Dr. John Pearly is an affable, turn-of-the-century con man who sells a patent medicine whose primary ingredient is whiskey. He resurrects a broken down steamboat with a makeshift crew and challenges the respectable but arrogant Captain Eli to a winner-take-all river race. Pearly hopes his nephew Duke will serve as pilot, but the young man stands accused of murdering a 'swamp rat' who threatened the honor of 'swamp girl' Fleety Belle. After Duke is arrested, Pearly tries to raise money for a lawyer by charging admission to a wax museum aboard his ship. Ultimately he gambles it all in the river race to Baton Rouge, where he hopes to find a witness whose testimony will free Duke.Written by
Historic, Nostalgic with Tenderness: genuine America
I first saw this movie with my grandfather fifty years ago. Our small-town theater was having classic movie month and Will Rogers was my grandfather's favorite. For a ten-year old boy this movie made a lasting impression of the freedom and romance once available to us in America but now lost forever. Aside from the instantly believable story line about an uncle and his orphaned nephew going together to buy an aging Mississippi River steamboat the pathos applies superbly to this day. The young man meets a girl, gets in a fight over her and is in trouble with the law. The kind uncle moves heaven and earth to help his deceased sister's son. The characters are all period and realistic according to my grandfather who knew people just like that. America was a religious nation in those days, especially the South, so the use of religious terms in common speech is authentic. The thing to watch for in this film is the steamboat race. In 1935 the steamboat's day was already past, and to find that many operating steamboats to make the film must have been a task. Then...listen closely to the melodious whistles. Different pitches and echoes, made by live steam. Steam power built modern America, and the sound of a live steam whistle, once so common, is all but vanished now. I have to yield to my grandfather's opinion of the movie, not having lived in those times myself, and he said it was quite authentic, down to the use of pitch, kerosene or whatever was handy to get more speed out of the engines. The fact that a regular person felt he could go speak to a state governor in person is also part of our American heritage. There was not the class distinction (at least among whites) that there is today. This movie is a priceless treasure, and youngsters definitely need to see it. Anne Shirley, swamp girl, becomes sweet because she admits she is won over by the tenderness of Uncle John.
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