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18 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

Bizarre musical starring Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea

7/10
Author: blanche-2 from United States
12 April 2006

"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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13 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

A charming musical-comedy

Author: Chris Stone (jstone@bellatlantic.net) from USA
16 August 1998

What Banjo on My Knee lacks in original story or compelling themes, it makes up for with warm, funny characters brought to life by delightful actors. Barbara Stanwyck shines as the uneducated "land girl", who marries Joel McCrea's "river boy" despite significant differences in their background and world view. Walter Brennan assays one of his best roles as McCrea's good-natured, contraption-playing father. ("When I'm low, it's music I need " he says, before launching into a song with his one-man band.) Buddy Ebsen, singing and dancing to the title tune, Walter Catlett, as a would-be lothario in hapless pursuit of Stanwyck, and Katherine DeMille, as a voluptuous harpy after McCrea, all turn in fine performances. One of the best elements in the film, however, is the music. We not only have Brennan 's rousing renditions of "Dixie" and "St. Louis Blues", but the latter tune rendered to perfection by the marvelous Hall Johnson Choir. The film doesn 't maintain the same level of charm found in its opening scenes throughout its length, but there is enough comedy and music to make Banjo on My Knee a film worth seeing.

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12 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

St. Louis Blues

7/10
Author: jotix100 from New York
17 July 2005

This film is a rarity seldom seen on cable. It came as a total surprise, but the casting looked intriguing. John Cromwell directed this 1936 film with sure hand. He takes us to meet the river people that populate the banks of the Mississippi, eking a living out of their fishing. The cinematography of Ernest Palmer does wonders to give us a realistic view of the majestic river and New Orleans.

Barbara Stanwyck proves to be the biggest surprise of all, singing and dancing with great verve in a few of her scenes. She plays Pearl, the city girl that comes to marry Ernie Holley, an uneducated man, but who clearly loves her. Joel McCrea is the stubborn man who doesn't realize he has a gem in Pearl.

The best thing though is Walter Brennan, who is Ernie's father and a man that looks forward to a grandchild to dote on. He is a river musician who plays a strange contraption. Mr. Brennan gave a great performance as Newt, who warms our hearts with his simple melodies.

Buddy Ebsen is Buddy, a river boy who loves to dance to the tunes that Newt produces. Tony Martin is perfect as the star of the cafe in New Orleans where he is heard singing some beautiful songs. Katherine DeMille is Leota, the girl in love with Ernie who will do everything to get Pearl to leave her man.

The movie will warm the viewer's heart because its simplicity and the great direction Mr. Cromwell got from this cast.

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9 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Barbara Stanwyck sings and dances

5/10
Author: Arne Andersen (aandersen@landmarkcollege.org) from Putney, VT
17 December 1999

Yes, folks - Barbara Stanwyck sings (two songs including a duet with Tony Martin) and dances with Buddy Ebsen. And she ain't bad. She and Walter Brennan are the whole film. This is an odd look at river folks and land folks along the Mississippi. Plot is nothing to write home about but it is charming - due to the characters. Brennan as an expectant father-in-law who is also a one man band steals the film away from Stanwyck with his usual great character portrayals (he won the first Supporting Actor trophy that year for his work in COME AND GET IT - helped no doubt by his performance here). Songs are fun and well done. The sound earned an Oscar nom and well deserved. Don't go out of your way for this one but if you're a Stanwyck or Brennan fan, it's a must see.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Rhythm on the River

Author: lugonian from Kissimmee, Florida
9 May 2012

BANJO ON MY KNEE (20th Century-Fox, 1936), directed by John Cromwell, teams Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea for the second of six times on screen. It may not be the first motion picture in which Stanwyck sings and dances (barely), but her initial one to be classified as a musical. Following the pattern taken on the idea from Edna Ferber's story, "Show Boat," later a legendary Broadway musical followed by two screen based versions (1929, 1936), BANJO ON MY KNEE, based on the novel by Harry Hamilton, has a pattern all its own.

Opening title: "Island Number 21 is little more than a sandbar in the Mississippi River, but to the shanty boat people moored there it is the world. Of what happens on shore they know little or care less. Shanty boat people firmly believe that if God had intended folks to live in towns, He would have created towns at the same time He created rocks and trees and rivers." The story opens with on a shanty boat on the Mississippi River where Judge Pope (Spencer Charters) officiates the wedding for bride and groom, Polly (Barbara Stanwyck), a "land girl," to Ernie (Joel McCrea), a "river man" and son of Newt (Walter Brennan), whose biggest wish before he dies is to become a grandfather. Among those not present at the wedding is the jealous Leota Lang (Katherine DeMille), Ernie's former girlfriend. Following a ceremony where Buddy (Buddy Ebsen) does some dancing, Mr. Slade (Victor Kilian), one of Newt's biggest buyer of animal feed, arrives, wanting to kiss the bride. The forceful kiss forces Ernie to sock Slade into the river. Fearing that he has drowned, Leota, seeing her chance to ruin Ernie's wedding night, notifies the police so he can be arrested for murder. The police arrive, forcing Ernie to leave his bride and swim away to shore. Not soon after Ernie's escape, the soaked and dripping Mr. Slade reappears, having survived drowning by floating upstream. Six months later, after traveling around Europe, Ernie returns to Pearl only to get into a heated argument causing Pearl to walk out on her "bullheaded" husband. After Pearl goes away with photographer, Warfield Scott (Walter Catlett), on a promise of a job in Louisiana, both Newt and Ernie go after her. During their search, Pearl encounters a new career and partnership with Chick Bean (Anthony "Tony" Martin), singer at the Creole Cafe.

While the words and music by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson are far from Oscar Hammerstein's immortal songs from "Show Boat," the songs are satisfactory for easy listening. The motion picture soundtrack includes: "With a Banjo on My Knee" (sung by Buddy Ebsen and Walter Brennan); "Where the Lazy River Goes By" (sung by Barbara Stanwyck to Joel McCrea); "There's Something in the Air" (sung by Tony Martin); W.C. Handy's "The St. Louis Blues" (sung by Theresa Harris/the Hall Johnson Choir); "Four Leaf Clover" "Oh, Susannah" (by Stephen Foster/ played on "contraption" by Walter Brennan); "Swanee River" (by Stephen Foster); "Where the Lazy River Goes By" (reprised by Stanwyck and Martin); "With a Banjo on My Knee" (sung/danced by Ebsen)"Swanee River" (danced by Ebsen and Stanwyck); and "With a Banjo On My Knee."

Though not in the same level as Universal's second presentation of SHOW BOAT (1936) starring Irene Dunne and Allan Jones, nor the curiosity of the seldom seen MISSISSIPPI (Paramount, 1935) featuring the likes of Bing Crosby and WC Fields, BANJO ON MY KNEE is routinely done. Song interludes provide good showcases for its performers, and a great surprise for many getting a glimpse of Stanwyck singing a song or two in ballad style, and dancing with Buddy Ebsen. Of the many tunes, Tony Martin's rendition of "There's Something in the Air" comes off best. The "St. Louis Blues" number, done in black spiritual style, begins in a similar fashion of "Ol' Man River" from SHOW BOAT. There's no Paul Robeson to stop the show here this time around, but Theresa Harris sharing her vocals with the Hall Johnson Choir, and quite effectively, too. Another highlight is Walter Brennan playing an assortment of old time tunes on his "contraption," and Walter Catlett constant avoiding a sock on the jaw.

In support is Helen Westley, through her limitations, stands out as the old granny in a rocking chair smoking a corn cob pipe and screeching a hideous laugh in the manner of an old hag. Then there's Minna Gombell, whose characterization is a close reminder of Gladys George. In the role of Ruby, a tough talking café girl, she becomes romantically involved with Ernie (McCrea) at one point, unknown that he's a married man.

Even during the broadcast TV generation of the 1960s and 70s, BANJO ON MY KNEE had its limitations, especially when last seen on the afternoon movie presentation in the New York City area where it was last seen as far back as 1970 on WOR, Channel 9. I didn't get to see this one again until the early stages of American Movie Classics cable channel prior to 1988, where it hasn't been revived since. BANJO ON MY KNEE did have some broadcasts in later years on the Fox Movie Channel. Even with occasional revivals, particularly Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: December 12, 2012), it's still not enough to become a well-known factor of thirties cinema.

BANJO ON MY KNEE may not win any merits as the finest musical with the most original story ever put on film, but does benefit greatly from some fine atmospheric settings depicting both Mississippi and Louisiana, folksy humor and fine chemistry between Stanwyck and McCrea to make this rarity something to consider. (*** banjos)

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Joel McCrea is a Cajun caveman in ...

6/10
Author: calvinnme from United States
31 March 2012

... one of the most bizarre movie musicals ever made. As someone else mentioned, this film makes more sense if you think about when it was made - 1936 - and what it represents - the marriage of Darryl F. Zanuck's 20th Century Pictures that was aiming to make a name for itself in musicals and with well-known stars, and failing Fox Films, which had specialized in films for and about rural folk from its inception until its bankruptcy in 1935. This film was made the year after their merger and so the aims of both companies show through. What results is a rustic semi-musical about rural Southern folk starring two stars (Stanwyck and McCrea) who do their best but really don't belong here. Buddy Ebsen and Walter Brennan seem much more at home here with charming performances you'll expect given their roles in other films.

What's a shame is that Barbara Stanwyck really isn't given more to do here. What's also a shame is that Joel McCrea, an actor who is a favorite of mine, is relegated to the part of the mindless muscle. He thinks with his fists, takes actions that make no sense when those fists have consequences, is kind and even obliging to people that are obviously trying to use him, and thoughtless to those who love him.

I really liked the musical performances and I thought the tunes were quite catchy and memorable. It's just a shame more effort wasn't put into making a story that played to Stanwyck and McCrea's strengths.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

River Rustics

6/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
22 November 2009

Banjo On My Knee could be considered a transitional film for the newly created 20th Century Fox. Before 20th Century Pictures merged with Fox Film Corporation in 1936, Fox films stock in trade were these rustic type movies that starred either Will Rogers or Janet Gaynor or both even.

When Darryl Zanuck took over the new studio he changed the look entirely and 20th Century Fox became known for some splashy musicals. Banjo On My Knee is a hybrid of both the old and new studio.

Barbara Stanwyck and Walter Brennan take on parts that would have been reserved for Janet Gaynor and Will Rogers previously. Stanwyck is a land girl and she marries Brennan's son Joel McCrea. Brennan and the whole clan live on a houseboat that is moored to a sandbar island in the middle of the Mississippi. These folks don't work, they just drop a line into the Mississippi for food a few times a day.

But the wedding night is eventful because before Joel and Barbara can get to the consummation business, Victor Klllian gets fresh with Stanwyck and McCrea knocks him into the river. Thinking he's killed Killian, McCrea skedaddles to New Orleans and joins the crew of an outbound freighter.

That sets in motion a series of events that keep Joel and Barbara from doing the deed. Not like there isn't other people interested in them. Barbara attracts the attention of Tony Martin in one of his early films and Joel already had a slinky and jealous Katharine DeMille, another river girl who'd like very much to move in where Stanwyck left off.

As for Brennan he wants these two to start kanoodling because he wants real bad to be a grandfather. They all wind up in New Orleans and then back up the Mississippi on their sandbar houseboat home.

I'm betting that Henry Fonda wasn't available so Joel McCrea was signed for this film. This is just the kind of part Fonda was specializing in doing in his early career. Others in the cast include Helen Westley as a pipe smoking grandma and Walter Catlett as a smarmy photographer who gets his clock cleaned several times for trying to move in on Stanwyck.

There were original songs written for this film by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson, Tony Martin gets to sing a duet with Barbara Stanwyck who admittedly did not have much of a singing voice. Martin carries the brunt of that duet. Buddy Ebsen's presence is almost mandatory in a film about rural rustics and he contributes some dance numbers. Another player who specialized in rustic types is Spencer Charters and he was in Banjo On My Knee as well. I really did love the 'annulment' that he was ready to grant McCrea in order to marry Katharine DeMille.

I'm willing to make a small wager that Banjo On My Knee was a project that Fox films might have intended for Will Rogers with his role built up more than it is here. Right around the time that the studios were merging Rogers was killed in that plane crash in Alaska. Banjo On My Knee is not a bad film, but I'm betting that Will Rogers would have made it something special.

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5 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

One Of The Best Movies Ever Made!

10/10
Author: (Sinatrafan103)
7 April 2006

I have to say, Joel McCrea's character is really unlikeable, but then again every movie has one unlikeable character! Other than that, this has to be one of the best movies ever. Barbara Stanwyk turns in yet another outstanding performance. Only an actress as talented as she is could turn in such believable performances in roles ranging from strippers, to farm girls, to prisoners to, as in this movie, uneducated poor girls. And in this movie you get the rare treat of hearing her sing! I'm surprised she didn't sing in more of her movies. Equally great performances can be found in Walter Brennan and Buddy Ebsen. Walter Brennan never did a bad job in his life, and I'd say this is one of his best. The only other annoying thing besides Joel McCrea's character's unlike-ability is Walter Catlett, though, I have to say, I don't really like him in any movies. So if you like him in Bringing Up Baby or , you'll like him in this movie as well. (But if you don't like him in other movies, you won't like him in this either.) The story is sweet, the characters are sweeter, and this is one gem of a movie you won't want to miss. I caught it on the fox movie channel the other day, luckily, because it sells for almost forty dollars on amazon! But you know what, I think it is definitely worth it!

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rather engaging, star-studded, if low budget, musical romantic drama, involving 'river rats'

7/10
Author: weezeralfalfa from United States
21 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Looks like was intended as a follow up on the Will Rogers-starring "Steamboat Round the Bend" of the previous year. Unfortunately, Rogers was killed in the meanwhile. Veteran charismatic actor Walter Brennan takes on the typical Rogers role here, and is the main heart and soul of the film, as the patriarch of a small family of mostly illiterate Mississippi 'river rats'. Sort of a low-brow "Showboat" which was released in one of its film versions this same year. The combination of Brennan and Buddy Ebsen, in their typecast personalities, with some help from Helen Westley, as pipe-smoking granny, and Spencer Charters(judge) provide most of the authentic feel. The music is mostly clustered in several segments, beginning with the celebration of the wedding of land-based Pearl(Barbara Stanwyck) and river rat Ernie(Joel McCrea). The music includes 3 original numbers by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Anderson, and a host of traditional favorites, including several by Stephen Foster. 3 songs are featured at least twice: the title song, "Where the Lazy River goes By", and "St. Louis Blues" Brennan, with his crazy-looking one-man band instrument: 'the contraption', is the featured player in most of these episodes.

Neither McCrea nor Stanwyck, nor the jealous Leota(Katherine De Mille), as Ernie's wanna be wife, come across as very believable illiterate 'river rats'. In fact, Ernie soon becomes a footloose world-traveling marvel, after running away from a possible murder charge from pushing a wedding guest in the river, who then can't be found(until later). When Earnie finally returns, he proposes that the extended family move to the Caribbean island of Aruba.. The catch is that he wants to go ahead by him self to set things up. But Pearl vehemently objects to being left alone for another long spell. They split over this matter, both independently landing in New Orleans(N.O.). Ironically, at one moment , both are present in a restaurant: Ernie as customer intent on getting drunk, and Pearl as the dishwasher, in the back. However, Ernie presumably goes off to Aruba, as can't find Pearl. Meanwhile, Pearl strikes up a friendship with the young restaurant singer(Tony Martin, as Chick).. For the rest of the film, we go back and forth a few times as to whether Pearl is going to end up with Ernie or Chick., and whether Ernie is going to end up with Pearl or still hopeful Leota. The latter thinks she finally has Ernie cornered when she is the only one with enough money to bail Ernie out of jail in N.O., after he started a melee in that restaurant upon returning, presumably from Aruba. Meanwhile, Pearl again agrees to go with Chick to Chicago, but first wants to go home to retrieve her cherished kimono. She finds Leota wearing it, as she and Ernie are in the middle of their wedding ceremony! A cat fight ensues, and guess who winds up in her underwear. After more excitement from a raging storm, Brennan gets an opportunity to lock Ernie and Pearl in a room by themselves, so they can fight out their differences without one leaving. Finally, the light goes off, with the implication that they have agreed to their future together. Thus, maybe grandpa will eventually get his hoped-for grandchild.

Bespeckled Walter Catlett has a part worked in where he hires vulnerable young women to be his 'touch up artist' for his photographs, in his N.O. studio. Pearl briefly agrees to this role, but sensing that she is expected to perform other services, quickly leaves for a dishwashing job in a restaurant. Nonetheless, both Ernie and Brennan initially assume that she is with him, and beat him up(on separate occasions) before learning otherwise. In a running gag, he gets beat up again by Ernie, who sees him with Pearl in the restaurant, upon returning from Aruba? Meanwhile, Leota probably has taken Catlett's job as a 'touch up artist', thus has the money to bail Ernie out of jail.. Not being familiar with Catlett, I assumed he was the silent film star Harold Lloyd, whom he much resembled, even wearing Lloyds typical outfit.

Spencer Charters plays the usually inebriated judge, who marries Ernie and Pearl, in a role that Edgar Buchanan would later inherit.....Minna Gombell plays the sleazy-looking,but actually nice, blond owner of the restaurant, who takes an interest in trying to straighten things out for Ernie and Pearl.

One of Ebsen's dances showcases his 'rubberman' dance style, also displayed in several other films of this era. In the absence of Ray Bolger, he would have been perfect as 'the scarecrow' , in 'The Wizard of Oz". In fact, he was the original choice for 'the scarecrow', before it was decided to switch him to 'the tin man'. But, he nearly died from an allergic reaction to the aluminum dust used for his makeup, thus missed out in the final production.

20 years later, Brennan would again play an old 'river rat', in the romantic drama "Tammy and the Bachelor".

In a N.O. dockside street scene, we have the equivalent of the "Old Man River" scene in "Showboat", featuring the Hall Johnson African American choir, in a rendition of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues", while Pearl is feeling low.

Stanwyck gets to sing and/or dance a bit with Martin or Ebsen, as part of their acts for the restaurant. While he had a great voice and was handsome, Martin had Perry Como's problem of being a stiff, bland, film actor.

Presently viewable in its entirely at YouTube. I saw it on the Fox movie channel.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Very Good Movie

8/10
Author: steeleclan7 from United States
2 March 2006

I have not only seen the movie but also had the privilege of reading the book. The book was well written and as in most cases was better then the movie. I am a bit partial seen as how I also knew the writer. He was my great uncle on my Mothers side. I would spend the summers with him & would read his other works. Sadly Uncle Harry passed away Thanksgiving 1975. It's a shame no other movies were made from his works as they to would have been very good as well. My mother still has a set of Harry Hamiltons complete works But won't let anyone touch them for fear of being destroyed. If you haven't seen the movie then you're missing out and if you have then you no what I'm talking about.

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