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The Fighting Coward's Code of Honor
lugonian2 April 2001
"Mississippi" (Paramount, 1935), directed by A. Edward Sutherland, is a memorable event featuring crooner Bing Crosby and comedian WC Fields on screen for the only time. From the story by Booth Tarkington, it was filmed twice before: a 1924 silent with Cullen Landis and Mary Astor; and as a 1929 talkie titled "River of Romance" starring Buddy Rogers and Mary Brian, both for Paramount, but this third adaptation to the silver screen remains the best known.

Set in the South in the late 1800s, Bing Crosby plays Tom Grayson, a Northern gentleman engaged to marry Elvira Rumford (Gail Patrick), but loses his honor and her respect when he refuses to duel with Major Patterson (John Miljan), the man who actually wanted Elvira's hand in marriage. Tom leaves the plantation a disgrace, but before he goes, he is approached by Elvira's younger sister, Lucy (Joan Bennett) who tells him that she loves him. However, Tom, feeling this to be only a schoolgirl crush on her part, goes and bids the "little shrimp" farewell. Tom then joins a show boat headed by Commodore Orlando Jackson (WC Fields), who tries to teach him the meaning of defending his honor. Later, during a performance, Tom is threatened by a Captain Blackie (Fred Kohler Sr.) to stop singing, but he continues just the same. Because of this a fight ensues between Tom and Blackie, and Blackie is accidentally shot by his own pistol. This gives Tom confidence to go on singing to his audience and become a stronger person. With the help of Jackson, Tom is given the big build-up as the notorious "Singing Killer," and being the man who has killed more than one man, which isn't true. However, the ever more confident Tom (now sporting a mustache and looking more debonair) decides to the Rumford plantation and proves himself a braver man to General Rumford (Claude Gillingwater Sr.), Lucy and Elvira's Southern father. But which one of the sisters does Tom get to take back with him as his bride?

Aside from Fields' antics and his imaginative story telling leaving his on screen listeners to find very hard to believe, "Mississippi" is a welcome change for Bing Crosby, especially with his fighting scene with Kohler, which looks very realistic enough to appear as a real fight. (Kohler met the same fate playing the same role in the 1929 remake). I personally find the songs written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart first rate and beautiful to hear, which include "Row, Mississippi" (sung by Queenie Smith and the Five Cabin Kids); "Soon," "Down By the River" and "So Easy to Remember" (all sung by Crosby). Of all the songs, I'll vote "Easy to Remember" to be one of the best songs ever sung on screen by Crosby, who is really "Easy to Remember and Hard to Forget." Crosby sings that song with grace and charm that one can listen to over and over again. Crosby also gets to sing a Stephen Foster song with the Five Cabin Kids earlier in the story titled "Swanee River" in a sentimental and throaty manner.

Also in the cast are Jan Duggan (a familiar face in several Fields comedies), and Paul Hurst. Look fast for a young Ann Sheridan as one of the students in an all-girls school sequence with Bennett. Sheridan has a line or two in the story and its very recognizable. Miss Bennett's performance should not go unnoticed in which she starts off as the childish younger sister transformed to a mature woman whom Crosby continues to call "a little shrimp." "Mississppi" is enjoyable SHOW BOAT type musical rarely shown at all these days. For the benefit to those who feel it was never presented on cable television, American Movie Classics did premiere it on April 14, 1992 (along with a couple of other Fields comedies he did for Paramount), and was aired several times thereafter before ending its AMC run in early 1993. One can only hope "Mississippi" will get to see the light on the TV screen again someday. (***)
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It's a wonderful movie on many counts
Melmoth-915 June 2004
Mississippi is truly a wonderful movie, Fields or otherwise. Foremost is the music itself and the wonderful depiction of the old south. Crosby's singing is delightful, and, in fact, many people felt he'd stolen the movie from Fields upon its release. Field's humor is great with many wonderful bits. Blowing cigar smoke, for example into the barrels of unshot guns to show he was the one who fired is truly wonderful. The tone of this movie is so light and airy, and the love for the subject matter is so apparent that it adds an additional dimension to a movie that can stand strongly on its own. The love story might be viewed as sappy by our current sensibilities, but, given the time, it is lovely to view. The Singing Killer indeed!
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Why, O Why is this film not on video?
duguidb30 March 2001
"Mississippi" is the culmination of everything Paramount wanted to put in a film. It has a handsome singing star, Bing Crosby. It has a great comedy element with W.C. Fields. It is set in the south on a riverboat, has early Bing songs, Fields as the flim-flam captain, a bunch of Southerners interested in keeping their honor, and throw in a few bad guys, a couple of fights, and that is what Paramount was "paramount" in doing in those days. Bing is cast as a northerner set to marry a southern woman who lives in one of those great plantations, and who has a prettier younger sister. He is challenged by an evil ex-suitor, but won't duel with him. So Bing is cast out in disgrace to sing on Fields' riverboat. Bing has to somehow survive Fields' influence, get back on shore and re-claim his marital "prize". But she is married to the "bad guy". What does Bing do? What is his relationship with the cute younger sister? There just has to be a solid reason for no video never being made of this film. The racial inferences are mild for its day. Crosby is cast as "The Singing Killer" by Fields, quite out of Bing's character, especially later on. The rules of southern honor must have been quite different for a singer from Spokane. All in all this is a very entertaining movie with something for everyone.

If it gets to be on television, tape it. Universal owns the rights to it and has shown not to put it on video yet. For Bing and Fields' fans, this would be a great film to own and to see on a lazy Sunday summer afternoon.
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Rare Crosby Action/Drama/Comedy - Plus Fields!
harkin-127 December 2004
Have been trying for years to find a copy of this one. Saw it a few times and enjoyed it more each viewing when it was on TV back in 60s Los Angeles. Crosby playing the 'Killer' Col Steele/Tom Grayson is a totally different Bing at times, although he does manage to belt out a few tunes. If you liked Gail Patrick in 'My Man Godfrey' you'll also enjoy her in a very similar role here, as the sister who does not appreciate a good man. But the real treat is Fields as the riverboat captain. He's only a supporting character here but his scenes with wooden Indians and his recollection about shooting off a man's nose are hilarious. FIND IT IF YOU CAN AND ENJOY!
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One of Field's funniest
kevino-45 May 2003
I haven't seen Mississippi in years but would buy it if released to video. Sometimes less is more and that is the case with W.C. who is hilarious in a supporting role. I suspect the movie would raise the PC bar higher than it's owner cares to leap, but if you get a chance to see it and you are a Field's fan it is well worth the time.
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Mississippi...10 stars
buzzthefuzz14 May 2006
I got lucky and copied Mississippi from I think AMC, about a hundred years ago. My wife and I LOVE IT!...for Joan Bennet...Bing...Gail Patrick...and of course WC.

The film and its characters has a sense of purity, of well, virginity about it that is hard to define yet easy on the eyes.

Every now and again, my wife will imitate WC's classic: "...cutting my way through a wall of human fleeeesh..." and we will sit down to watch it yet again. And love it all over again.

Mississippi may not be one of Field's best movies, but it ranks as one of our favorites.
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"You Can't Defend Your Honor With a Guitar Pick!"
theowinthrop25 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
As mentioned in another review of this film, the racial stereotypes in MISSISSIPPI will probably keep it off television 90% of the time. While such stereotypes are toss-offs in most films made up to 1943 or so (after that a type of shame began to descend on Hollywood screenplay writers about anti-Black stereotypes, probably due to the hypocrisy of encouraging that thing while making films about fighting the racist policies of Hitler and Imperial Japan), films dealing with life in the South were the worst, particularly the anti-bellum South. If occasionally a performance would lift the "Jim Crow" image a bit (Hattie MacDaniel in GONE WITH THE WIND, or MacDaniel and Paul Robson in SHOWBOAT), or if the stereotyping had a twisted code of its own (most of the performances of Lincoln Perry/"Steppin' Fetchit" seem to be exaggerating the stereotype to make it backfire on white people - see his performance with Berton Churchill in STEAMBOAT 'ROUND THE BEND), the bulk of them make a modern audience squirm. For every serious film that grasped at racial tragedy in this country (IMITATION OF LIFE with Louise Beavers and Freddy Washington, or IN THIS OUR LIFE with Bette Davis) there were hundreds which were made that insulted millions of African-Americans for laughs. Also for box office - movie houses in the Southern states were calling the shots into the 1950s about what they wanted to see on the big screen.

MISSISSiPPI has plenty of that - the most obnoxious in my mind is W.C.Fields rubbing the curls of a little black kid for good luck. One wonders if he would have appreciated anyone giving his head a wedgie for good luck.

Yet the end result of this is that MISSISSIPPI is one of hundreds of surviving films that are still available from the 1910s - 1943 that are rarely revived. The films were the eventual losers for that reason. MISSISSIPPI is a particularly sad loss, as it has two of Hollywood's best performers working together for the first and only time: Fields and Bing Crosby. It also has a score (it was a musical because Crosby was in it) by Rodgers and Hart, including the standard, "It's Easy to Remember, But So Hard to Forget". In a book of the lyrics of Larry Hart it showed there were nearly ten songs written for the film, but only four made it to the screen in the final cut.

Crosby is a northerner visiting the South, and he has been romancing Gail Patrick, daughter of Claude Gillingwater, and sister of Joan Bennett. Patrick prides herself on having a beaux who is brave. Crosby attends a ball at Gillingwater's home, and manages to run afoul of the local fire-eater, John Miljan. Miljan is a noted duelist* and challenges Crosby to a duel, but Crosby is not into the code duello of the south and rejects it. He does not realize that it suggests he is a coward, and it washes him up with Patrick. Gillingwater, observing what happened, points out to the musically inclined Crosby the piece of advice in the "Summary" line above.

[*Actually, Miljan's Major Hillary Patterson is something of a fraud - and the quick watching viewer can see this earlier. Patterson has had a large number of hits in duels over opponents, but the most recent one is shown, and if you watch as the number of paces are counted to "10", Miljan starts turning at "9", so he is set up while his opponent is still turning. In short, our "brave" Major Patterson is a cheating skunk.]

Bennett still loves Crosby, and he is able to work on Field's showboat. Field's Commodore Jackson is as windy as all Field's marvelous characters. His favorite lie is how he once cut his way through a line of advancing Indians ("and I cut my way through a mountain of flesh!"). In fact he is quite a garrulous coward. One person he owes money to and whom he has made the mistake of spreading lies about is Captain Blackie (Fred Kohler). Anyone who sees the real violence Kohler put into his screen brawls knows that Fields must have taken leave of his senses when he did this. Kohler comes aboard the showboat, and confronts Jackson on the debt and the lies. But somehow Crosby gets involved and a fight results that ends with Kohler getting killed. As it was self-defense Crosby does not have to worry about prison, but what is better is that he now has an undeserved reputation of being a killer. And Fields (for publicity purposes) does just that - he spreads the reputation.

Naturally this leads to the conclusion of the film, when Crosby returns to Gillingwater's plantation and resolves his differences with Miljan. You can see the result by watching the film.

If the stereotypes had not been used MISSISSIPPI would have been seen far more than it is. But it wasn't, so the film remains a sadly neglected musical comedy. It is hard to say if this fate was totally deserved or not.
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I wish I could buy a copy!
golsen21 August 2001
I've seen this about twice, but many years ago. Perhaps a corny, old fashioned melodrama, but you get the combination of a very young Bing Crosby singing sweetly, and a very funny W.C. Fields. In one scene, Fields' character is setting in the Cabin bragging (telling lies,of course) about his exploits as an "Indian Fighter". A "Cigar-Store Indian" is being carried along the deck, and as it passes his window, he does a double-take, and proclaims: "Of course now, the Red Man and I have smoked the pipe of peace". I believe that circa 2001 some people find this racist. I felt that scene actually MADE FUN of his blustering attitude, and gave all people of good nature a laugh on the character.
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Almost perfect movie.
gailnjimlein18 August 2000
One of my all-time favorite films: W.C. comedy, handsome young Bing singing great Rogers and Hart music, lovely young Joan Bennett, good story line, tight construction, flat-out entertaining. Only a few 1935 racist asides from W.C. mars an otherwise perfect picture.
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Something of a lost classic
MOscarbradley26 November 2009
With songs by Rodgers and Hart and Bing singin' 'em and W C Fields providing the, frankly magnificent, comedy this is something of an undervalued and lost classic. Perhaps the very un-pc references to 'darkies' and 'picaninnys' has somewhat devalued its reputation but you have to remember that Hollywood didn't wake up racially until at least the 1950's and nothing in this film is as offensive as, say, John Ford's grossly condescending "The Sun Shines Bright", (even if that film still remains a masterpiece of Americana). In fact, I can't imagine anyone taking offense at this terrific piece of fluff that also includes a very young Joan Bennett as Crosby's love interest. A Edward Sutherland's direction is considerably more than workmanlike, (Wesley Ruggles is said to have a hand in it. too), and it all clocks in at a remarkably crisp 73 minutes.
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nice. only at first sigh
Vincentiu10 July 2014
a nice film about South. beautiful music, high class cast, humor and honor. in fact, a wonderful work because it has charm and courage, a new manner to present delicate problems, a brilliant Bing Crosby, magnificent performance by W. C. Fields ( sure, that could not be a real surprise ) and a wise director who does more than honorable job. the mixture of naivety and ironic picture of society, the fight scenes and the cards play scene, the songs and the air of lost world, soft, bitter and refreshing are pillars of a film who , at second sigh, seems be more than a classic but image for a state of soul. a nice movie. but only at first sigh. because, after a short time it becomes a kind of experience.
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A tricky aspect
mgunning21 May 2008
I loved this film when I saw it on TV as a child, and remember tape recording the sound track and listening to it over and over again. Crosby's voice is resonant and powerful, while still retaining the intimate crooner aspect that made him famous.

I love W. C. Fields, who does some of his best bits ("Women are like elephants. I like to look at them, but I wouldn't want to own one"), and isn't as boozy as he later became. Everything works here, but the underlying racism is disturbing. There is a sort of Steppin' Fetchit character who is slow and drawly, and the Cabin Kids are referred to as pickaninnies. Maybe this is why I only saw it once in about 1967, and never saw it again on TV.

I did just snag a DVD on EBay, but from the look of the primitive cover, and no label at all on the disc, I think it's bootlegged. It's watchable, but not really a good copy. I think there was a commercial disc many years ago, but it's out of print. I hope Turner Classics shows it, as in the past they've shown films with racist content in context, with commentary by a black sociologist. These references may be cringe-inducing, but they are also extremely revealing of a social climate that went uncriticized.
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W.C. Fields steals it
TheLittleSongbird14 October 2016
Songs written by Rodgers and Hart and the talents of Bing Crosby, Joan Bennett and W.C. Fields were reasons enough to watch 'Mississippi'. While it won't go down there as one of my personal favourites any time soon, it is very undervalued and impossible not to like.

The pacing occasionally rambles and there are a few jokes that can be seen as racially insensitive, some of the stereotypes are blatant and not for the easily offended. However, there is also so much to like about 'Mississippi', and if the questionable jokes were excised perhaps it would not only be an even better film but a better regarded one too, rather than the somewhat forgotten film it's become.

'Mississippi' is a very good-looking film, not spectacularly lavish but it certainly doesn't look cheap either. It's beautifully shot, efficiently edited and has lovingly designed costumes and settings. The Rodgers and Hart score is great, all the songs very pleasant and hummable with one song a classic and not a weak link among them. The best of the lot is "It's Easy to Remember", couldn't a song title be any more apt for a song as unforgettably wonderful as this one. For me it is one of the best Crosby sang on screen, and should have been a bigger hit.

Apart from a few questionable jokes/asides, there is a very light-hearted, witty and very funny script, with a lot of Fields' dialogue bringing much joy and laughter. While rambling a little in the pacing sometimes, it is hard not to be charmed by the story, which hits the tone that it wanted and needed just right. There is one particularly memorable scene where Fields draws five aces in a poker game. Edward Sutherland directs in a way that gets the job done while also never falling into clunk, heavy-footedness or lead.

Crosby here is in a different role to usual, and it actually suits him perfectly. He has fun, he's charming and he is at ease, one of his better early-career performances. Joan Bennett is lovely as the love interest, but it is a splendid W.C. Fields who steals the film. Bagging the best lines, Fields attacks the character with gusto and just looks as though he's having a whale of a time, it's just delightful to watch.

Overall, an undervalued film made especially enjoyable for "It's Easy to Remember" and Fields' performance. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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Bing and the Code Duello
bkoganbing27 July 2004
This may have been the most physically uncomfortable movie ever made by Bing Crosby. Crosby as we all know from some of Bob Hope's choice lines, tended a bit to the gut. This being his first costume period picture he had to wear some form-fitting clothing of the ante-bellum south. So in order to get him in the costumes, Bing was required to wear a corset. Watching the film he does look a wee bit strained.

But I'm sure singing those Rodgers&Hart tunes was no strain at all for Der Bingle. They gave him three in this film: It's Easy To Remember which was a mega-hit for him, Soon, and Down By The River. Bing later commented that the last one was a particular favorite of his.

Crosby plays Tom Grayson, a nice young chap visiting from Philadelphia who woos and wins Gail Patrick from John Miljan. Miljan who is a feared duelist challenges Crosby at a ball. Crosby turns him down and Patrick gives him the heave-ho as does her father, Claude Gillingwater. However younger sister Joan Bennett respects him for not fighting, she thinks the southern dueling code is stupid.

Another visitor on the old plantation is W.C. Fields who plays Commodore Jackson in command of a showboat. He's heard Bing sing at the ball and is impressed with his vocal talents. Fields offers Crosby a job.

During the engagement on the showboat, Crosby accidentally kills a man (I won't say how)and Fields now bills him as Colonel Steele, the Singing Killer. Now the complications set in and you'll have to watch the movie to see them resolved.

Truly this is a film for Crosby and Fields fans. Unfortunately it won't have any wider appeal because of the nature of the film. Back then just about every film concerning the old south had outrageous racial stereotypes. This one probably more so.

If W.C. Fields wasn't so widely known as a misanthrope who disliked everybody equally, he'd have been accused of racism. As it is he does some outrageous things here, he pets the head of a young black child among a group of singing kids he identifies as pickaninnies. Later on he strikes another black man after a horse's tail hits him. It's typical Fields comedy, but it's also the reason why Mississippi will remain one of the least viewed of Crosby or Fields movies.
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Way Down Upon the Boring River....
mark.waltz1 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Other than W.C. Fields and a few songs by Bing Crosby, there's little to recommend this dreary period musical about a milquetoast singer who turns legendary when he kills a man in self defense during a performance and continues his song right from here he left off. This makes him a local hero but doesn't impress the young innocent (Joan Bennett) who fell in love with him after her own sister (Gail Patrick) dumped him for not stepping up to a duel. Fields has a few amusing sequences, cracking wise about the singing "pickaninnies" and dealing himself a hand of five aces in a card game. But these moments only point out the dull plot line which stoops dead for a few songs, all unmemorable. The film appears to believe that its comparisons to "Show Boat" and its opulence will hide the fact that everything it wants to be never comes true.
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WC Fields, Joan Bennett and Der Binger, what a combination for fun!
bigkingtut20009 May 2007
One of Field's finer cinematic moments as Commodore Jackson, Mississippi Riverboat Pilot. In the first twenty minutes he regales his adoring lady riverboat traveler on his younger days as an Indian fighter of the infamous 'Shug' Indian tribe. When he happened upon a tribe of these fierce Shugs' while portaging his canoe in one hand and carrying a rocky mountain goat in the other. He unsheathed his Bowie knife and drew his revolver...which hadn't been invented yet, but the Shugs' didn't know that, then 'carved his way through a wall of human flesh, dragging his canoe behind him!' The elderly widow said: Commodore you must have been full of fire in your youth!---Fields replies: Why I had to carry fire insurance until I was forty! Funny Fieldsian humor... Bing makes his appearance as a scorned suitor who was sent packing from his fiancée's house because he wouldn't fight a duel over her. He takes a job on the Riverboat as a singer, where he gets into a fight to the death of a rival riverboat pilot, Capt Blackie. Whence Fields now renames Bing...Colonel Steele, the Singing Killah! Bing sings some great songs...Old Folks Home, Me and the River, Easy to Remember, so very hard to forget...music from Rodgers and Hart.

Joan Bennett plays the younger sister of the fiancée, who is in love for Bing/Tom/Col Steele for what he truly is, not what people think he should be. Gail Patrick, plays Elvira, Bings fiancée, who is one gorgeous woman. I believe she played Carole Lombard's older sister in My Man Godfrey...just a beautiful face.


Fun movie, but some objectionable material referring to slaves, lyrics in the song The Old Folks Home, the film was set in the Pre-Civil war south. In one scene, Fields pushes a black carriage driver by mistake. In practice he treated all races the same, and several times he publicly added his voice to the call for racial equality.
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Mainly for W.C. Fields or Bing Crosby fans
psteier24 November 2002
W.C. Fields fans will love his performance, though some of the gags are repeated to death. Bing Crosby gets in lots of singing, most of it unrelated to the featherweight plot. The women's costumes are nice. Otherwise, nothing to go out of your way for.
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