Davy Crockett and the River Pirates (1956)
“THRILLING ADVENTURES…frontier giants join forces to challenge the might of the River Raiders.”
Director: Norman Foster
Cast: Fess Parker, Buddy Ebsen, Jeff York
Synopsis: Davy Crockett and his sidekick Georgie compete against boastful Mike Fink in a boat race to New Orleans.
Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier, was the kid’s favourite back in the 1950s thanks to Disney’s TV series featuring Fess Parker in the title role. What we have here is an attempt on the part of Disney to earn a few extra bucks from the TV show’s popularity by splicing two forty-minute episodes together to make a feature-length movie it could release theatrically. Although the movie does ‘sort of’ tell one complete story, the end of the first episode and beginning of the second could only be more obvious if they were separated by ‘End of Part One’ and ‘Part Two’ signs.
In part one, Davy and his sidekick, George Russel (Buddy Ebsen) run afoul of swaggering braggart Mike Fink (Jeff York), the self-styled king of the Mississippi river, when they’re looking to travel down river to sell their year’s stock of furs. Fink won’t take them on his boat, so they attempt to recruit men to work on Cap’n Cobb’s (Clem Bevans) boat, but when George unwittingly attempts to enlist the aid of some of Fink’s men, the big boatman force feeds him his special cocktail of alcohol and then cons him into betting their entire fur stock that he and Davy’s boat will beat Fink’s in a race to New Orleans.
Naturally, Davy’s not too thrilled about this, but a bet’s a bet, even when made under drunken duress, and despite fielding a woefully inexperienced crew, the race is soon under way. The story is set in 1810, before combustion engines were widely available, so the means of transporting keel boats down the Mississippi was to have four men stand on each side of the boat, each equipped with a long pole. In unison, each man would push the end of his pole into the shallow river bed and walk along the boat’s length in order to propel it forward. Presumably, there was quite a knack to this, because we’re treated to a seemingly never-ending succession of hapless sailors landing in the water as they attempt to negotiate the Mississippi. Needless to say, Fink employs all manner of underhand tactics to ensure that his boat arrives first in New Orleans, but no amount of skullduggery can outwit the likes of Davy Crockett, and Fink makes a surprisingly good loser once Crockett’s boat beat his with inches to spare.
The second half of the movie opens with Fink and our two heroes now firm friends. After Fink drops Crockett and Russel off on the riverbank, they quickly find themselves the prisoners of a usually friendly tribe of Indians. It seems the Indians are about to declare war on the white man because they are being wrongly accused of launching a number of murderous raids on boats along the Mississippi. This ties in with an incident in the first half of the movie in which a band of outlaws attempted to lure Fink’s boat to the bank in order to hijack it, and was the reason why Cap’n Cobb was unable to raise a crew to man his boat. Anyway, Crockett persuades the Indian chief to free him so that he can hunt down the real culprits.
Davy Crockett and the River Pirates provides surprisingly solid entertainment. It’s well-written and proficiently filmed (as you’d expect from a Disney product). It firmly has young boys in its sights, however, with not one woman to be seen throughout its entire running time, and no deaths shown in anything other than the most abstract form. It even delivers a character-building message regarding loyalty and bravery. It’s all good, clean fun, essentially, and it will slip from your memory quietly and painlessly without you even noticing.
(Reviewed 17th November 2013)