Who Is the Beau of the Belle Of New York
Music and Lyrics by Mack Gordon
Performed by Tyler Brooke and joined by Alice Faye and other dancing patrons of Krausmeyer's Pavillion See more »
I only saw this film in the 1960s, and memories of it are somewhat sparse. I recall Richard Greene trying to get financing for his steamboat, and finding roadblocks by various troublemakers, mostly local sailors who realize that steam power will hurt their sail oriented business. One moment that was well handled is the burning of the original "Claremont" (the actual name of the boat was "the North River Steamboat of Claremont" - Claremont was the name of the country estate of Chancellor Robert Livingston, Fulton's backer and brother-in-law). Another moment of the film was Greene's confusing meeting with Victor Killian, introduced to him as "Mr. DeWitt" (Greene thinks it's DeWitt Clinton - Killian is actually a thug trying to create a scene in which Greene can be beaten up). Alice Faye is given a song or two to sing, and is the love interest of MacMurray (who is also momentarily jealous of Greene, but still supports the steamboat at the end).
If one is really interested in the story of this invention - our first really important invention in the industrial revolution - read James Flexner's "Steamboats Come True". The actual first inventor was John Fitch, who made a successful steamboat that ran to and from Philadelphia in 1790 - 1792). Fitch was clever, but he did not know how to make a plan of the invention that could enable him to rebuild a second working steamboat. It was a hit or miss thing with Fitch. In 1798 he committed suicide in Kentucky. Besides Fitch there were other inventors (Oliver Evans, James Rumsey), but Fulton had engineering training, and was able to make patents that could be followed to repeat his invention again and again. So 1807 is the year we usually credit for the invention of the steamboat.
Yet oddly enough this is the only sound film of Fulton's invention that was made in Hollywood. I suspect it is because the Claremont was a prototype that lacked the glamor of later vessels (those that plied the Mississippi River from 1828 - 1900), and that (with a few tourist exceptions) no longer matters to us. More films dealing with railway and car transportation have been made - even more about aviation and submarines. So I suspect there will never be a more solid look at Fulton's career as artist, submarine pioneer, and steamboat developer. There is another film where Fulton pops up: "Austerlitz", a French film made in the 1950s where Orson Welles appeared as Fulton trying (in 1804-05) to interest Napoleon I in his submarine. That's about it. Maybe one day a serious film on Fulton will be made. Until then we have "Little Old New York".
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