Sunday, May 3, 2020

BING'S BIRTHDAY MOVIE: Mississippi, 1935


The basis for this 1935 Paramount release was the 1923 play Magnolia by Booth Tarkington. The comedy set in the Antebellum South tells the tale of a man who does not believe in the code of honour which includes dueling. The play ran for only 40 performances and featured two performers who are favourites of classic movie fans, Elizabeth Patterson and Leo Carrillo.

Mississippi is set in the entertainment industry's idea of the American South prior to the Civil War. It presents a world of over-the-top codes, hoop skirts, and song. Bing Crosby stars as Philadelphia transplant Tom Grayson who is engaged to marry Elvira Rumford played by Gail Patrick, the eldest daughter of General Rumford played by Claude Gillingwater. The younger daughter Lucy, played by Joan Bennett is pining her heart out over Tom. Truth be told, she "gets" him while her sister does not.

Claude Gillingwater, Gail Patrick, Bing Crosby, Joan Bennett

Tom sings Old Folks at Home (Swanee River)  by Stephen Foster at his engagement party.

General Rumford gifts his future son-in-law with a set of dueling pistols and is dismayed to learn that not only does Tom not know how to shoot, he thinks the whole idea is silly. The man has no Code of Honour! However, the General is at least modern thinking enough not to interfere with Elvira's choice in a husband.

Major Patterson played by John Miljan was once Elvira's beau and challenges Tom to a duel. The Major and his brother Joe played by Edward Pawley have shot 40 men between them. They are renowned as duelists, and they are cheats who never learned to count to three. When Tom refuses the challenge, Elvira kicks him to the curb for embarrassing her.

W.C. Fields

Commodore Jackson is rarely without a mint julep.

Kicked out of the wedding and kicked off the plantation, Tom joins Commodore Jackson played by W.C. Field on his traveling showboat. Tom was offered a job when the Commodore heard him sing at the engagement party. Lucy bids Tom farewell while confessing her undying love. Tom ruins it for her by referring to her as "just a kid." Guys are so dense!

Bing Crosby

Bing introducing the soon-to-be-standard from Rodgers and Hart, It's Easy to Remember (And So Hard to Forget). 

During Tom's adventures on the showboat, he gains a reputation as a tough man and a killer, plus an unfortunate mustache. He is known far and wide as the "Notorious Colonel Steel", and the list of his victims grows. None of them are true, but this is the way of the show business. Romance will be impacted when one of those non-victims is a cousin of Lucy's, who has grown up a lot during her and Tom's separation. It's funny how that happens.

The Cabin Kids
Ruth Chavis, Helen, Winifred, James, and Fred Hall

Along with Queenie Smith as entertainer "Alabam", also featured in Mississippi are The Cabin Kids, a musical quintet whose movie work in the 1930s include 13 Our Gang shorts and 4 features, Hooray for Love, Round-Up Time in Texas, and Git Along Little Dogies.

Queenie Smith as "Alabam"

Filmed twice previously as The Fighting Coward in 1924 directed by James Cruze and The River of Romance in 1929 starring Buddy Rogers and Mary Brian, Mississippi is the first musical version. I don't expect there will be any more adaptations of the antiquated story.

Comedy veteran A. Edward Sutherland, an original Keystone Kop, directed and keeps things moving at an entertaining pace with plenty of fun moments from Fields. According to Gary Giddens in Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Miracles (published 2001), Sutherland conferred with Bing about Fields possibly stealing the movie. Bing was cool with that: "Is it good for the picture? Forget it. It's got my name on it. What do I care what Fields steals? If it's funny, okay."

Despite lack of critical acclaim, the movie was a popular success and Paramount renewed Bing's contract for a further three years.















12 comments:

  1. For me, this film is memorable for W.C. Fields, reciting (repeatedly) one of his best comic monologues, how he "cut a path through this wall of human flesh...dragging my canoe behind me." That, and his dubbing of the ultra-mild-mannered Bing as "The Singing Killer." They don't come up with stuff like this anymore!

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    1. Fields does steal the movie. I agree with Bing that "it's OK."

      I wonder how that character was portrayed in the original play. Perhaps they didn't take advantage of the humour that would ultimatelyi be found and that is why it only ran for 40 performances.

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  2. Thanks for this trip down the Mississippi. Something I always wanted to do, on a paddle-wheel boat. I'll have to catch up with Bing and W.C. Fields one of these days.

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    1. That sounds like a lovely trip. Sigh.

      The music and the river makes for a most pleasant entertainment.

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  3. This was definitely a different movie for Bing Crosby. It's too bad he didn't make other period films (I suppose A CONNECTICUT YANKEE qualifies as one). MISSISSIPPI also boasts some pretty good songs, including the Crosby mega-hit "It's Easy to Remember."

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    1. I agree. Bing seems quite at ease in the historical setting. I assume Paramount found it agreeably economical to set him in so many contemporary pictures.

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  4. Speaking of MISSISSIPPI that makes me think of the movie OKLAHOMA. There was also a movie TEXAS and a daytime soap TEXAS.

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    1. Rhythm on the Range seems to be the closest Bing got to being in a movie set in a western state. He was excellent as "Doc" in the 1966 version of Stagecoach. It is a good movie, but nothing like the classic film from 1939.

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  5. Who are some of your favorite co-stars of BING CROSBY? I know he did a movie with JANE WYMAN.

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    1. Bing and Bob are my favourite pair.

      I enjoy Bing with Jane Wyman (Here Comes the Groom, Just for You), Grace Kelly (The Country Girl, High Society), and Mary Martin (Rhythm on the River, Birth of the Blues).

      Frances Farmer (Rhythm on the Range) and Carole Lombard (We're Not Dressing) made me wish for more.

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  6. GARY CROSBY, the oldest child of BING CROSBY, also did a movie with JANE WYMAN. HOLIDAY FOR LOVERS with CLIFTON WEBB as the husband to Jane. Their daughters were played by JILL ST. JOHN and CAROL LYNLEY. Gary played the boyfriend to Carol. Im a fan of Carol who sadly died last year at the age of 77. Do you recall her ep of THE BIG VALLEY where she was in a story with HEATH?

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    1. Funny you should mention that Big Valley episode. Just this week, my DVD of the 4th season arrived.

      I have an article on Blue Denim coming up in June for the Broadway Bound blogathon.

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