“If his life ain’t worth five hundred dollars, it ain’t worth nothin’!”
A steamboat operator (Will Rogers) and a “swamp girl” named Fleety Belle (Anne Shirley) try to locate a key witness (Berton Churchill) before Rogers’ nephew (John McGuire) is unjustly hung for murder.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Cross-Class Romance
- Deep South
- Falsely Accused
- John Ford Films
- Will Rogers Films
Will Rogers’ final film (released after his tragic death in an airplane crash over Alaska) is similar in many ways to his previous two collaborations with director John Ford: once again, Rogers plays a down-to-earth, laid-back guy who is more than willing to go against social norms to do what’s “right”. His character isn’t quite as noble this time around — rather than a doctor (as in Doctor Bull) or a judge (as in Judge Priest), he’s initially a snake oil salesman (a fake “doctor”) hoping to transition into managing a steamboat — yet it’s impossible to find fault with him, particularly once he takes his nephew’s “swamp” girlfriend (a wonderfully wide-eyed Anne Shirley) under his wing, and puts his own dreams on hold to help save his nephew from the gallows of unjust death. Two dramatic highlights of this ultimately rather insubstantial film include Rogers demonstrating the educational merits of his newly acquired Wax Museum (!!!) to a group of small-minded Southerners:
and the grand finale: a steamboat race down the Mississippi (guess who wins?).
As with their previous two collaborations, Steamboat… ultimately doesn’t seem quite worthy of either Rogers’ or Ford’s talents, but it will likely be of minor interest to fans of either man.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Will Rogers as “Doctor John”
- Anne Shirley as Fleety Belle
No; check out Judge Priest (1934) instead to see Rogers in a (slightly) better Ford film.