Steamboat Round The Bend (1935): Dir. John Ford
John Ford's final collaboration with Will Rogers is
the pair's finest. Both Judge Priest and Doctor Bull lacked a certain dramatic surge that Steamboat Round The Bend offers like an
engine run on moonshine. Rogers
plays Doc John, a huckster peddling snake oil on the Mississippi in the
1890's. He teams with a feisty swamp girl when her husband -- John's nephew Duke -- is put on death row. The climax dovetails nicely with a
steamboat race to Baton Rouge where Duke awaits the gallows. A brisk eighty minutes, Steamboat not only has the narrative
propellant and comedic charms to satisfy viewers; it depicts a Civil War resentful South in the process of reconstruction, floating between modernism and an adherence to old Southern values. We see
medicine shows and false prophets, bands playing Dixie and a traveling wax-museum of historical figures frozen in time (much like the Antebellum South) that end up sacrificial fuel for the steamboat engines. Industry churns forward and leaves the
old ways behind in a puff of smokey exhaust.
That the young lady goes from unholy bayou-brat to proper belle
to first-rate steamboat captain furthers the film's theme of necessary
progressivism. Like all Ford's
work, Steamboat delights as it
recounts yet another small chapter in America's ongoing narrative odyssey.