Plot: Ernie (Joel McCrea) has just married a beautiful woman named Pearl (Barbara Stanwyck), but before he can even spend a single night with his new bride, he has to go on the run. The marriage starts off well enough, with some music, good friends, and of course, some booze, but soon a rude guest disrupts the celebration. When the guest insists on kissing the bride, Ernie is displeased and after a wild chain of events, he thinks he has killed the man. This prompts him to make a run for the hills to hide out, which leaves Pearl newly wed and all alone. The newlyweds take much different paths after the wedding, but fate seems determined to draw them back together. Pearl follows some bad advice and winds up in New Orleans, while Ernie returns from his hiatus to discover his girl has left town. Will the two ever find each other again or will events continue to prevent their reunion?
Entertainment Value: I had a lot of fun with Banjo on My Knee, as it has a great cast and is rooted in “shanty boat” culture, which skews close to hicksploitation, a genre that I can never resist. The story here is a solid one, but the movie is more driven by characters and dialogue, both of which are quite colorful here. I haven’t seen a lot of “shanty boat” related movies or what not, but now I want to seek out more, as even smaller roles in Banjo on My Knee are fun to watch. I think interesting, colorful characters can work wonders and that’s true in this case, especially since a capable cast is present to bring those characters to life. The dialogue is a lot of fun here as well, with snappy banter in almost every scene and of course, few stars can handle banter with god tier skill like Barbara Stanwyck. The movie’s tone shifts often, with elements of comedy, drama, and even musical, but Banjo on My Knee doesn’t feel disjointed, these threads weave together well, I think. That is likely a benefit of having such quirky characters, as you can see them getting into all kinds of scenarios and situations. The locales also feel believable and the river scenes offer some well crafted mini-disaster sequences, which add yet another layer to the picture. I was hooked from the jump with this one, so Banjo on My Knee earns a high recommendation.
If you happen to be a frequent reader of my reviews, you probably know that Barbara Stanwyck is one of my all time favorite performers. I consider her one of the most talented, charismatic screen talents ever, so having her in this kind of colorful, “shanty boat” material is a real treat. She is able to shine here, as the script gives her a wealth of sharp lines to work with and of course, she nails every single one. Stanwyck has that natural toughness and attitude the characters needs, so she was an ideal choice to play Pearl here. As always, she just commands attention whenever she is on screen, getting the best out of her costars and delivering yet another dynamic, memorable effort. I am biased of course, as I could watch Stanwyck in anything and be entertained, but I think anyone who appreciates her work will have a lot of fun with Banjo on My Knee. Another memorable turn is from Buddy Ebsen, who performs several musical routines and provides some comic touches, all of which is a pleasure to watch. The cast also includes Walter Brennan, Joel McCrea, and Helen Westley.