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André De Toth
Bizarre musical starring Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea
"Banjo on my Knee" is a 1936 film that will keep you guessing as to which direction it's headed nearly every time there's a scene change. McCrea plays a shantytown boy who marries a land girl (Stanwyck). The patriarch of McCrea's family, played by Walter Brennan, is desperate for a grandchild. Unfortunately, Stanwyck and McCrea can't seem to get their marriage consummated. On their wedding night, they think McCrea has murdered someone (he hasn't), so McCrea takes off for six months and sees the world while his wife waits none too patiently. The day he comes home, he talks about moving the family to Aruba and says he'll go down first for a month and then send for her. The couple get into a terrible fight because Stanwyck doesn't want to be left again. The two of them then split up again - that instant. She goes to New Orleans to work for a slimy photographer, but no sooner does she get to his apartment that she bolts and takes a job as a dishwasher in a bar.
Soon, the entire population of Shantytown is in New Orleans looking for her and for McCrea. At the bar, Tony Martin is a saloon singer who falls for Stanwyck, and soon, Buddy Ebsen, another Shantytown resident, and Walter Brennan are big hits performing there, and Stanwyck is doing duets with Martin. It goes on from there.
Some of the music is great, the highlight being "St. Louis Woman" with Brennan and the Hall Johnson Choir. Martin looks and sounds like an angel - his voice is just stunning in "There's Something in the Air" and "Where the Lazy River Goes By." Stanwyck sings just like she talks
her voice is low, pleasant, and natural. The cast is uniformly good,
and Katharine DeMille has a showy role as Leota, who's in love with McCrea. McCrea, of course, is tall, handsome, and boyishly gorgeous.
I wasn't expecting a musical, and in the beginning, "Banjo on My Knee" seemed like a drama, so I never was sure what I was watching. Odd though the film may be, it was loads of fun.
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