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Robert Fulton after trying and failing to develop a ship powered by a steam engine is having trouble getting some new backing. A prototype vessel blew up on the River Seine as he was trying to impress Napoleon Bonaparte with steam's potential. Now he's back in Little Old New York trying to sell the idea to the movers and shakers of his day.
Richard Greene plays the idealistic and gentlemanly Fulton. But the only two converts he makes are his landlady, tavern owner Alice Faye and Fred MacMurray, who works for Ward Bond at a shipyard. But after Fulton beats bully boy Bond in a fight, MacMurray loses his job. But Fred starts his own shipyard and his first client will be Fulton if he can raise the money.
Little Old New York had the story of Robert Fulton grafted on to a play by Rida Johnson Young of the same name that was the basis for the film. There's no mention that in real life Fulton was as handy with his dukes as he is in this film. It is true he married the niece of Chancellor Robert Livingston played by Brenda Joyce and Livingston did finally sell some of his friends like Nicholas Roosevelt, John Jacob Astor, and Washington Irving to finally back Fulton's steamboat.
Livingston is played by one of my favorite character actors Henry Stephenson who always brings a touch of old world class to all his roles. Livingston's title of Chancellor stems from the fact the chief judicial officer of New York had that title, a carryover from colonial days. Among other things Livingston did was swear in George Washington to his first term as president. There was no Supreme Court yet because Washington hadn't appointed anyone yet.
Little Old New York probably was seen by Darryl Zanuck as a fitting sequel to In Old Chicago which was Alice Faye's first period costume film. The parts that Fred MacMurray and Richard Greene have are those that would normally have been played by Tyrone Power and Don Ameche. In fact I could see both of those guys playing either of the MacMurray or Greene parts.
If Little Old New York is not the real story of Robert Fulton it certainly is a nice bit of entertainment served up by a fine cast at the direction of Henry King.
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