Steamboats in the Movies, Page 8


The Big Trail (1930)

One of the first all talking Westerns after the end of the silent movie era, this steamboat sequence was filmed on the Sacramento River, standing in once again for the Mississippi River. The movie also used many other picturesque locations in the West.

One of the local Sacramento River sternwheelers transporting some would be pioneers from the east was painted gray so that it would appear to be weathered and dingy instead of bright white as we would expect.

John Wayne (standing next to the wagon in the upper right) was given his first big break as the lead character of Breck Coleman hired to deal with Indians when they were encountered by the wagon train heading west from the shores of the Mississippi.

Wayne's character had evidence of treachery and murder committed by Tyrone Power Senior's odious and repellant villain Red Flack who is heading up the wagon train while scheming to betray the settlers when they are most vulnerable. Ian Keith played Louisiana gambler Bill Thorpe, in reality just a con artist who has eyes for the same girl John Wayne's character is smitten with, the heroine Ruth Cameron played by Marguerite Churchill.

THE BIG TRAIL was the first Hollywood movie to use a widescreen format, which the 20th Century Fox studio called 70mm GRANDEUR. 23 years later that format became known as Cinemascope when Fox filmed the Biblical epic THE ROBE. This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD formats in both widescreen and conventional Academy Aspect ratio format in which it was most widely seen since only 2 theatres: one in L.A. and the other New York could project the widescreen version in 1930.


For your Will Rogers page, attached is a photo I bought of eBay a while back of him in costume for his role as a contemporary American who magically winds up in Camelot with King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The movie is on VHS tape but not on DVD yet. I saw the VHS tape back in '92 and it was a lot of fun.


A Connecticut Yankee is a 1931 American Pre-Code film adaptation of Mark Twain's 1889 novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. It was directed by David Butler to a script by William M. Conselman, Owen Davis, and Jack Moffitt. It was produced by Fox Film Corporation (later 20th Century Fox), who had earlier produced the 1921 silent adaptation of the novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. A Connecticut Yankee is the first sound film adaptation of Twain's novel. As in The Wizard of Oz, many of the actors in the film play more than one role, a character in the real world and one in the dream world. The film stars Will Rogers as Hank Martin, an American accidental time traveler who finds himself in Camelot back in the days of King Arthur (William Farnum, a Fox star for many years). Myrna Loy and Brandon Hurst play the evil Morgan le Fay and Merlin, who must be overcome by Hank's modern technical knowledge, while Maureen O'Sullivan plays Alisande. Fox was likely inspired to produce A Connecticut Yankee based on the success of the 1921 silent film. The 1931 version was likewise successful, and was re-released in 1936. It is unrelated to the 1927 musical also titled A Connecticut Yankee. The hero's name was changed from Hank Morgan to Hank Martin, possibly because the original name sounded too similar to that of actor Frank Morgan.

Will Rogers ... Hank Martin
William Farnum ... King Arthur / Inventor
Frank Albertson ... Emile le Poulet / Clarence
Maureen O'Sullivan ... Alisande / Woman in Mansion
Brandon Hurst ... Merlin / Doctor in Mansion
Myrna Loy ... Queen Morgan le Fay / Evil Sister in Mansion
Mitchell Harris ... Sagramor / Butler in Mansion

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE (1931) William Penn Adair Rogers (1879-1935), born in Oklahoma when it was still Indian Territory, was part Cherokee. He also was America's most beloved humorist for years before he died in a plane crash in Alaska, a star of vaudeville, Broadway, radio, movies and, for good measure, a widely syndicated newspaper columnist. His Cherokee heritage may have contributed to the everyman outsider stance that gave underpinning to his gentle wisecracks, full of populist keenness. When he said things like, "My ancestors may not have come over on the Mayflower, but they met 'em at the boat," it was shorthand for the way he bonded with audiences by reminding them that he, like they, were on the outside of the power structure, but it didn't mean they couldn't poke fun at it. He could have been Mark Twain's gentler sibling.

He teamed up with Twain, sort of, in a 1931 film of Twain's 1889 time-travel fantasy, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, shortened to A Connecticut Yankee. Rogers, a real cowboy who grew up on his family's ranch, began his showbiz career in Wild West shows as a lariat virtuoso, worked jokes into his routines, much as W.C. Fields, who began as a juggler, did. By the time of A Connecticut Yankee, Rogers had dozens of films under his belt, some with such self-descriptive titles as Cupid the Cowpuncher (1920), The Ropin' Fool (1922) and The Cowboy Sheik (1924). People loved his barbed but never vitriolic one-liners delivered in an aw-shucks hayseed fashion that blinded nobody to their shrewd, bemused skepticism - a quality that never fails to win American audiences, especially when applied to so-called political life. He and his cowboy persona were relaxed and comfortable. They relocated easily from the bunkhouse of a ranch to a Main Street storefront in Connecticut, where his character, Hank Martin, runs a radio shop, houses the local radio station and fronts the programs in cracker-barrel fashion.

One stormy night, Hank gets a call to deliver a car-sized radio battery to a spooky stone mansion on a hill. There he meets a stone-faced butler, an imperious lady of the house, her daughter, whose engagement to a boy she considers plebian she opposes, and the dotty paterfamilias, an inventor who needs the big battery to test his belief that he can tune in on the past. No sooner do Hank and the old inventor hear voices from King Arthur's time than a French window blows open, knocking over a suit of armor, which lands on Hank, conking him out. The framing device then yields to the story within a story, which has fun with the idea of modern inventions transplanted to 528 A.D. "Canst tellest me where the hellest I am?" Hank drawls to the knight who drags him in chains to Camelot's round table. When he dazzles the court by producing instant fire from his cigar lighter, the jealous Merlin (Brandon Hurst), seeing the newcomer as a rival, sells Arthur on the idea of burning Hank at the stake.

A Connecticut Yankee takes a lot of liberties with the book, an approach that works disarmingly, reinforcing the idea that we're watching something freewheeling and zany. More important than not taking the book totally seriously, the film's eight writers convince us that we're watching a film that never takes itself too seriously, befitting a dream. Its structure, such as it is, fits Rogers's casual style comfortably as Hank's dozing mind recasts the mansion's denizens into Camelot's principals. Thus the inventor (William Farnum) is transformed into Arthur, the unreceptive butler (Mitchell Harris) becomes a hostile knight, the high-handed lady (Myrna Loy) is reincarnated into Arthur's evil sister, Morgan Le Fay, while the lovelorn ingénue from the mansion (Maureen O'Sullivan) becomes the high-born lady forbidden from marrying the commoner in both worlds (Frank Albertson). The latter figures in one of the asides: Hank gets the young man upgraded to royal rank, having him dubbed Sir Rogers de Claremore (a genuflection to Rogers's Oklahoma home town).

Hank's turnaround is launched by the book's juiciest scene. Just before Hank is about to be burned, he learns from the handy-dandy pocket almanac he carries that June 21, 528 A.D. - the date of his scheduled execution - was also the date of a solar eclipse. Surrounded by kindling, he proclaims his intention to blot out the sun. When it happens, Hank's fortunes soar as he pretends to make the sun reappear. Dubbed Sir Boss by the impressionable Arthur, he swings into 20th century action, including taking on the enemy knight in a joust, exchanging lance and armor for cowboy hat and chaps, then lassoing his adversary to the ground. After proclaiming himself a Democrat in favor of prosperity, farm relief, freedom for Ireland and beer for all, Hank sets about industrializing Camelot along modern lines. In no time, the screen is filled with switchboard operators in medieval garb, mass-produced miscellany and an assembly line of which Henry Ford would have been proud. Then, in a meeting of minds with Twain, Rogers announces that he's inventing advertising in order to make people want what they had been perfectly happy without.

Twain's vernacular is right in Rogers's wheelhouse, and he makes the delivering of it seem easy. His offhand manner encourages receptivity to the film's absurdities, not that the glut of 20th century stuff his Camelot factories turn out doesn't come in handy. When Hank and Arthur learn Morgan Le Fay has, with the help of a treacherous Merlin, kidnapped the princess, and they ride off to rescue her only to wind up on the gallows, about to be hanged, the Camelot cavalry comes to the rescue. In a scene of delightful excess, a fleet of flivvers bounces over the enemy turf, augmented by tanks, planes and a helicopter that bombs Morgan Le Fay's castle to rubble. It enables the film to end on a bang-up note of rising nonsense, with everybody, including the deadpan baddies, drawing us into the good time they convince us they're having.

While such veterans as Farnum and Hurst are the means of poking gentle fun at old styles steeped in the staginess that often spilled over into early talkies, Ireland's O'Sullivan brings youthful freshness to a stock ingénue role, and Loy is a delight. Cast in a string of troublemaker roles at that early stage of her career, she brings a playful sexiness to Morgan Le Fay, even in the improbable scenes in which she's supposed to have fallen for Hank and romances him in a good-humored vampish way. Neither she nor Rogers could have known that she'd also bring a dash of color to those scenes. Director David Butler had the idea to have Hank's face hand-tinted pink in every frame of every print of their love scene, and so it was. (Loy later wrote that Rogers was essentially a shy man in real life.) A Connecticut Yankee may look slapdash - at times its action, especially when played out against obviously painted flat backgrounds, is only a notch or two above Three Stooges production values. But its winning goofiness conceals a lot of professional savvy, not least of all from Rogers, whose homespun awkwardness and slightly nasal twang may have begun as the real thing, but by 1931 belonged to the realm of the art that concealed art.

Director: David Butler
Screenplay: William M. Conselman, Owen Davis, based on the novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
Cinematography: Ernest Plamer
Art Direction: William S. Darling
Music: Arthur Kay
Film Editing: Irene Morra
Cast: Will Rogers (Hank Martin aka Sir Boss), William Farnum (King Arthur/Inventor), Frank Albertson (Emile le Poulet/Clarence), Maureen O'Sullivan (Alisande/Clarence's Sweetheart), Brandon Hurst (Merlin/Doctor in Mansion), Myrna Loy (Queen Morgan le Fay/Evil Sister in Mansion), Mitchell Harris (Sagramor/Butler in Mansion). BW-95m.

by Jay Carr

Sources: IMDb AFI Catalogue of Feature Films
Will Rogers: A Biography, by Donald Day, David McKay, 1962
Will Rogers, Performer, by Richard J. Maturi and Mary Buckingham Maturi, McFarland, 1999
Will Rogers in Hollywood, by Bryan B. Sterling and Frances N, Sterling, Crown, 1984
Will Rogers Biography, by Joseph H. Carter,
Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming, by James Kotsilibas-Davis   Myrna Loy, Knopf, 1987
The Films of Myrna Loy, by Lawrence J. Quirk, Citadel Press, 1980
Maureen O'Sullivan: "No Average Jane," by David Fury, Artist's Press, 2007

WillRogersConnecticutYankeePoster willrogerssmileskimmer willrogersZiegfeldFollies

This is a tiny photo but is a good one of Will smiling broadly. Those flat topped straw hats were very fashionable during the "turn of the century" they were nicknamed "skimmers" . . . could probably be thrown like a Frisbee to great distances. The second photo is of Will when he was in the Ziegfeld follies, telling stories and commenting on American life while he twirled his lariat. Being an Oklahoma cowboy he was an expert at rope tricks while chewing gum.

Will Rogers Doing Rope Tricks youtube

Will Rogers - The Ropin' Fool 1922 youtube narrated by his son Will Rogers Jr.

Will Rogers - Bacon, Beans, and Limousines youtube



1963 German "Western" - River Pirates of the Mississippi River

Pirates of the Mississippi Review

From The Spaghetti Western Database

Pirates of the Mississippi (Die Flußpiraten vom Mississippi) 1963

The first of three Sauerkraut westerns produced by Wolf C. Hartwig, all starring former peplum star Brad Harris and a young Horst Frank.

The movie is part of a trilogy, the other two entries being Massacre at Marble City and Black Eagle of Santa Fe.

Horst Frank is John Kelly, a disgraced Cavalry Colonel, now the leader of a gang called the River Pirates.

With the help of the Cherokee tribe, Kelly wants to attack the river boat and the small town of Helena.

Harris is an old acquaintance of the local sheriff (Felmy), who's falsely accused of being a member of the gang.

He's saved from the gallows (in Blondie/Tuco style!) by his old pal and of course helps him to investigate the case.

This was one of the first Sauerkraut westerns, made in the wake of the first Karl May adaptation Treasure of Silver Lake (1962).

The novel by German author Friedrich Gerstäcker had several subplots that kept the screenwriters more than busy.

They changed a couple of details (in the book gang leader Kelly leads a double life as the local judge, in the movie they're two different characters) but the script remains a rather intricate one, with lots of characters and complications.

Felmy looks a bit too sophisticated for the role of a western hero, but luckily Horst Frank is cast as the villain this time around (in the other two entries he'd play a positive character).

Kendall/Stella has always maintained that he was offered the role of No Name in A Fistful of Dollars; if so, Leone had probably seen him in this one.

It was made prior to Fistful and when watching it, you'll notice quite a few scenes and plot devices that would pop up in Leone's famous movies.

Even if these similarities are coincidental, the movie has some considerable historic value. Gianfranco Parolini directed the action scenes (the fight scenes were choreographed by Harris), who would reunite Harris and Kendall in the years to come in a series of spy movies.

It's also the first appearance by Dan Vadis in a European western.

Like most Sauerkraut westerns Pirates is a corny affair, but it's quite lively, a bit plot-heavy maybe, but good fun when you're in the mood for these type of movies.

Rolf Kästel's cinematography is impressive, but the film has a rather odd look, due to the vivid, occasionally even dazzling colors of the costumes.

Frank later confessed that they had been used shortly before in the Munich Carnaval Parade. Ein Bier, bitte.

Jurgen Roland

Hansjörg Felmy
Sabine Sinjean (Sonja Sinjen)
Brad Harris
Horst Frank
Dorothy Parker (Dorothee Glöcklen)
Tony Kendall (Luciano Stella)
Dan Vadis
Barbara Simon (Bruna Simionato)
Karl Lieffen
Music: Willy Matthes