Saturday, September 18, 2021

Steamboat Round the Bend

Quite some time back, I recorded Steamboat Round the Bend on TCM. I recently noticed that there's a box set of Will Rogers movies that includes Steamboat Round the Bend, so recently I watched it to do a review on here.

Will Rogers plays "Doctor" John Pearly, one of those medicine-show quacks who plies his trade in a decrepit riverboat up and down the Louisiana/Mississippi section of the Mississippi River in the 1890s, having to deal with all sorts of people along the way, such as rival captains like Eli (Irvin Cobb), and revivalist preachers.

Into Doc Pearly's life comes young Fleety Belle (Anne Shirley). She's the girlfriend of Doc's nephew Duke (John McGuire). Duke, meanwhile, is in legal trouble. One of the rural types from Fleety Belle's community was also in love with her, and confronted Duke over it, resulting in an incident in which Duke killed the other man in apparent self-defense. The authorities didn't see it that way, however, largely because no witnesses could be found to corroborate Duke's story, the only one being one of those preachers calling himself "New Moses". So Duke is convicted and sentenced to be executed down in Baton Rouge.

Doc needs a good way to get the money to get better legal representation for Duke. One of those ways involves a discarded wax museum, which he picks up, and uses to turn his riverboat into an attraction. Not that any of the locals agree with it. Fleety Belle, for her part, is willing to break Duke out of jail, but Duke will have none of that, since he doesn't want Fleety Belle to wind up in legal trouble herself.

Eventually, Doc Pearly comes across a blockage in the river, as traffic is being stopped for the start of a race from that location to Baton Rouge, which coincidentally happens to be where Doc is trying to get to to see the governor about a possible retrial for Duke. What Doc doesn't realize is that the execution is being put off until after the race, or at least after Captain Eli's ship crosses the line first. So if Doc can take his old wreck of a riverboat and finish ahead of Eli, he might still have a chance to save Duke. And he might have a chance to find the New Moses along the way, too.

I have to admit to not having seen too many Will Rogers movies, so I'm not quite certain if Steamboat Round the Bend is typical of his films. His acting style is certainly different, and it's definitely going to be an acquired taste for the audiences of the 2020s. His folksy, gentle humor, however, is something that apparently really appealed to at least a certain segment of the American moviegoing population during the first half of the Depression, which is why Rogers was such a hit until his tragic death in a plane crash in Alaska not long after he completed filming on this movie.

The story in Steamboat Round the Bend is a bit of a mess, as it felt to me as though there were multiple disparate sublpots the writers were trying to mesh together, and it doesn't always work. With that in mind, it definitely helps to be a fan of Will Rogers. The supporting actors, however, are mostly given a scene or two each to shine, much to the movie's benefit.

If you haven't seen a Will Rogers movie before, do yourself a favor and give him a try.

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