight's movie, STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND (1935). STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND was the very first film I watched from the set, but it certainly won't be the last!

STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND is a well-done piece of Americana starring the folksy Rogers as "Doctor" John, a medicine show salesman and captain of a decrepit steamboat.

A radiant Anne Shirley also stars as Fleety Belle, a young girl who has escaped her backwards, cruel family in the swamps and who loves his handsome nephew Duke (John McGuire).

Duke unintentionally killed a man in self-defense in a fight over Fleety Belle, and he turns himself in to the kindly sheriff (Eugene Pallette, who is simply wonderful). Without a witness, Duke is shockingly declared guilty and sentenced to hang. John and Fleety Belle take to the river to raise money for an appellate attorney as they search for the "New Moses" (Berton Churchill), an itinerant evangelist of sorts who can clear Duke's name.

Although the final minutes drag on a bit too long, for the most part this is a very different, engrossing film, filled with unique characters and incidents. Rogers is touching as Duke's devoted uncle, who takes the scared Fleety Belle under his wing and nurtures her at the same time they try to help Duke. John provides Fleety Belle with the first kind family she's ever known.

Shirley is outstanding as the runaway; in some of her scenes, such as when she's talking to Duke through the jail window, she simply glows.

The best scene in the movie is a most unusual jailhouse wedding conducted by the sheriff. When he comments it looks like the ring might have belonged to Duke's mother, John quietly interjects that it was. It's simply a lovely scene.

I'm especially looking forward to becoming familiar with additional Will Rogers films, as he was a significant mentor for Joel McCrea, encouraging him to purchase the ranch which I've been so fortunate to tour. Rogers tragically passed away just a few weeks before this film opened.

I noted that John's boat in the movie was called the Claremore Queen, a nice touch since Rogers came from Claremore, Oklahoma. I visited the Will Rogers Museum in Claremore as a child, though I can't say I remember it; I'd love to return. Jessica shared photos of her visit a few months ago at Comet Over Hollywood.

The cast also includes Francis Ford, Irvin S. Cobb, Roger Imhoff, Raymond Hatton, Hobart Bosworth, and Stepin Fetchit. I'll leave it to others to comment on Fetchit's characterization and simply mention that he and John Ford were friends; he had appeared in earlier Ford films, and years later Ford cast him in THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT (1953), a film I also look forward to watching soon.

STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND was written by Dudley Nicholas and Lamarr Trotti, based on a book by Ben Lucien Berman. It was filmed by George Schneiderman and runs 81 minutes.

The DVD includes a commentary by John Ford biographer Scott Eyman. In addition to the big Ford at Fox set, the DVD is available in the smaller set Ford at Fox: John Ford's American Comedies or in the Will Rogers Collection, Vol. 1.


Blogger Rick said...

I first saw STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND on the 4 pm movie when I was a kid. I loved it so much that, week after week, I pined for a second viewing. Took me years to get it.
I still love the movie after probably half a dozen viewings. It's not John Ford's greatest movie (lat least a dozen better), but his considerable talents are still put to wonderful use. And even second-tier Ford is still worlds better than the best of almost anyone else.
This is one of those Will Rogers films which allow him to really shine. In the best of his movies it's easy to see why Rogers was so universally beloved in his time. It's a homespun, straightforward, good-natured, all-American persona -- and so smart. Not just wise (which is rare enough) but really smart.
Anyone should enjoy this film, not just for its own entertainment value, but for a treasured look at one of the great Americans, Will Rogers.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

What a lovely memory, Rick -- I find it so interesting that this quiet movie made such a huge impression on you as a child. It was really good, and I very much enjoyed my introduction to Rogers. Thanks for sharing your impressions of this movie!

Best wishes,

10:23 AM  

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