Mississippi (1935) offers us Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields, four Rodgers and Hart songs, and that shimmering lustre that only Paramount Pictures in the 1930s could produce. I don’t see how you could ask for much more. I’m even willing to forgive the film deciding to show the passage of time by giving Bing a most unbecoming mustache (movies of the era liked this, and it always looks silly). The fact that it starred two of the studio’s biggest names probably accounts for the obvious extra care that was afforded it, making it far and away the most beautiful looking film in the Fields oeuvre. The scenes at the Rumford plantation absolutely glisten, while those on Commodore Jackson’s (Fields) show boat take the trouble to actually give the feeling of being on a boat.
The story—adapted from Booth Tarkington’s play Magnolia—is little more than perfunctory. Tom Grayson (Crosby), a young man from “up North,” is engaged to Gen. Rumford’s (Claude Gillingwater) daughter Elvira (Gail Patrick). When Tom refuses to fight a duel, he’s sent from the family plantation in disgrace—at least in the opinion of everybody but Elvira’s kid sister Lucy (Joan Bennett)—and takes a job singing on the Commodore’s boat. A situation where Tom kills a man in self-defense prompts the Commodore to promote him as “Col. Steele, the Singing Killer,” constantly inflating Tom’s roster of deaths for publicity. There’s also a romance and the necessary misunderstanding that entails, but it’s all at the service of some of Fields’ finest comedy bits and of Bing singing. As plain entertainment, it’s pretty hard to beat—especially, if you’re a fan of either of the stars.
The Asheville Film Society will screen Mississippi Tuesday, May 29, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.