Swanee River (film)

Last updated
Swanee River
Poster of the movie Swanee River.jpg
Directed by Sidney Lanfield
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Written by John Taintor Foote
Philip Dunne
Starring Don Ameche
Andrea Leeds
Al Jolson
Felix Bressart
Music by Louis Silvers
Cinematography Bert Glennon
Edited by Louis R. Loeffler
Production
company
20th Century Fox
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
  • December 30, 1939 (1939-12-30)(US) [1]
Running time
84 minutes
LanguageEnglish

Swanee River is a 1939 American film directed by Sidney Lanfield and starring Don Ameche, Andrea Leeds, Al Jolson, and Felix Bressart. It is a biopic about Stephen Foster, a songwriter from Pittsburgh who falls in love with the South, marries a Southern girl, then is accused of sympathizing when the Civil War breaks out. Typical of 20th Century Fox biographical films of the time, the film was more fictional than it was factual.

Contents

Plot

The family of Stephen Foster (Ameche) insists that he accept a seven-dollar-a-week shipping clerk job in Cincinnati, but he prefers to write songs. Stephen's prospective father-in-law Andrew McDowell has no faith in Stephen, who wants to write "music from the heart of the simple people of the South." The struggling composer is content to sell "Oh! Susanna" for fifteen dollars to minstrel singer E. P. Christy and allows Christy to take credit as its writer.

Soon, the song is sweeping the country, and Stephen follows it with "De Camptown Races" and goes on tour with Christy's troupe, called Christy's Minstrels. Solvent at last, Stephen marries Jane McDowell (Leeds), and a daughter Marion is born to them. Inspired by his wife's beauty, Stephen writes "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair."

However, Stephen's prosperity ends when his classical music fails and the advent of the Civil War brands his music as traitorous. When he turns to drinking, Jane leaves him, but two years later she returns to encourage him to write "Old Folks at Home." Stephen never hears the composition performed, however, for on the night that Christy presents the song to a New York audience, the composer dies of a heart attack.

Cast

Background

According to a news item in Hollywood Reporter, David O. Selznick was interested in working on this film. Material contained in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library adds that Richard Sherman worked on a treatment, but his participation in the final film has not been confirmed. In story conferences, Darryl F. Zanuck suggested Nancy Kelly for the role of Jane and Al Shean for Kleber. Twentieth Century-Fox publicity materials at the AMPAS Library note that some sequences were shot along the Sacramento River. Studio publicity also adds that Don Ameche learned to dance the soft shoe and play the violin for his role in this film. A news item in Hollywood Reporter adds that Andrea Leeds was borrowed from Samuel Goldwyn to make this picture.

There was an earlier screen biography of Foster only four years before this one. In 1935, Mascot Pictures produced a film on Foster's life entitled Harmony Lane , which was directed by Joseph Santley and starred Douglass Montgomery. Still another fictionalized biopic of Foster would be made in 1952. A B-picture entitled I Dream of Jeannie , it was released by Republic Pictures and starred Bill Shirley (Jeremy Brett's singing voice in My Fair Lady ) as Foster.

In the film, Stephen Foster marries a girl from the South, but in real life, his wife was from Pittsburgh, as Foster was. Additionally, Foster was not known as a Confederate sympathizer nor was he or his songs criticized for this aspect during his actual life, unlike the film.

The film's final scene is wholly inaccurate; there was no performance by E. P. Christy on the day Foster died. In reality, Christy died nearly two years before Foster; he committed suicide by throwing himself out of a window at his home in New York City, in May 1862. Foster himself died in January 1864.

Awards

Related Research Articles

<i>The Jolson Story</i> 1946 film by Alfred E. Green

The Jolson Story is a 1946 American musical biography film which purports to tell the life story of singer Al Jolson. It stars Larry Parks as Jolson, Evelyn Keyes as Julie Benson, William Demarest as his manager, Ludwig Donath and Tamara Shayne as his parents, and Scotty Beckett as the young Jolson.

Stephen Foster American songwriter (1826-1864)

Stephen Collins Foster, known also as "the father of American music", was an American songwriter known primarily for his parlor and minstrel music. He wrote more than 200 songs, including "Oh! Susanna", "Hard Times Come Again No More", "Camptown Races", "Old Folks at Home", "My Old Kentucky Home", "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair", "Old Black Joe", and "Beautiful Dreamer", and many of his compositions remain popular today. He has been identified as "the most famous songwriter of the nineteenth century" and may be the most recognizable American composer in other countries. Most of his handwritten music manuscripts are lost, but editions issued by publishers of his day feature in various collections.

Minstrel show 19th-century American style of entertainment involving racist caricatures of black people

The minstrel show, or minstrelsy, was an American form of racist entertainment developed in the early 19th century. Each show consisted of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music performances that depicted people specifically of African descent. The shows were performed by mostly white people in make-up or blackface for the purpose of playing the role of black people. There were also some African-American performers and black-only minstrel groups that formed and toured. Minstrel shows lampooned black people as dim-witted, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, and happy-go-lucky.

Don Ameche American actor

Don Ameche was an American actor, comedian and vaudevillian. After playing in college shows, stock, and vaudeville, he became a major radio star in the early 1930s, which led to the offer of a movie contract from 20th Century Fox in 1935.

Old Folks at Home

"Old Folks at Home" is a minstrel song written by Stephen Foster in 1851. Since 1935 it has been the official state song of Florida, although in 2008 the original lyrics were revised.

Andrea Leeds American film actress

Andrea Leeds was an American film actress. A popular supporting player of the late 1930s, Leeds was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Stage Door (1937). She was progressing to leading roles, when she retired from acting following her marriage in 1939, and was later a successful horse breeder.

Edwin Pearce Christy American entertainer

Edwin Pearce Christy was an American composer, singer, actor and stage producer. He is more commonly known as E. P. Christy, and was the founder of the blackface minstrel group Christy's Minstrels.

"Gwine to Run All Night, or De Camptown Races" is a minstrel song by Stephen Foster (1826–1864). It was published in February 1850 by F. D. Benteen of Baltimore, Maryland, and Benteen published a different version with guitar accompaniment in 1852 under the title "The Celebrated Ethiopian Song/Camptown Races". The song quickly entered the realm of popular Americana. Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829–1869) quotes the melody in his virtuoso piano work Grotesque Fantasie, the Banjo, op. 15 published in 1855. In 1909, composer Charles Ives incorporated the tune and other vernacular American melodies into his orchestral Symphony No. 2.

Swanee (song) Song by George Gershwin and Irving Caesar

"Swanee" is an American popular song written in 1919 by George Gershwin, with lyrics by Irving Caesar. It is most often associated with singer Al Jolson.

<i>My Friend Irma</i> (film)

My Friend Irma is a 1949 American comedy film directed by George Marshall. It was the motion picture debut of the comedy team Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. The film was released on August 16, 1949, by Paramount, and is based upon the CBS radio series My Friend Irma that first aired in 1947.

Felix Bressart German-American actor

Felix Bressart was a German-American actor of stage and screen.

Old Black Joe

"Old Black Joe" is a parlor song by Stephen Foster (1826–1864). It was published by Firth, Pond & Co. of New York in 1860. Ken Emerson, author of the book Doo-Dah! (1998), indicates that Foster's fictional Joe was inspired by a servant in the home of Foster's father-in-law, Dr. McDowell of Pittsburgh. The song is not written in dialect.

<i>I Dream of Jeanie</i> (film) 1952 film by Allan Dwan

I Dream of Jeanie is a 1952 American historical musical film based on the songs and life of Stephen Foster who wrote the 1854 song "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair" from which the title is taken. The film was directed by Allan Dwan for Republic Pictures and was shot in Trucolor.

<i>Mammy</i> (film) 1930 film

Mammy (1930) is an American pre-Code musical drama film with Technicolor sequences, released by Warner Bros. The film starred Al Jolson and was a follow-up to his previous film, Say It with Songs (1929). Mammy became Al Jolson's fourth feature, following earlier screen efforts as The Jazz Singer (1927), The Singing Fool (1928) and Say It with Songs (1929). The film relives Jolson's early years as a minstrel man. The songs were written by Irving Berlin, who is also credited with the original story titled Mr. Bones.

Show Girl is a musical by William Anthony McGuire that ran from Jul 2, 1929 to Oct 5, 1929. The show tells the story of aspiring Broadway showgirl Dixie Dugan as she is pursued by four suitors. The music was written by George Gershwin, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and Gus Kahn.

<i>Robinson Crusoe, Jr.</i>

Robinson Crusoe, Jr. is a musical with a book by Edgar Smith, lyrics by Harold R. Atteridge, and music by Sigmund Romberg and James Hanley.

Al Jolson Lithuanian-born American entertainer, actor, and singer

Al Jolson was a Lithuanian-born American singer, comedian, and actor. Jolson has been dubbed "the king of blackface" performers, a theatrical convention since the mid-19th century. He was also dubbed "The World's Greatest Entertainer" at the peak of his career. His performing style was brash and extroverted, and he popularized many songs that benefited from his "shamelessly sentimental, melodramatic approach." In the 1920s, Jolson was America's most famous and highest-paid entertainer.

<i>Harmony Lane</i> 1935 film by Joseph Santley

Harmony Lane is a 1935 low-budget American film directed by Joseph Santley, based upon the life of Stephen Foster, released by Mascot Pictures.

"Angelina Baker", sometimes sung as "Angeline the Baker" is a song written by Stephen Foster for the Christy Minstrels, and published in 1850. The original laments the loss of a woman slave, sent away by her owner. The lyrics have been subjected to the folk process, and some versions have become examples of the "Ugly Girl" or "Dinah" song.

<i>Hollywood Cavalcade</i> 1939 American film

Hollywood Cavalcade is a 1939 American film featuring Alice Faye as a young performer making her way in the early days of Hollywood, from slapstick silent pictures through the transition from silent to sound.

References

  1. "Swanee River: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved October 23, 2014.