Steamboats in the Movies, page 3



Action stills of Burt Lancaster in THE KENTUCKIAN

Two action stills of star/director Burt Lancaster in the 1955 movie THE KENTUCKIAN filmed aboard the GORDON C. GREENE after she had been renamed the RIVER QUEEN on the Ohio River in Kentucky.

This caption accompanied these photos in a studio press release dated August 20, 1955:

"When Burt Lancaster appears to do some daring stunt in a motion picture, it's really Lancaster doing it, not a stunt man. So it is in The Kentuckian starring Lancaster. In the course of the United Artists picture, the actor throws his small son off a river steamboat then jumps in after him to escape gamblers who pursued him. Father and son make it ashore, Burt clenching a bag of money in his teeth, money that he had won from gamblers aboard the boat."

recent acquisitions


The GORDON C. GREENE as a steamboat called simply "STERNWHEELER" (now who thought that one up?) filmed on the Green River in Kentucky for the 1955 epic THE KENTUCKIAN directed & starring Burt Lancaster. En route to Texas from Kentucky during the 1820's, Burt as frontiersman Elias Wakefield has plenty of exciting adventures including getting tangled up with riverboat gamblers.

The G.C. GREENE is almost completely anachronistic to the 1820's period of course with its swinging stage and enclosed lower deck etc. but it's nice to see her on a widescreen and in Technicolor.



Seen above, Joan Bennett on the boiler deck in 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.


Screen capture of the GORDON C. GREENE from David O. Selznick's 1939 spectacular Civil War epic Gone With the Wind (for the sequence of Rhett and Scarlett's honeymoon trip to New Orleans).

When I visited New Orleans historian Ray Samuel's Garden District home he showed me his darkroom where a Hollywood cinematographer loaded a 3 strip Technicolor camera before filming this brief scene. Must've been photographed just before sunrise (or close to sunset). A veteran meteorologist might be able to tell which.

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.

Screenplay by James Agee
Based on the novel

The Night of the Hunter
by Davis Grubb


BIRDIE: (Referring to the steamboat's whistle): She don't put in Cresap's Landin' no more, but she still blows as she passes. Come on in and have a cup of coffee, boy.

JOHN: Ain't nobody stole Dad's skiff?

BIRDIE: Ain't nobody gonna neither as long as Uncle Birdie's around. First day my joints is limber enough, I'll haul her out and give her a good caulkin'. Ain't seen ya in a coon's age, boy.

JOHN: I've been mindin' Pearl. (John's little sister)

BIRDIE: Shucks. Ain't it a caution what a woman will load onto a man's back when he ain't lookin'? Excuse me, Cap while I sweeten my coffee. (Pours some whiskey into his cup of coffee then looks at the framed photograph of his late wife):
Dead and gone these 25 year and never takes her eyes off me. Man of my years needs a little snort in the mornin' to heat the boilers.

JOHN: Yeah.

BIRDIE: I was talkin' to this stranger up at the boarding house. He knowed your Dad.

JOHN: Where'd he know Dad?

BIRDIE: I'll not hide it from you, boy. He knowed him in the Moundsville Penitentiary.

JOHN: I gotta go now, Uncle Birdie.

BIRDIE: Well, you just got here, boy.

JOHN: I told Mom I'd be back to Spoon's for Pearl.


[Birdie plays the melody of Oh! Susanna and sings a song about himself]:


"'Twas down at Cresap's Landin' along the river shore and Birdie Steptoe was a pilot in the good old days of yore

Now he sets in his old wharf boat and all the big boats heave a sigh, they blow for Uncle Birdie and the times that ere gone by."

JOHN: When'll Dad's skiff be ready?

BIRDIE: Have her ready inside a week. Then we'll go fishing. You leavin', boy? -

JOHN: Yep. Gotta watch out for Pearl, Uncle Birdie.

BIRDIE: Well, good night, boy. Come again anytime. And mind, boy I'll have your Pa's skiff shipshape inside a week.

More from the novel
Night of the Hunter 1953
by Davis Grubb
pages 82 - 83

In the Ohio Valley it is the river that gives and takes the seasons. It is as if that mighty stream were the vast, alluvial artery of the land itself so that when the towns grow weary of snows and harsh fogs the great heart pumps green spring blood down the valley and the banks are warmed and nourished by it and soon the whole environing earth blossoms despite itself and the air comes alive and lambs caper and bleat upon the hillside paths.

And so now it was the prime of spring in the bottomlands. Soon the redbone hound would kelt in the creek hollows on nights when the moon was a curl of golden hair against the shoulder of the Ohio hills.

Soon the shantyboat people would join their fiddle and mouth-harp racket to the chorus of green frogs down under the mists in the moonlit willows.

And that morning the showboat Humpty Dumpty had put in at the landing.

Definition of kelt: a salmon or sea trout that is weak and emaciated after spawning


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


Having finally seen a blurry DVD of this movie I realized that this stylized mock-up of a steamboat actually "moved" as it came in for a landing but it was not possible to tell if it was actually on water or on a dry surface on a track of some kind to give the illusion of being in a river. The landscaping and edge of the wooden wharf concealed most of the hull so the illusion was disguised.

The set was foreshortened with the paddlebox much farther forward than it actually would have been on a sidewheeler. The smokestacks are very short so the boat was probably framed by the camera operator in such a way that the tops of these stacks would not be seen. Wallace Beery is the chap wearing an eye patch and the Dapper Dan with the cane is Buddy Rogers.


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.

See Captain Cooley's AMERICA as the "Winfield Scott" in the 1924 silent film THE FIGHTING COWARD, now on a page dedicated to Captain Cooley's America.*


All captions provided by Dave Thomson, primary contributor and historian.