In Old Kentucky was released shortly after Rogers's death, and is his last-released film, though not the last film he starred in. Steamboat Round the Bend was filmed earlier, but released first, as it was thought to be the stronger work. Fox Films and 20th Century Fox produced this warm Americana, set in the 1920s.
Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, known for a similar dance performance with Shirley Temple in "The Little Colonel," appears throughout. His role in was intended for Stepin Fetchit, but that actor was working on another film and his role was rewritten to allow Robinson to show off his famous dancing.
Critical commentary by Anthony Slide is worthwhile, despite his lisp--"I have a bwidge in Bwooklyn," reminiscent of "Life of Brian." Slide is more critical than warranted-- for example: "another weak sight gag, and equally weak as the first sight gag at the beginning of the film." Charlie Chaplin this isn't - if you want brilliant sight gags rent Chaplin or Keaton instead.
Slide's pointing out stunt doubles didn't add to my appreciation of the film, but his commentary on the careers of the players, many from vaudeville, was valuable. More annoying is Slide's obsession with every instance of perceived racism. It is difficult to review a film released 72 years ago and not apply today's standards. Slide gives a good discussion on blackface during the blackface dance scene.
Choose Language Selection > English Stereo as the program defaults to Mono.
Rogers's fly medicine monologue was a high point in the film, as were all the scenes with Rogers dancing. The second half of the film picks up speed until the end, which had me laughing out loud. While this may not be Rogers's best work, you will be delighted by his warm wit and wry humor.
Will Rogers has been compared to Mark Twain for his humor. After Rogers's tragic death in 1935, people in 12,000 theaters observed two minutes of silence.
Steamboat Round the Bend is one of 3 collaborations between director John Ford and actor Will Rogers, and was shot in 6 weeks in the Sacramento River Delta.
The commentary by Scott Eyman, on the 2006 DVD, is worth having apart from the film. Eyman is author of two books on director John Ford: Print the Legend, and John Ford: The Complete Films. His commentary is among the very best I have ever heard.
Standout scenes: An exquisite wedding ceremony brings tears even to Will Rogers's eyes, and he is not acting. Anne Shirley as Fleety Belle is stunning in her delicate beauty throughout. The "New Moses," Berton Churchill, is memorable in his role as a full-of-himself blowhard, as he was playing the prosecuting attorney in the 1934 "Judge Priest," another Ford-Rogers collaboration. Another reprise from Judge Priest is John Ford's brother Francis, again playing a drunk with amazing aim when he spits. A final highlight is supercharging the Claremore Queen firebox with the Pocahontas Remedy.
Some viewers are disturbed by Lincoln Perry's (Stepin Fetchit) character, but more disturbing to me was the lassoing of Moses! Scott Eyman gives a superb analysis of the dull and slow character played by Stepin Fetchit--transcending the kneejerk politically-correct reaction of today, and placing Fetchit's characterization (and that of Hattie McDaniel in other films) in a larger context. He says "might I offer a modest proposal: Is it not now time to look past the stereotypes these actors portrayed-- and look at the art, and the warmth, with which they played them."
Two other films with Rogers have the same charm and image of 19th Century american values; one is the Ford- Rogers collaboration Judge Priest, and the other, also released in 1935, is In Old Kentucky.
Commentator Eyman says "taken together, the 3 Ford-Rogers films (Judge Priest, Dr. Boles, and Steamboat) rank with Ford's finest achievements."