Mississippi is a 1935 musical comedy film directed by A. Edward Sutherland and starring Bing Crosby, W. C. Fields, and Joan Bennett. Written by Francis Martin and Jack Cunningham based on the novel Magnolia by Booth Tarkington, the film is about a young pacifist who, after refusing on principle to defend his sweetheart's honor and being banished in disgrace, joins a riverboat troupe as a singer and acquires a reputation as a crackshot after a saloon brawl in which a villain accidentally kills himself with his own gun. The film was produced and distributed by Paramount Pictures. Mississippi has the distinction of being the only W. C. Fields film with a score by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. It is also the only film in which he co-starred with Bing Crosby. Photographed by Charles Lang, the film featured art direction by Hans Dreier and Bernard Herzburn and was edited by Chandler House. The sound man was Eugene Merritt. The original running time of this black-and-white film was 80 minutes. The film has been released on VHS and DVD as part of the W.C. Fields Collection in the United Kingdom.
Commodore Jackson (W. C. Fields) is the captain of a Mississippi showboat in the late nineteenth century. Tom Grayson (Bing Crosby) is engaged to be married and has been disgraced for refusing to fight a duel with Major Patterson (John Miljan).
Accused of being a coward, Grayson joins Jackson's showboat. Over the duration of the film, the behaviour of the meek and mild Tom Grayson alters as a consequence of the constant representation of him, by Commodore Jackson, as "The Notorious Colonel Steele", "the Singing Killer", and the constant attribution, by Jackson, of duelling victories by Grayson to unrelated corpses freshly dragged from the river beside the showboat as "yet another victim of the notorious Colonel Steele, the Singing Killer".
The film provides sufficient opportunities for Crosby to sing the Rodgers and Hart songs, including the centerpiece number, "Soon", while Fields gets to tell some outlandish stories. Crosby and Fields worked well together and there is one memorable scene in which Fields tries to tell Crosby how to act tougher. In the film, Crosby does a number of brilliantly engineered sight gags involving a chair and a bowie knife. Another highlight is Fields' remarkable story about his exploits among one notorious Indian tribe.
There were two previous Paramount film versions of Booth Tarkington's play, Magnolia. The first in 1924 filmed as a silent under the title The Fighting Coward starred Cullen Landis, Phyllis Haver, Mary Astor, Ernest Torrence and Noah Beery, Sr.. The second version released in 1929, as River of Romance; in early talkie and in silent editions, starred Buddy Rogers, Wallace Beery, Fred Kohler, Mary Brian, June Collyer and Henry B. Walthall. Fred Kohler reprises his Captain Blackie here from the 1929 film.
- The New York Times - "Amid an atmosphere of magnolia, crinoline, and Kentucky whiskey, the boozy genius of Mr. Fields and the subterranean croon of Mr. Crosby strike a happy compromise."
- Motion Picture Herald - "The [film] is a melodramatic and sometimes tense romance. Fields' comedy, in both dialogue and action, is good for its full quota of laughs."
- Variety - "Paramount obviously couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to do with the film; it's rambling and hokey. For a few minutes it's sheer farce, for a few moments it's romance. And it never jells...Fields works hard throughout the film and saves it, giving it whatever entertainment value it has."
"It's Easy to Remember"
"Down by the River" (Rodgers & Hart)
"Soon" (Rodgers & Hart) - all sung by Bing Crosby
"Little David, Play on Your Harp" (Traditional negro spiritual) - sung by The Cabin Kids
"Roll Mississippi" (Rodgers & Hart) - sung by Queenie Smith and the Cabin Kids
- Deschner, Donald, The Films of W.C. Fields (New York: The Citadel Press, 1966)
- Deschner, Donald (1966). The Films of W.C. Fields. New York: Cadillac Publishing by arrangement with The Citadel Press. p. 112. Introduction by Arthur Knight
- River of Romance at silentera.com; 1929 film version of Tarkington's play Magnolia
- Sennwald, Andre (April 18, 1935). "New York Times".
- "Variety". April 24, 1935.
- Reynolds, Fred. Road to Hollywood. John Joyce. p. 68.
- Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954. Wisconsin, USA: Record Research Inc. p. 105. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
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