Banjo on My Knee


1h 20m 1936
Banjo on My Knee

Brief Synopsis

Misunderstandings and wanderlust keep frontier newlyweds from building a life together.

Film Details

Genre
Musical
Release Date
Dec 11, 1936
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Banjo on My Knee by Harry Hamilton (Indianapolis, 1936).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 20m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,587ft (10 reels)

Synopsis

The shanty boat people of Island No. 21 in the Mississippi River know little about life in towns. Following the wedding of Ernie Holley and Pearl Elliott, a "land girl" from Tennessee, Slade, a slovenly fish buyer from the outside, is knocked into the river by Ernie for kissing his bride against his wishes. When the police come, Ernie swims away and thus upsets the plans of his father Newt to serenade the couple with the song "St. Louis Blues" on his "contraption," an assortment of connected musical instruments, in a toast to his future first "grandbaby." Slade turns up unharmed, but Ernie, unaware, becomes a sailor and visits six countries before his return six months later. As Newt waits to serenade them, Ernie and Pearl argue because he announces that he plans to leave again to work in Aruba. Angered that Pearl questions the husband's right to make decisions, Ernie leaves in a rowboat. Pearl immediately goes off with Warfield Scott, a philandering photographer who offers her a job in his New Orleans studio. When Ernie returns, he follows them vowing to break both their necks. In New Orleans, after Pearl sees Scott's squalid studio, she finds work as a dishwasher in the Cafe Creole to repay Scott for his expenditures. Ernie arrives and throws Scott through a picture, and then goes off with sailors to work in Havana when he cannot find Pearl. Two weeks later, Newt arrives and throws Scott through another picture, and after he plays his "contraption" at the Cafe Creole, Newt teams up with Pearl and Chick Bean, a down-on-his-luck singer who has fallen in love with Pearl. After Ernie returns and sees Scott and Pearl together, he starts a brawl which nearly destroys the cafe. Because of Ernie's temper, Pearl decides to go with Chick to Chicago. Back home, Ernie agrees to marry Leota Long, who earlier jealously snubbed Pearl and now, at the wedding, wears the kimono from Genoa that Ernie once gave Pearl. Pearl returns for the kimono and fights Leota, who during a violent rainstorm, cuts the ropes binding the Holley houseboat to the island. After Newt and Ernie navigate to a sandbar and Newt locks the feuding couple inside the houseboat, they finally kiss, and he happily serenades them with the "St. Louis Blues."

Film Details

Genre
Musical
Release Date
Dec 11, 1936
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Banjo on My Knee by Harry Hamilton (Indianapolis, 1936).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 20m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,587ft (10 reels)

Award Nominations

Best Sound

1936

Articles

Banjo on My Knee


Seven months after the release of Universal's Show Boat (1936), Twentieth Century-Fox released its own Mississippi riverboat movie: Banjo on My Knee (1936). But unlike Show Boat, a musical based on a famous Broadway production, Banjofunctions more as an odd hybrid of rural comedy-drama with a few musical interludes tossed in. In fact, much was made at the time of the fact that Barbara Stanwyck sings and dances on screen for the first time here.

The story concerns a shanty boatman (Joel McCrea) who marries a Tennessee girl (Stanwyck), much to the delight of his father (Walter Brennan), who has high hopes for a grandchild. But before the wedding night has even begun, McCrea skips town after he thinks he has accidentally killed a man who got too friendly with his bride. In fact, the man survives, but McCrea spends months away not realizing this fact. When he returns, a myriad of quarrels and misunderstandings further keep the couple apart, and one crazy plot device even leads to Walter Brennan's character becoming a cabaret star.

The comic antics weren't enough to impress the critics, who complained of implausibility, a leisurely pace, over-plotting, and not enough genuine riverboat atmosphere, especially since the film's advertising promised "the setting of Tobacco Road with the mood of Steamboat 'Round the Bend." (Some backgrounds of Banjowere shot around New Orleans, but the bulk of the shoot was studio-bound.) Variety declared, "Banjo's story is a simple one, though every effort was apparently made to make it complicated... If there was anything left out of this picture, it's only because those concerned with the production couldn't think of it... As a biz getter, it looks only moderate."

Based on a novel by Harry Hamilton, Banjo on My Knee was written (and associate produced) by Nunnally Johnson, soon to be Oscar®-nominated for his adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath (1940). Johnson would eventually become the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood, thanks to an illustrious writing career that included such superb and diverse credits as The House of Rothschild (1934), The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), Jesse James (1939), Roxie Hart (1942), The Woman in the Window (1944), The Dark Mirror (1946), The Gunfighter (1950), The Three Faces of Eve (1957), and The Dirty Dozen (1967).

According to Stanwyck biographer Axel Madsen, William Faulkner was hired to contribute additional dialogue to Banjo, but it was too dense and repetitive -- not good for movie dialogue -- and none of his scenes survived to the final script.

The main point of interest in Banjo on My Knee today is the powerhouse cast. This was the second of six films to co-star Stanwyck and McCrea, and they made an excellent pair, showing appealing chemistry on screen and becoming good friends in real life. When they first teamed up, on Gambling Lady (1934), Stanwyck could see instantly that McCrea was going to be a true leading man, and she reached out and helped to instill in him a sense of professionalism. A year later, when Stanwyck was loaned to Paramount for Internes Can't Take Money (1937), she specifically asked for McCrea to join her. "People began to like us together," McCrea recalled, "because they believed in us. We both kind of hit the same note; we were both sincere, we both weren't egotistical, we weren't afraid the other one was gonna have the best part. We were pros and we acted like pros."

When Stanwyck mentioned to McCrea how much she wanted to play the lead in the upcoming film Stella Dallas (1937), for which she would ultimately receive her first Oscar® nomination, McCrea talked to producer Sam Goldwyn about it. ("He practically clubbed Sam Goldwyn into getting me into Stella Dallas," Stanwyck said.) Two more McCrea/Stanwyck collaborations soon followed -- Union Pacific (1939) and The Great Man's Lady (1942). Fifteen years later, McCrea was cast in Trooper Hook (1957) and insisted that Stanwyck be hired to play opposite him once more. "I paid her back," he later said. "She was one of the most underrated and one of the best actresses I ever worked with... I learned from her."

Elsewhere in the cast are Buddy Ebsen, who scored raves for his eccentric dancing and singing, and Tony Martin (billed as "Anthony Martin"), who replaced actor Michael Whalen at the last minute because Whalen was not deemed versatile enough to sing badly. Martin's character is described in the screenplay as "a very incompetent crooner," and Nunnally Johnson explained at the time that "it requires a crooner at least as capable as Tony Martin to give a good characterization of a poor crooner."

Fans of Baby Face (1933) will also enjoy seeing black actress Theresa Harris in Banjo on My Knee, singing "St. Louis Blues," which was the key song in that earlier film. Unfortunately, Harris and Stanwyck never share the frame in Banjo-- a real shame given their excellent rapport in Baby Face and possibly a sign of the current "post-Code" times. Harris would later appear in one more Stanwyck picture, the film noir The File on Thelma Jordan (1950).

Banjo on My Knee received an Oscar® nomination for Best Sound, but lost the award to San Francisco (1936). Walter Brennan actually won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar® that year, but for a different film: Come and Get It (1936). Possibly, however, his excellent notices for Banjo helped a little.

According to studio publicity documents, there were several accidents on the Banjo set. At one point, Stanwyck fell into a muddy moat when a bridge plank gave way, and McCrea and Spencer Charters fished her out. At another, McCrea accidentally walloped Stanwyck on the forehead during a scene in which he ransacks a waterfront cafe. The press release stated that "the bruise narrowly escaped being serious." And Walter Brennan (described by the studio even in 1936 as the "youngest of the screen's favorite character old men") burned his foot when he tried to put out a cigarette with the sole of his shoe. "But the shoes stay, without repairs or reinforcements," said the report. "Brennan has worn them in character roles for the last 15 years."

Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck
Director: John Cromwell
Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson (screenplay); Harry Hamilton (novel)
Cinematography: Ernest Palmer
Art Direction: Hans Peters
Music: Charles Maxwell (uncredited)
Film Editing: Hansen Fritch
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Pearl Elliott Holley), Joel McCrea (Ernie Holley), Walter Brennan (Newt Holley), Buddy Ebsen (Buddy), Helen Westley (Grandma), Walter Catlett (Warfield Scott), Anthony Martin (Chick Bean), Katherine De Mille (Leota Long), Victor Kilian (Mr. Slade), Minna Gombell (Ruby)
BW-95m.

By Jeremy Arnold

Sources:
Dan Callahan, Barbara Stanwyck, the Miracle Woman
Axel Madsen, Stanwyck Patrick McGilligan, Film Crazy: Interviews with Hollywood Legends
Jerry Vermilye, Barbara Stanwyck
Banjo On My Knee

Banjo on My Knee

Seven months after the release of Universal's Show Boat (1936), Twentieth Century-Fox released its own Mississippi riverboat movie: Banjo on My Knee (1936). But unlike Show Boat, a musical based on a famous Broadway production, Banjofunctions more as an odd hybrid of rural comedy-drama with a few musical interludes tossed in. In fact, much was made at the time of the fact that Barbara Stanwyck sings and dances on screen for the first time here. The story concerns a shanty boatman (Joel McCrea) who marries a Tennessee girl (Stanwyck), much to the delight of his father (Walter Brennan), who has high hopes for a grandchild. But before the wedding night has even begun, McCrea skips town after he thinks he has accidentally killed a man who got too friendly with his bride. In fact, the man survives, but McCrea spends months away not realizing this fact. When he returns, a myriad of quarrels and misunderstandings further keep the couple apart, and one crazy plot device even leads to Walter Brennan's character becoming a cabaret star. The comic antics weren't enough to impress the critics, who complained of implausibility, a leisurely pace, over-plotting, and not enough genuine riverboat atmosphere, especially since the film's advertising promised "the setting of Tobacco Road with the mood of Steamboat 'Round the Bend." (Some backgrounds of Banjowere shot around New Orleans, but the bulk of the shoot was studio-bound.) Variety declared, "Banjo's story is a simple one, though every effort was apparently made to make it complicated... If there was anything left out of this picture, it's only because those concerned with the production couldn't think of it... As a biz getter, it looks only moderate." Based on a novel by Harry Hamilton, Banjo on My Knee was written (and associate produced) by Nunnally Johnson, soon to be Oscar®-nominated for his adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath (1940). Johnson would eventually become the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood, thanks to an illustrious writing career that included such superb and diverse credits as The House of Rothschild (1934), The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), Jesse James (1939), Roxie Hart (1942), The Woman in the Window (1944), The Dark Mirror (1946), The Gunfighter (1950), The Three Faces of Eve (1957), and The Dirty Dozen (1967). According to Stanwyck biographer Axel Madsen, William Faulkner was hired to contribute additional dialogue to Banjo, but it was too dense and repetitive -- not good for movie dialogue -- and none of his scenes survived to the final script. The main point of interest in Banjo on My Knee today is the powerhouse cast. This was the second of six films to co-star Stanwyck and McCrea, and they made an excellent pair, showing appealing chemistry on screen and becoming good friends in real life. When they first teamed up, on Gambling Lady (1934), Stanwyck could see instantly that McCrea was going to be a true leading man, and she reached out and helped to instill in him a sense of professionalism. A year later, when Stanwyck was loaned to Paramount for Internes Can't Take Money (1937), she specifically asked for McCrea to join her. "People began to like us together," McCrea recalled, "because they believed in us. We both kind of hit the same note; we were both sincere, we both weren't egotistical, we weren't afraid the other one was gonna have the best part. We were pros and we acted like pros." When Stanwyck mentioned to McCrea how much she wanted to play the lead in the upcoming film Stella Dallas (1937), for which she would ultimately receive her first Oscar® nomination, McCrea talked to producer Sam Goldwyn about it. ("He practically clubbed Sam Goldwyn into getting me into Stella Dallas," Stanwyck said.) Two more McCrea/Stanwyck collaborations soon followed -- Union Pacific (1939) and The Great Man's Lady (1942). Fifteen years later, McCrea was cast in Trooper Hook (1957) and insisted that Stanwyck be hired to play opposite him once more. "I paid her back," he later said. "She was one of the most underrated and one of the best actresses I ever worked with... I learned from her." Elsewhere in the cast are Buddy Ebsen, who scored raves for his eccentric dancing and singing, and Tony Martin (billed as "Anthony Martin"), who replaced actor Michael Whalen at the last minute because Whalen was not deemed versatile enough to sing badly. Martin's character is described in the screenplay as "a very incompetent crooner," and Nunnally Johnson explained at the time that "it requires a crooner at least as capable as Tony Martin to give a good characterization of a poor crooner." Fans of Baby Face (1933) will also enjoy seeing black actress Theresa Harris in Banjo on My Knee, singing "St. Louis Blues," which was the key song in that earlier film. Unfortunately, Harris and Stanwyck never share the frame in Banjo-- a real shame given their excellent rapport in Baby Face and possibly a sign of the current "post-Code" times. Harris would later appear in one more Stanwyck picture, the film noir The File on Thelma Jordan (1950). Banjo on My Knee received an Oscar® nomination for Best Sound, but lost the award to San Francisco (1936). Walter Brennan actually won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar® that year, but for a different film: Come and Get It (1936). Possibly, however, his excellent notices for Banjo helped a little. According to studio publicity documents, there were several accidents on the Banjo set. At one point, Stanwyck fell into a muddy moat when a bridge plank gave way, and McCrea and Spencer Charters fished her out. At another, McCrea accidentally walloped Stanwyck on the forehead during a scene in which he ransacks a waterfront cafe. The press release stated that "the bruise narrowly escaped being serious." And Walter Brennan (described by the studio even in 1936 as the "youngest of the screen's favorite character old men") burned his foot when he tried to put out a cigarette with the sole of his shoe. "But the shoes stay, without repairs or reinforcements," said the report. "Brennan has worn them in character roles for the last 15 years." Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck Director: John Cromwell Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson (screenplay); Harry Hamilton (novel) Cinematography: Ernest Palmer Art Direction: Hans Peters Music: Charles Maxwell (uncredited) Film Editing: Hansen Fritch Cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Pearl Elliott Holley), Joel McCrea (Ernie Holley), Walter Brennan (Newt Holley), Buddy Ebsen (Buddy), Helen Westley (Grandma), Walter Catlett (Warfield Scott), Anthony Martin (Chick Bean), Katherine De Mille (Leota Long), Victor Kilian (Mr. Slade), Minna Gombell (Ruby) BW-95m. By Jeremy Arnold Sources: Dan Callahan, Barbara Stanwyck, the Miracle Woman Axel Madsen, Stanwyck Patrick McGilligan, Film Crazy: Interviews with Hollywood Legends Jerry Vermilye, Barbara Stanwyck

Banjo on My Knee


When New York Times film critic Frank S. Nugent reviewed Banjo on My Knee at the time of its release, in 1936, he seemed to be expecting a realistic, gritty depiction of life on the Mississippi as experienced by impoverished river hobos. "If we are to believe...Banjo on My Knee - and there isn't an earthly reason why we should - the picturesque shanty-boaters of the Mississippi are nothing more than song-and-dance men in the rough, homegrown crooners, players of one-man bands or torch-singers of limited range and a tendency to grow moist-eyed whenever they hear that old American folksong, 'The St. Louis Blues,'" Nugent wrote huffily. He then went on to decry the picture's "unsettling premise," calling it "disillusioning and unthinkable." Nugent didn't realize, apparently, that Banjo on My Knee was supposed to be fun - and it is fun, though in places it's also brushed with an air of melancholy, a sense of the seeming impossibility of getting young love to stay afloat.

Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea star as Pearl and Ernie, a dewy-eyed young couple who tie the knot in the picture's first scene. Ernie has lived on the Mississippi River all his life, a member of the proud "shanty-boat people" who know little of life on dry ground. Pearl is a "land girl," as tough, conniving shanty-boater Leota (Katherine DeMille) disdainfully calls her, and thus she's unaccustomed to the simple ways of the river folk. But Pearl is determined to be a good wife to Ernie, and her new father-in-law, Newt (Walter Brennan), a chipper old salt, is greatly looking forward to the grandbabies he's sure the happy couple will produce.

But these sweet, straightforward plans go awry when local troublemaker Slade (played by Victor Kilian) tries to force a sloppy kiss on the new bride, and Ernie leaps to her defense. He decks Slade and knocks him overboard, and, believing he's killed the man, escapes up the Mississippi, vowing to send for his wife as soon as possible.

What follows is a tale of separation, reunion and multiple misunderstandings, capped off by a happy ending that clicks into place practically at the last minute. Banjo on My Knee was directed by John Cromwell, who had previously made Spitfire (1934, with Katharine Hepburn) and Of Human Bondage (1934, with Bette Davis); at least partly because of those credentials, Stanwyck, according to her biographer Axel Madsen, was eager to work with him. The script was by renowned Hollywood wit Nunnally Johnson (adapted from a novel by Harry Hamilton), with additional dialogue by William Faulkner, though none of Faulkner's scenes survive in the finished film - he was given to long, convoluted flights of dialogue that didn't necessarily work well on-screen.

Still, there's an earthiness to Banjo on My Knee that suggests Faulkner's contributions may have lingered in the film in small, subtle ways, and Stanwyck's performance shows her usual subtle mix of boldness and vulnerability. Pearl and Ernie bicker and spar constantly when they're together; when they're apart, they pine for each other deeply. Pearl is at times extremely deferential to Ernie, swearing that she's willing to wait for him forever. But when he crosses her, assuming that he can make decisions for the both of them, she goes off in a huff with a lecherous photographer (Walter Catlett) - that's where the Stanwyck feistiness really kicks in. And even when Pearl is simply cuddling up to Ernie, Stanwyck still manages to imbue her with an aura of confidence and self-sufficiency. As Cromwell said of his lead actress, "Stanwyck had great star presence. Sometimes the word 'personality' is interchangeable with 'presence,' although they aren't the same thing. But the principle applies."

Banjo on My Knee is also the first film to feature Stanwyck's singing and dancing, though she had done some hoofing, early in her career, in various stage reviews including the Ziegfeld Follies. She's not half bad at the song-and-dance thing, either: Her musical numbers have an unstudied charm, particularly the one she performs with the lanky, bodaciously appealing Buddy Ebsen, who has a small role in the film.

Stanwyck is perhaps at her best, though, when she's sparring with her sturdy leading man, McCrea. The scenes between the two aren't necessarily racy - their interplay shows more enjoyable stubbornness than outright eroticism. Still, the director of the Production Code Administration, Joe Breen, found reasons to object to the movie's script. Because the characters are always reaching for a swig of corn liquor, he found the "excessive drinking" objectionable. He was also dismayed by the "suggestive" running gag in which Newt tries to find ways to get Pearl and Ernie to consummate their marriage, so they'll give him the grandchildren he longs for.

Darryl Zanuck, the head of Twentieth Century-Fox at the time, took umbrage at Breen's complaints and defended the movie staunchly. "Your reader has injected smut and sex where none was ever intended," he wrote in a letter to Breen. "We are telling a beautiful love story laid among a certain type of river people that exist on the Mississippi today. They are not drunks; they are not whores...[Newt] tries to get [Ernie and Pearl] together; he tries to stop them from quarreling....He wants them to be in love with each other because he knows that if they are, eventually they will have children and he will have an heir. In God's name, what is wrong with that?"

In the end, the studio did tone down the drinking scenes, and it somewhat downplayed Newt's cupid act. But Banjo on My Knee maintains a rustic, unpretentious charm. It's not a slice of realism, as Frank S. Nugent may have wanted. But it paddles along with great spirit nonetheless.

Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck
Director: John Cromwell
Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson (screenplay); Harry Hamilton (novel)
Cinematography: Ernest Palmer
Art Direction: Hans Peters
Music: Charles Maxwell (uncredited)
Film Editing: Hansen Fritch
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Pearl Elliott Holley), Joel McCrea (Ernie Holley), Walter Brennan (Newt Holley), Buddy Ebsen (Buddy), Helen Westley (Grandma), Walter Catlett (Warfield Scott), Anthony Martin (Chick Bean), Katherine De Mille (Leota Long), Victor Kilian (Mr. Slade), Minna Gombell (Ruby)
BW-95m.

by Stephanie Zacharek

SOURCES:
IMDb
The New York Times
AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Axel Madsen, Stanwyck, HarperCollins, 1994

Banjo on My Knee

When New York Times film critic Frank S. Nugent reviewed Banjo on My Knee at the time of its release, in 1936, he seemed to be expecting a realistic, gritty depiction of life on the Mississippi as experienced by impoverished river hobos. "If we are to believe...Banjo on My Knee - and there isn't an earthly reason why we should - the picturesque shanty-boaters of the Mississippi are nothing more than song-and-dance men in the rough, homegrown crooners, players of one-man bands or torch-singers of limited range and a tendency to grow moist-eyed whenever they hear that old American folksong, 'The St. Louis Blues,'" Nugent wrote huffily. He then went on to decry the picture's "unsettling premise," calling it "disillusioning and unthinkable." Nugent didn't realize, apparently, that Banjo on My Knee was supposed to be fun - and it is fun, though in places it's also brushed with an air of melancholy, a sense of the seeming impossibility of getting young love to stay afloat. Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea star as Pearl and Ernie, a dewy-eyed young couple who tie the knot in the picture's first scene. Ernie has lived on the Mississippi River all his life, a member of the proud "shanty-boat people" who know little of life on dry ground. Pearl is a "land girl," as tough, conniving shanty-boater Leota (Katherine DeMille) disdainfully calls her, and thus she's unaccustomed to the simple ways of the river folk. But Pearl is determined to be a good wife to Ernie, and her new father-in-law, Newt (Walter Brennan), a chipper old salt, is greatly looking forward to the grandbabies he's sure the happy couple will produce. But these sweet, straightforward plans go awry when local troublemaker Slade (played by Victor Kilian) tries to force a sloppy kiss on the new bride, and Ernie leaps to her defense. He decks Slade and knocks him overboard, and, believing he's killed the man, escapes up the Mississippi, vowing to send for his wife as soon as possible. What follows is a tale of separation, reunion and multiple misunderstandings, capped off by a happy ending that clicks into place practically at the last minute. Banjo on My Knee was directed by John Cromwell, who had previously made Spitfire (1934, with Katharine Hepburn) and Of Human Bondage (1934, with Bette Davis); at least partly because of those credentials, Stanwyck, according to her biographer Axel Madsen, was eager to work with him. The script was by renowned Hollywood wit Nunnally Johnson (adapted from a novel by Harry Hamilton), with additional dialogue by William Faulkner, though none of Faulkner's scenes survive in the finished film - he was given to long, convoluted flights of dialogue that didn't necessarily work well on-screen. Still, there's an earthiness to Banjo on My Knee that suggests Faulkner's contributions may have lingered in the film in small, subtle ways, and Stanwyck's performance shows her usual subtle mix of boldness and vulnerability. Pearl and Ernie bicker and spar constantly when they're together; when they're apart, they pine for each other deeply. Pearl is at times extremely deferential to Ernie, swearing that she's willing to wait for him forever. But when he crosses her, assuming that he can make decisions for the both of them, she goes off in a huff with a lecherous photographer (Walter Catlett) - that's where the Stanwyck feistiness really kicks in. And even when Pearl is simply cuddling up to Ernie, Stanwyck still manages to imbue her with an aura of confidence and self-sufficiency. As Cromwell said of his lead actress, "Stanwyck had great star presence. Sometimes the word 'personality' is interchangeable with 'presence,' although they aren't the same thing. But the principle applies." Banjo on My Knee is also the first film to feature Stanwyck's singing and dancing, though she had done some hoofing, early in her career, in various stage reviews including the Ziegfeld Follies. She's not half bad at the song-and-dance thing, either: Her musical numbers have an unstudied charm, particularly the one she performs with the lanky, bodaciously appealing Buddy Ebsen, who has a small role in the film. Stanwyck is perhaps at her best, though, when she's sparring with her sturdy leading man, McCrea. The scenes between the two aren't necessarily racy - their interplay shows more enjoyable stubbornness than outright eroticism. Still, the director of the Production Code Administration, Joe Breen, found reasons to object to the movie's script. Because the characters are always reaching for a swig of corn liquor, he found the "excessive drinking" objectionable. He was also dismayed by the "suggestive" running gag in which Newt tries to find ways to get Pearl and Ernie to consummate their marriage, so they'll give him the grandchildren he longs for. Darryl Zanuck, the head of Twentieth Century-Fox at the time, took umbrage at Breen's complaints and defended the movie staunchly. "Your reader has injected smut and sex where none was ever intended," he wrote in a letter to Breen. "We are telling a beautiful love story laid among a certain type of river people that exist on the Mississippi today. They are not drunks; they are not whores...[Newt] tries to get [Ernie and Pearl] together; he tries to stop them from quarreling....He wants them to be in love with each other because he knows that if they are, eventually they will have children and he will have an heir. In God's name, what is wrong with that?" In the end, the studio did tone down the drinking scenes, and it somewhat downplayed Newt's cupid act. But Banjo on My Knee maintains a rustic, unpretentious charm. It's not a slice of realism, as Frank S. Nugent may have wanted. But it paddles along with great spirit nonetheless. Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck Director: John Cromwell Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson (screenplay); Harry Hamilton (novel) Cinematography: Ernest Palmer Art Direction: Hans Peters Music: Charles Maxwell (uncredited) Film Editing: Hansen Fritch Cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Pearl Elliott Holley), Joel McCrea (Ernie Holley), Walter Brennan (Newt Holley), Buddy Ebsen (Buddy), Helen Westley (Grandma), Walter Catlett (Warfield Scott), Anthony Martin (Chick Bean), Katherine De Mille (Leota Long), Victor Kilian (Mr. Slade), Minna Gombell (Ruby) BW-95m. by Stephanie Zacharek SOURCES: IMDb The New York Times AFI Catalog of Feature Films Axel Madsen, Stanwyck, HarperCollins, 1994

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Studio records give the release date as December 11, 1936 while Motion Picture Herald lists it as December 4, 1936. Variety lists a song by McHugh and Adamson entitled "Sippy," which was not in the final film and is not included in the music cue sheets for the film in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Library. Also, according to the legal files, the actor and director Norman Foster functioned as a representative of the studio in negotiating the acquisition of the rights to the novel. This was the first film in which Barbara Stanwyck sang and danced. According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Henry Fonda was originally scheduled to play "Ernie." According to various news items, Stanwyck was borrowed from RKO, Goldwyn loaned Joel McCrea and Walter Brennan, Anthony Martin replaced Michael Whalen in the role of "Chick Bean" and a special company filmed authentic scenes of Mississippi River life among the shanty boatmen of New Orleans and its environs. It is unknown whether any of this footage was incorporated into the film; the filming May have been undertaken as part of pre-production research. A Hollywood Reporter news item states that the studio originally announced the film as a Janet Gaynor vehicle. According to the legal records, Margaret Hamilton was original cast in the role of "Gurtha," but because she was tied up in another film, she was not able to appear in this one.
       According to correspondence in the PCA file for this film, PCA Director Joseph Breen warned the studio after he read the final script that the picture would be rejected by the PCA if certain elements in the script were not changed. Breen found the "excessive drinking" objectionable and also complained about "the suggestive running gag showing Newt's efforts to have Pearl and Ernie sleep together so that the marriage May be consummated, and his hopes of an heir fulfilled." Darryl Zanuck, the studio's production head, responded vehemently in a letter to Breen, complaining, "Your reader has injected smut and sex where none was ever intended." Zanuck defended the script submitted and stated, "We are telling a beautiful love story laid among a certain type of river people that exist on the Mississippi today. They are not drunks; they are not whores....[Newt] tries to get [Ernie and Pearl] together; he tries to stop them from quarreling. It is not a case of trying to get them to climb into bed with each other. He wants them to be in love with each other because he knows that if they are, eventually they will have children and he will have an heir. In God's name, what is wrong with this?...I urge you to...retract the letter that has been written. I do not want to make any filthy pictures or any sex pictures. I do not want to have anything in my pictures that is not in good taste." Subsequently, members of the studio staff agreed to tone down the drinking scenes and to include dialogue in which Newt explains that at the time of his own wedding, neighbors serenaded him and his bride with the song, "St. Louis Blues," and that he has been waiting many years to play the song for his own son on his wedding night.
       Hollywood Reporter news items state that Tobacco Road, Inc. sued Twentieth Century-Fox for $1,000,000 and asked for an injunction against the exhibition of the film because of a reference made to the play Tobacco Road in the advertising for the film. Tobacco Road, Inc. claimed that the line in question-"The elemental force that has kept Tobacco Road on Broadway for three years now sweeps like the mighty Mississippi into your own theater"-destroyed the motion picture value of the play. According to the legal records, the application for the injunction was denied; no additional information regarding the disputation of the suit has been located. The film was re-released in 1943.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1936

Released in United States 1936