Steamboats in the Movies, Page 3



This picture of Joan Bennett on the boiler deck goes with the photo of Joseph Schildkraut in the 1929 MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER. The name LA BELLE RIVIERE on the lifeboat / "yawl" suggests this was either actually taken aboard the KATE ADAMS when she was playing in UNCLE TOM's CABIN or that Universal had built a full-scale mock up of more than just the bow of the KATE ADAMS for the latter movie. From the lighting in this photograph it looks like it was taken at night or on a soundstage, in both cases with artificial light, as a "night scene." This almost looks like a negative image rather than a positive print.

steamboats in movies

Buster Keaton, 1928 as Steamboat Bill Jr. on the Sacramento River.


The attached photo is Keaton's co-star Ernest Torrence as Captain William "Steamboat Bill" Canfield Senior. Sitting on a capstan aboard the STONEWALL JACKSON loading his corn cob pipe with tobacco from a pouch.

Keaton's STEAMBOAT BILL JR. 1928 6 frames

Attached 6 screen captures from Buster Keaton's 1928 silent action/comedy filmed on the Sacramento River, STEAMBOAT BILL, JR.

Steamboat KING (twin stacks) belongs to the father of Keaton's love interest. The STONEWALL JACKSON (single stack) belongs to Keaton's Dad.

steamboats in movies

Captain Cooley's AMERICA as the "Winfield Scott" in the 1924 silent film THE FIGHTING COWARD, the first of 3 adaptations of Booth Tarkington's play MAGNOLIA. The other two versions were the talkies RIVER OF ROMANCE, 1929 with Wallace Beery and MISSISSIPPI, 1935 with Bing Crosby and W.C. Fields.

The gent with the eye patch in the foreground is actor Ernest Torrence in the role of General Orlando Jackson. In 1928 Torrence portrayed Captain William 'Steamboat Bill' Canfield, father of Buster Keaton's character William Canfield Jr. in STEAMBOAT BILL JR.

I found this movie still back in the 90s and loaned it to Ralph DuPae to copy and he had a negative made of it and added it to the Murphy Library collection.


Photo taken by still camera operator during the filming of THE FIGHTING COWARD in the cabin of Captain Cooley's AMERICA in March, 1924. A reference slate with the number 22 is on the narrow counter of the clerk/purser's office next to a door leading to the deck outside. Hinged vertical shutters above the counter can be opened for business when the clerk and/or the purser are on duty to serve the passengers.

In THE FIGHTING COWARD the AMERICA's name was changed to "WINFIELD SCOTT" (see photo of actor Ernest Torrence above).

steamboat in night of the hunter

Charles Laughton directed Robert Mitchum in the 1955 suspense movie NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. Set in the Ohio River valley there was a brief sequence in which the DQ was featured.

Both scenes are special effects shots. The shanty boat in the foreground was "matted in" against a scene of the DQ filmed along the Ohio somewhere and for the scene inside the shanty boat they "rear projected" footage of the DQ making her way in the distance.

The little boy is Billy Chapin playing John Harper and the bearded shanty boater is veteran actor James Gleason as Birdie Steptoe.

The movie also used a couple of close ups of the DQ's whistle being blown.

The movie was based on a novel by Davis Grubb who set many of his stories along the Ohio River in the vicinity of Moundsville, West Virginia where he grew up.

Night of the Hunter was Laughton's only directorial effort and had a beautiful stylized black and white dream world feeling to it.

General John Newton photo

Sometime in the '90's I flew into St. Paul and drove from the airport to the Minnesota University where the Gen'l John Newton floated in the Mississippi as a Showboat for the drama dep't.

steamboats in movies

The General John Newton in the Swedish film The Emigrants (1971). This scene (very late in the picture) depicts the crew members digging a grave for an infant that had died aboard the boat.

steamboat movies

The GENERAL JOHN NEWTON appeared in Jack Webb's 1955 Warner Brother's film PETE KELLY'S BLUES in a scene where she passes by a cemetery on the bayou at Lafitte, Louisiana. The data below was from a website about the Newton's career as a showboat at St. Paul.

1899: The General John Newton, a 175-foot-long paddle wheeler, is commissioned. Over the years it serves as a maritime courthouse and is visited by at least four U.S. presidents.

1958: The University of Minnesota purchases the boat for $1 from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and renames it the Minnesota Centennial Showboat in celebration of the state's 100th year. The showboat is anchored on the Mississippi River on the University's East Bank and opens with a production of Under the Gaslight.

January 2000: Fire destroys the Centennial Showboat during its renovation. Check out this documentary from YouTube: [offline]

Following are some screen captures from the documentary:

steamboats in movies

steamboats in movies

steamboat illustration

This is the album cover from a set of 78 records of Jerome Kern's Scenario for Orchestra on themes from Kern's own stage musical SHOW BOAT.

Ol' Man River Lyrics
Music Jerome Kern
Lyrics Oscar Hammerstein

Dere's an ol' man called de Mississippi
Dat's de ol' man dat I'd like to be!
What does he care if de world's got troubles?
What does he care if de land ain't free?

Ol' man river,
Dat ol' man river
He mus' know sumpin'
But don't say nuthin',
He jes' keeps rollin'
He keeps on rollin' along.

He don' plant taters,
He don't plant cotton,
An' dem dat plants'em
is soon forgotten,
But ol'man river,
He jes keeps rollin'along.

You an'me, we sweat an' strain,
Body all achin' an' rack'd wid pain,
Tote dat barge!
Lif' dat bale!
Git a little drunk
An' you land in jail.

Ah gits weary
An' sick of tryin'
Ah'm tired of livin'
An' skeered of dyin',
But ol' man river,
He jes'keeps rolling' along.

Colored folks work on de Mississippi,
Colored folks work while de white folks play,
Pullin' dose boats from de dawn to sunset,
Gittin' no rest till de judgement day.

Don't look up
An' don't look down,
You don' dast make
De white boss frown.
Bend your knees
An'bow your head,
An' pull date rope
Until you' dead.

Let me go 'way from the Mississippi,
Let me go 'way from de white man boss;
Show me dat stream called de river Jordan,
Dat's de ol' stream dat I long to cross.

O' man river,
Dat ol' man river,
He mus'know sumpin'
But don't say nuthin'
He jes' keeps rollin'
He keeps on rollin' along.

Long ol' river forever keeps rollin' on...

He don' plant taters,
He don' plant cotton,
An' dem dat plants 'em
Is soon forgotten,
but ol' man river,
He jes' keeps rollin' along.

Long ol' river keeps hearing dat song.
You an' me, we sweat an' strain,
Body all achin an' racked wid pain.
Tote dat barge!
Lif' dat bale!
Git a little drunk
An' you land in jail.

Ah, gits weary
An' sick of tryin'
Ah'm tired of livin'
An' skeered of dyin',
But ol' man river,
He jes'keeps rollin' along!


Dudley Early is credited with doing the "Titles" which I assume were dialogue cards. It's not clear if the "sound version" of this contained anything more than music and sound effects. This film was probably the basis for a remake by Universal under the same title starring Tyrone Power in 1953 when the gambler's name was "Mark Fallon." None of the names of the characters in the '53 version were the same as the '20 version.

The most fun thing in this movie still, beside the Gambler being almost as pretty as the two admiring girls is the head of his can which is a skull. The skull/death motif probably implied that Jack Morgan was a deadly duelist with sword or pistol. The characters are obviously on the boiler deck of a steamboat but it can't be determined if this was a set or a real boat on the Sacramento River where it was probably filmed.

The movie was a few minutes under an hour long so apparently wasn't an "epic" by anyone's standards.

The Mississippi Gambler 1929
Notes from IMDB:

Joseph Schildkraut was (improbably) cast as a Southern gambler in this film to capitalize on his equally improbable casting as Gaylord Ravenal in the part-talkie version of Show Boat. Actor Otis Harlan, who portrayed Captain Andy in the 1929 "Show Boat", was reunited with Schildkraut for this film.

A print of the silent version of this film survives in the UCLA Film and Television Archives.

The picture portion of the sound version survives in 16mm. The soundtrack discs are evidently lost.

Directed by Reginald Barker
Written by Edward T. Lowe Jr.
Story: Karl Brown, Leonard Fields
Dialogue: Winifred Reeve, H.H. Van Loan
Titles: Dudley Early
Joseph Schildkraut Jack Morgan
Joan Bennett Lucy Blackburn
Carmelita Geraghty Suzette Richards
Alec B. Francis Junius Blackburn
Otis Harlan Tiny Beardsley
William Welsh Captain Weathers
Music by David Broekman
Cinematography Gilbert Warrenton
Editing by Robert B. Wilcox
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date 3 November 1929
Running time 57 minutes