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. (***)