6.5/10
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Swanee River (1939)

Approved | | Drama | 5 January 1940 (USA)
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 »

Director:

Sidney Lanfield

Writers:

John Taintor Foote (screenplay), Philip Dunne (screenplay)
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Don Ameche ... Stephen Foster
Andrea Leeds ... Jane McDowell Foster
Al Jolson ... Edwin P. Christy
Felix Bressart ... Henry Kleber
Chick Chandler ... Bones
Russell Hicks ... Andrew McDowell
George Reed ... Old Joe, McDowell's Coachman
Richard Clarke Richard Clarke ... Tom Harper
Diane Fisher Diane Fisher ... Marion Foster
George P. Breakston ... Ambrose
Al Herman Al Herman ... Tambo
Charles Trowbridge ... Mr. Foster
George Meeker ... 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

Taglines:

YOU"LL Thrill To the Songs...the Romances of STEPHEN FOSTER!! See more »

Genres:

Drama

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

5 January 1940 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Life of Stephen Foster See more »

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Box Office

Gross USA:

$285,100, 17 January 1940
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Twentieth Century Fox See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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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 »

Quotes

Stephen Foster: [he whistles a version of Oh! Susanna] That ending isn't right yet.
Jane McDowell Foster: You know, I think the Negroes would finish it like this
[she whistles the tune]
Stephen Foster: Why, that's right! How did you know?
Jane McDowell Foster: You forget, I was brought up on Negro music.
Stephen Foster: I wish I'd been. As I boy in Pittsburgh, I heard just enough of it to want to hear more. I'd a colored nurse you know. Sometimes, she'd take me down to their little church by the river, I heard "Sweet Chariot", "Roll Jordan", all the rest.
Jane McDowell Foster: There's nothing like them, is ...
[...]
See more »

Crazy Credits

[prologue] This is the strange story of a Northern youth to whom the Southland brought immortal inspiration.....Though his stormy life is long forgotten, his simple words and simple music live on in the hearts of the whole American people. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Love Letter to Edie (1975) See more »

Soundtracks

Gwine Down the River
Written by William 'Wee Willie' Davis (uncredited)
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Enjoy the music and nostalgia
24 October 2006 | by caa821See all my reviews

In this film's comment section, the one given by "theowinthrop" is particularly on the mark, and I would agree with all of its points. Being from Cincinnati, and attending four years in high school in Louisville, one of my roommates was from Bardstown, Kentucky, the locale of "My Old Kentucky Home," the state park of the same name, and "The Stephen Foster Story," one of the nation's largest outdoor (indoors if rain) dramas. This area is among America's most beautiful, and seeing it just magnifies the already giant irony of the fact that this locale, and others depicted by Foster's work, were from the pen of a man from Pittsburgh, who spent most of his time there, in Cincinnati and New York City - dying in abject poverty in the latter.

Hollywood biopics about composers and musical personalities (e.g. Rodgers & Hart, Kern, Romberg, Duchin, Sousa, and a score of others) are among the most fictionalized genre in any medium. However, this one dwarfs them all. I read a brief review (I believe from Leonard Maltin) remarking that in this flick, every line of dialog seemed to spark a lyric and/or title for a new song.

Jolson's inclusion is interesting to view, especially recalling that this was a time when his tremendous career had reached a point somewhat below its former level. The following years into the 1940's would see its subsequent rejuvenation, the filming of his two highly-popular biographical pictures (they may well run this one a close second for fictional aspects), and his rise to be voted top vocalist again (besting Crosby and Sinatra), only to have ill health overtake him.

Seeing Ameche, who was to enjoy greater longevity than Jolson and many other contemporaries, along with Jolson, is a unique asset of this film. Enjoy this, along with the nostalgic period conveyed (and the sad history of callousness and lack of respect for those of color - both during the time of the story and filming), and the outstanding melodies which Mr. Foster created.


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