Steamboats in the Movies

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.

steamboats in movies

A number of episodes of the 1959 - 1961 TV series RIVERBOAT are available from NETFLIX. Attached 12 screen captures from the first DVD. 8 of the images are of a scale model. The distributor credit for the DVD's is Timeless Media Productions.

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. Here are more stills from the film:

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:

Following are some screen captures from the documentary:

steamboats in movies

steamboats in movies

steamboat illustration

Stepin Fetchit

"Joe" (Stepin Fetchit) playing the banjo in the kitchen of "Queenie" (Tess Gardella) aboard the "COTTON PALACE" showboat as the young "Magnolia Hawks" (Jane La Verne) sits by appreciatively eating a piece of pie in the 1929 Universal version of Edna Ferber's SHOW BOAT.

This movie was part silent and part talkie and didn't include music or songs from the Jerome Kern Broadway musical score but instead used new songs and I imagine some traditional songs and music as well.

The review off the imdb site tells more about it. I don't remember much of what I saw of the movie that was cobbled together on TCM.

The owners of the actual showboat "COTTON BLOSSOM" on the Mississippi wanted a large fee for the use of the name of their boat so in the two Universal SHOW BOAT adaptations the showboat was called the "COTTON PALACE."

I like the nostalgic ambiance of the set and Stepin Fetchit's expression and pose here. "Fetchit's" real name was Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry.


steamboats in movies

In the fall of 1926 the last Kate Adams became "La Belle Riviere" for a silent film version of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Filming was done on the Ouachita and Black rivers in Louisiana. In January of 1927 the Kate Adams burned at Memphis. That may have been the reason this set of the forward section of the Kate was built on a back lot in California. A lot of the action took place here and they may not have completed filming before the Kate was destroyed. The rubber stamp on the back of this photo post card said ROSSLYN PHOTO STUDIO / LOS ANGELES, CALIF. It was pretty amazing to find this at a post card show. Had never heard that a recreation of the boat had been built during any phase of the production of the movie.

More stills from Uncle Tom's Cabin below.

steamboat movies

steamboat movies

The stacks appear to be hinged to get under bridges which is an anachronism and the sternwheel towboat may be a bit ahead of its time too, but this movie had the most impressive boat to work with compared to later ones where the boats were smaller or had lots of alterations which plainly made them out of place and time but the movies are seldom made for devotees with specialized knowledge.

steamboats in movies

Cooley's AMERICA as the "Winfield Scott" in the 1924. silent film Magnolia, the first of 3 adaptations of Booth Tarkington's play, the other two being the talkies River of Romance with Wallace Beery and Mississippi with Bing Crosby and W.C. Fields. (I sent you a photo of the River of Romance set).

steamboats in movies

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

steamboats in movies

Dickie Jones as cub pilot Sam Clemens and Robert Barrat as Horace Bixby in the The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944). The kid is 13 years old but Clemens was actually 22 years old when he met Bixby and discussed learning the river under him. The movie perpetuated the myth that Clemens went straight from Hannibal into the river trade but he was actually 17 when he left Hannibal then spent five years as a journeyman printer before tackling boat piloting. I think they looked at the illustrations in Life on the Mississippi and saw that the cub was represented as a "mere boy" so it was easier to skip over the printer years and cut to the chase and have him larnin' the river.

steamboats in movies

Frederic March as Sam Clemens steamboat pilot in The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944). Clemens didn't have a mustache at this point in his life (late 1850's/early 1860's) but instead wore lambchop sideburns. The fictional boat this pilot house is supposed to be on is called the Queen of Dixie in the movie.

steamboats in movies

Still from the '27 silent film of Uncle Tom's Cabin. The slave Eliza bites evil Simon LeGree. This was obviously taken on the real Kate Adams, not the "mock up" in California. You can see some rigging on the top deck that was apparently not reproduced on the set.

steamboats in movies

Set still for the "SALON" of the "QUEEN OF DIXIE" for that 1944 Warner Bros. biopic "The Adventures of Mark Twain." Nice gingerbread, long and deep - doesn't look like they cheated with mirrors or forced perspective tricks.

steamboats in movies

From an original 8 X 10 movie still of the full size prop boat built for "Little Old New York," a 1940 20th Century Fox highly fictionalized "biopic" about Robert Fulton. The first trip of the Clermont in August, 1807 was from New York to Albany and back, and it averaged about five miles an hour. The dawn of steamboatin' USA.

The Clermont was named after Fulton's friend Robert Livingston's home on the Hudson River. Robert Livingston was a U.S. ambassador to France and one of the two men who made possible the Louisiana Purchase for the U.S. With Livingston's support, Fulton had previously built a steamboat that operated in France on the Seine in 1803. In 1808 Fulton married Livingston's niece Harriet. Awww- isn't it romantic?

steamboats in movies

Mickey Rooney Huck Finn

Warner Bros. is now selling a DVD of the 1944 Frederic March "biopic" The Adventures of Mark Twain.

Attached 4 screen captures of the steamboat model. It looked best at night in the fog in silhouette.

The stills of the Captain Weber on the Sacramento River above are from the 1939 Mickey Rooney version of Huck Finn which is also available from Warner Bros. For more info.: www.WBshop.com
Warner Bros. Official Online Store
Adventures of Mark Twain, The (EST-MOD) $19.95
Adventures of Huck Finn, The (1939)(MOD)
Shipping & Handling: $5.95

steamboats in movies

steamboats in movies

This is a still from the movie, Steamboat Round the Bend. In this scene, Doctor John (Will Rogers) and Engineer/First Mate Efe (Francis Ford) survey the newly-acquired Claremore Queen. Efe's badge says "Down with the demon rum!" (a gift from The New Moses).
To see more Steamboat Round the Bend photos - click here (at this site).
To see extra large stills from the movie - click here (at this site).
steamboat movies

The GORDON C. GREEN in the 1957 Warner Bros. Civil War movie BAND OF ANGELS. Bottom photo she's getting an assist from a tug boat and small tow boat. These boats were out of sight of the motion picture camera so this was an unusual "behind the scenes" production still. Filmed on the Mississippi at Geismar, Louisiana.

steamboat movies

From Disney's 1976 movie, Treasure of Matecumbe. Here are three frames of the steamboat model and one frame of the cabin interior which the art department designed nicely with authentic arches, skylights and transoms. Joan Hackett (in white) as pretty and quirky heroine Lauriette Paxton. John Myhers as Captain Boomer (standing left in uniform) and Dick Van Patten seated right played a crooked card sharp who is beaten at his own game by Lauriette.

Treasure of Matecumbe
Walt Disney Productions
directed by Vincent McEveety
based on the the novel Voyage to Matecumbe (1961) by Robert Lewis Taylor
locations in the South: Danville, Kentucky and the Kentucky River

steamboat movies

The catamaran style steam ferry EDWIN N. BISSO (built 1925) was pressed into carrying cattle in the 1966 Paramount film starring Steve McQueen in the title role of NEVADA SMITH.

Casting character actor Merritt Bohn as the pilot was inspired since he looked just like the Real McCoy.

The final frame is the view from Algiers across the Mississippi to Jackson Square in New Orleans.

Directed by Henry Hathaway
Based on a character created by Harold Robbins for his 1961 novel "The Carpetbaggers"
John Michael Hayes (story and screenplay)
Steve McQueen as Max Sand a.k.a. "Nevada Smith" and "Fitch" Merritt Bohn as the steamboat pilot
The DVD is available from amazon:
click here to see this item at Amazon.com

steamboat movies

Nine screen captures from MGM's 1951 SHOW BOAT of their 134 foot long, 34 foot wide "Cotton Blossom" steamboat replica on their back lot lake in Culver City. The boat was sold in the 1971 MGM auction and ended up at a Worlds of Fun theme park near Kansas City where it was reconstructed and then dedicated in May of '73. Unfortunately the Cotton Blossom was demolished after the attraction closed in 1995. It's a shame they didn't place more value on their investment after all the trouble they went to transport it to the Midwest, reassemble and restore it and it needed a lot of work.

See the article on this link to Jennifer's Worlds of Fun blog where photos document how much effort it took to accomplish the neglected boat's resurrection. Click on the thumbnails to see large scans of the photographs. http://unwof.blogspot.com/2010_02_01_archive.htm

steamboat movies

The prop steamboat at Universal was first built for MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER (1953), then was featured as the "Enterprise" in the TV series RIVERBOAT (1959-61)

Warner Bros. rented the boat and filmed FOUR FOR TEXAS (1963) on Universal's lake. The art department did a nice job freshening up the full sized prop from a neglected packet to the casino boat "La Maison Rouge " which in the screenplay is located in Galveston Bay off the Gulf of Mexico in Texas.

The painting above was made to cross dissolve to the live action footage below. If you look closely the only human figure from the live action which is included in the painting is the deck hand at work on the sign board on the side of the pilot house. Whoever the artist was had to be an accomplished illustrator since the painting has that distinctive illustration style to it. Would be interesting to know if Universal preserved the art work or if it ended up in private hands.

The prop boat itself was a casualty of one of Universal's studio fires quite a while ago.

steamboat movies

The ENTERPRISE and its pilot house "dolled up" in day and night shots in FOUR FOR TEXAS.

steamboat movies

Here are two starboard views of Universal studios "prop" boat in FOUR FOR TEXAS, which we all refer to as the ENTERPRISE since it was known under that name in the RIVERBOAT TV series. (1959 - 61) Universal built the boat for the Tyrone Power film MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER in 1953.

In 1963 Warner Bros. rented the boat and filmed portions of FOUR FOR TEXAS on Universal's back lot "lake." There was a sequence where they transformed the boat from a neglected sternwheeler to this spic and span casino boat LA MAISON ROUGE, supposedly in Galveston, Texas. The two male stars of the movie were Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

old steamboats

As part of the storyline of FOUR FOR TEXAS the ENTERPRISE was transformed from the drab SULTANA to the elegant LA MAISON ROUGE. Nothing like paint, gingerbread and brass belts around the smokestacks to give a boat some pizzazz.

steamboat set

Curious steamboat set which appears to have been built on dry land with no water anywhere near it. Rather foreshortened with paddlebox way too far forward of where it should have been. The smokestacks are very short and may have been extended with a matte shot or framed by the cameraman so the tops couldn't be seen. Wally Beery is wearing the eye patch and the chap with the cane is Buddy Rogers.

River of Romance (1929)
Charles 'Buddy' Rogers... Tom Rumford
Wallace Beery... General Orlando Jackson

This is the second film adaptation of Booth Tarkington's play "Magnolia." The first version was "The Fighting Coward" (1924), filmed at Natchez and using Captain Cooley's steamboat AMERICA as the "Winfield Scott." The third and final version was "Mississippi" (1935) with W.C. Fields and Bing Crosby. All 3 versions were made by Paramount.

Captain Weber

Up on the Sacramento River the CAPTAIN WEBER played the "Crescent Queen" in the 1939 20th Century Fox film SWANEE RIVER (based on the life story of composter Stephen Foster who was played by Don Ameche).

El Capitan

The little sternwheel ferry El Capitan (built St. Louis 1903) operated at Natchez. Here she's doing duty as a movie boat in the 1929 MGM movie Hallelujah directed by King Vidor with an all black cast. The only mention of geography I've found about this movie was that it was "shot on location in Tennessee" . . . maybe at Memphis?


This is scanned from a framed 11x14 still that turned up during some remodeling here at home. You already have a smaller scan of a production shot with the Technicolor camera from when this scene was being filmed up on the Sacramento with the CAPTAIN WEBER made up as the CRESCENT QUEEN. SWANEE RIVER (20th Century Fox, released January 1940) was one of several movie musical "biopics" based on the life of Stephen Foster who wrote the GLENDY BURKE about the steamboat GLEN D. BURKE that we have original sheet music for in our museum.

Footage from this steamboat sequence was also used in the 1952 Warner Bros. biopic about Jim Bowie starring Alan Ladd as the man who improved on the design of the American hunting and fighting knife which was sometimes referred to as "The Arkansas Toothpick."

More movie stills

Dave Thomson Museum Wing Index