Great Performances (1971– )
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Life on the Mississippi 

Not Rated | | Music | Episode aired 24 November 1980
Most mid-19th-century Mississippi River boys dreamed of occupying that pinnacle of power and glamour, the pilot house of a riverboat. In a riot of local color, this film tells how, unlike ... See full summary »


Peter H. Hunt


Mark Twain (book), Philip H. Reisman Jr. (screenplay)




Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Robert Lansing ... Horace Bixby
David Knell ... Sam Clemens
James Keane ... Mr. Ealer
Donald Madden ... Mr. Brown
John Pankow ... George Richie
Bill Holliday Bill Holliday ... Mr. Thornburg
Luke Reilly Luke Reilly ... Tom
Marcy Walker Marcy Walker ... Emmeline
Don Brady Don Brady ... Mr. Leathers
Jack Lawrence Jack Lawrence ... 'Paul Jones' Captain
John Kirk John Kirk ... Mate on 'Paul Jones'
Bill Atwood Bill Atwood ... Watchman on 'Paul Jones'
Thom Thomas Thom Thomas ... Clerk on 'Paul Jones'
Jim Babrowski Jim Babrowski ... Preacher
Douglas Wells Douglas Wells ... Mr. Grogan


Most mid-19th-century Mississippi River boys dreamed of occupying that pinnacle of power and glamour, the pilot house of a riverboat. In a riot of local color, this film tells how, unlike many, Sam's dream comes true. A callow teenager, he talks the tough but consummate Horace Bixby into making him his apprentice on the "Paul Jones," eventually following him to the much finer "Aleck Scott." Meanwhile, he is already spinning fantastic yarns to everyone from awe-struck lads ashore, to fellow "cub pilots", to young lady passengers who catch his eye. Things temporarily take a turn for the worse when Bixby must attend a meeting and leave Sam to work under Brown, a dour tyrant with a grudge against him. Written by Paul Emmons <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




Not Rated






Release Date:

24 November 1980 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

A Todo o Vapor See more »

Filming Locations:

Illinois, USA

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The pleasure steamboat Julia Belle Swain of Peoria, Illinois was refitted to look like an 1850s riverboat to appear in the film. See more »


Sam: Beauty's fine, Mr. Ealer, I'm all for it. But it just seems to me there's a mighty high discount on it along the Mississippi River.
Ealer: Not a pilot going, boy, hasn't pondered all that, and doesn't sometimes wonder whether he's gained most or lost most by learning this trade.
See more »

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User Reviews

Captures the essence of Mark Twain
2 April 2003 | by FilmclipperSee all my reviews

Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) loved steamboating. He said that the ambition of every boy in Hannibal, Missouri, was to become the pilot of a grand and mighty steamboat. He realized his dream. He became a cub pilot under master pilot Horace Bixby. This movie accurately represents the trials, dangers, and adventures of steamboating in America in the middle of the 19th century. Robert Lansing deserved an Academy Award for his portrayal of Horace Bixby. His gruff manner, tender heart, and deep-down love of the steamboat life comes through. If you have never read a book by Mark Twain, and don't intend to, the best thing you can do is watch this movie. It will tell you what Twain was all about.

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