We’re back for another film featuring this month’s Star, Bing Crosby! This time, it’s his 1935 musical comedy Mississippi (based on Magnolia, a 1923 play by Booth Tarkington), co-starring W. C. Fields and Joan Bennett!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Woody Dines Out (1945)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Woody Woodpecker Screwball Collection from Universal Studios)
(Length: 6 minutes, 42 seconds)
Woody Woodpecker is hungry, but all the restaurants that he can find are closed. Finally, he discovers a place that specializes in stuffing birds, but it turns out to be the establishment of a taxidermist! This cartoon was fun, but it was only so-so. There was too much set-up going on, and the actual interplay between Woody and the taxidermist was virtually non-existent. There was barely any “battle” between them, which takes away from the fun. It was still enjoyable, just not the Woody Woodpecker series at its best.
And Now For The Main Feature…
Southern plantation owner General Rumford (Claude Gillingwater) is throwing a party to celebrate the engagement of his daughter, Elvira (Gail Patrick), to his ward, Tom Grayson (Bing Crosby), and he has invited a nearby showboat troupe, under the leadership of Commodore Jackson (W. C. Fields), to perform at the party. However, the festivities are interrupted when Elvira’s former beau, Major Patterson (John Miljan), arrives and challenges Tom to a duel for Elvira’s hand. When the pacifist Tom declines the duel, Elvira turns him down and he is ostracized by everyone. Well, everyone but Elvira’s younger sister, Lucy (Joan Bennett), who admires him for sticking to his convictions, and reveals to Tom as he is leaving that she has had a bit of a crush on him. He thinks that she is too young (since she is getting ready to go back to school), so he doesn’t make much of her confession. The commodore had offered Tom a job with his troupe, so Tom takes him up on the offer. When Tom saves the commodore’s life during a game of poker, the commodore responds in kind by trying to help Tom out. The commodore suggests the stage name of “the notorious Colonel Steele,” and builds him up as a singing killer, which is made much easier when Tom accidentally kills tough guy Captain Blackie (Fred Kohler, Sr.) in a brawl. The commodore continues to build up Colonel Steele’s reputation, by adding more “victims” (including a cousin of Lucy’s), regardless of whether anything actually happened. On a trip with her school, Lucy runs into Tom, and they fall for each other. However, when she learns that he is the notorious Colonel Steele, she rejects him. When Tom later learns that Lucy is engaged to Major Patterson’s brother, Joe (Ed Pawley), he must decide whether he will fight back this time or not. But will he be able to win out (and win back Lucy’s heart in the process)?
The role of Tom Grayson was actually planned for actor Lanny Ross, but Bing Crosby (a much more popular star at the time) was cast instead. My own opinion is that, nearly two years after doing College Humor (in which, as I stated last week, I thought his acting wasn’t quite natural yet), his performing skills had much improved (although I think he looks a little odd with the sideburns he is sporting, as well as the mustache he wears for the last part of the movie). I think he works much more effectively here (although there are some obvious moments with some of the stunts where the camerawork and editing don’t work as well to hide the fact that it wasn’t him doing the stunts), in a manner similar to most of his other thirties output (but still different from the persona he finally established going into the forties). Obviously, he’s in good voice here, crooning a few songs from Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (including the song “It’s Easy To Remember,” which was written for the film at Bing’s request after the two songwriters had returned to New York), plus “Swanee River.” As I had said in my review of Nice Girl? (1941), Bing’s version of “Swanee” was for a time my favorite for that tune (at least, until I saw that Deanna Durbin film). “It’s Easy To Remember” is honestly the only other song in the film that is that memorable. I would also say that his comedic skills were improving a little, helped by working with comedy legend W. C. Fields.
Speaking of W. C. Fields, he is one of the reasons that I’ve come to enjoy this movie as much as I have. It was the second film of his that I had seen (following The Big Broadcast Of 1938), and I particularly enjoyed his poker game, as he played with some men who claimed to hate cheaters (and yet, they were cheating themselves), all the while he kept drawing (and trying to get rid of) a fifth ace! Fields also gets some humor out of the song “Swanee River,” as it dates the film’s events as being around the time the song was written (since he is told that it is a new song), and then he claims that nobody will remember it (and then he keeps humming it throughout the rest of the movie)! It’s not a perfect film, as it struggles with some of the old stereotypes for blacks (since it is set in the Old South), as well as the way that Native Americans are treated (none really show up, it’s just Fields’ constant story of fighting off some Shug Indians). Still, it’s an entertaining film that I enjoy coming back to every now and then, and I think it’s worth trying (especially if it’s included as part of a set of Bing Crosby films)!
This movie is available on DVD from Universal Studios, either as part of the six film The Bing Crosby Collection or as part of the twenty-four film set Bing Crosby: The Silver Screen Collection.
Film Length: 1 hour, 14 minutes
My Rating: 7/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Joan Bennett – Big Brown Eyes (1936)
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