More fictional than factual biography of Stephen Foster. Songwriter from Pittsburgh falls in love with the South, marries a Southern gal (Leeds), then is accused of sympathizing when the ... See full summary »

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
...
Felix Bressart ...
...
Bones
Russell Hicks ...
Andrew McDowell
George Reed ...
Old Joe, McDowell's Coachman
Richard Clarke ...
Tom Harper
Diane Fisher ...
Marion Foster
George P. Breakston ...
Ambrose
Al Herman ...
Tambo
Charles Trowbridge ...
Mr. Foster
...
Henry Foster
Leona Roberts ...
Mrs. Foster
Charles Tannen ...
Morrison Foster
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Storyline

More fictional than factual biography of Stephen Foster. Songwriter from Pittsburgh falls in love with the South, marries a Southern gal (Leeds), then is accused of sympathizing when the Civil War breaks out. Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

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The Story of Stephen C. Foster - The Great American Troubadour See more »

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Drama

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Release Date:

5 January 1940 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Life of Stephen Foster  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Color:

(Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The last credited on screen performance of Al Jolson. See more »

Goofs

The film's final scene is wholly inaccurate; there was no performance by E.P. Christy on the day that Foster died. In reality, Christy actually died nearly two years before Foster; he committed suicide by throwing himself from a window at his home in New York City in May 1862; Foster himself died in January 1864. See more »

Connections

Version of Harmony Lane (1935) See more »

Soundtracks

Mule Song
Written by Hall Johnson (uncredited)
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User Reviews

 
America's Premier Melody Maker
13 January 2008 | by (Buffalo, New York) – See all my reviews

The first time I saw this film was well over 50 years ago on WOR TV's Million Dollar Movie. It was almost a requirement in my house as my father was a big fan of Al Jolson and my mother happened to love the melodies of Stephen Foster.

Two years after Swanee River was out, Foster and other songwriters of his era had a revival of sorts as the American Society of Composers and Publishers got into a wing ding battle with the radio and record industry and banned its music from broadcast and vinyl. What was done was that a lot of music that was in the public domain got revived in all kinds of strange ways. Swing versions of various classic and folk melodies invaded the airwaves. Country type music got it's own licensing agent in Broadcast Music Incorporated set up as a rival to ASCAP. It all got settled before Pearl Harbor and the country moved on to more important disputes. But Swanee River as a film gave Foster kind of a leg up on some of his other public domain contemporaries.

Don Ameche, fresh from another biographical triumph in Alexander Graham Bell, makes a charming, talented, but weak of character Stephen Foster. The man who created some of the most beautiful melodies ever composed, was no businessman as other reviewers pointed out. He also suffered from alcoholism which led to his early demise. Andrea Leeds is his patient and loving wife for whom I Dream of Jeannie was composed.

As was also pointed out by another reviewer, there was no such thing as ASCAP to protect the creators of melody from exploitation. What Al Jolson's E.P. Christy did to Stephen Foster insofar as his first song hit, Oh Susanna is concerned was not only true, but quite the norm. What Christy did was also decide maybe he ought to cut Foster in on the profits to keep the creative spigot flowing.

Jolson as Christy was the premier minstrel artist of his day when that form of entertainment was acceptable and popular. Of course Jolson got his start in minstrel shows and damage to his reputation has come because he never would discard the black-face. This is the only time on film that Jolson plays a real life character and he sings the Foster songs with feeling and the inimitable Jolson style.

By dint of the fact that his songs were minstrel show material and some and only some glorified the old South, Foster himself has come down as damaged goods in these politically correct days. That's a pity because items like Beautiful Dreamer, Old Dog Trey, My Old Kentucky Home are the stuff of genius.

It's not the complete truth, but Swanee River still holds up as a nice account of America's premier melody maker of his century.


6 of 7 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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