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Sunday, June 1, 2008

STEAMBOAT ‘ROUND THE BEND (1935)


Classic Americana via John Ford with real-life classic Americana Will Rogers in his last film (though not the last released) is a total charmer. Rogers is a riverboat man in the 1890s, currently peddling patent medicine along the Mississippi and waiting for his nephew to show up and help fix up his boat. But the boy comes home with a child bride from the swamps and a murder hanging over his head. It’s up to Rogers to find the itinerant preacher who can prove the boy’s innocence, but not before Ford manages to shoot the breeze in a series of affectionately funny bits filled with real country flavor, human insight and the usual ethnic stereotyping that can put modern audiences on edge. Ford seems to have all the time in the world, yet his pacing and sense of narrative movement under the casual dual flow of a river & life’s events is so assured that this plot filled pic gets everything done, including a magnificent ride-to-the-rescue/racing finale, in a dandy 95 minutes. As the backwoods girl, Anne Shirley gives the performance of her career, while Eugene Palette also shines, though no one steals a film from Will Rogers who, as ever, plays half his scenes turned away from the camera without missing a trick. He really was a magician.

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