Banjo On My Knee (1936): 4/5

Having your wedding on a yacht seems luxurious and expensive, but for Pearl (Barbara Stanwyck) and Ernie Holley (Joel McCrea), their sea-faring wedding was just like any other. The Holleys live in a community of “shanty boat people.” In other words, they’re lower class Southern folks who live on wooden boats.

Still, despite the lack of glamour, the Holley wedding is pleasant and fun — until Ernie becomes convinced that he’s killed one of the wedding guests and decides to skip town for a while.

Battles between husband as wife ensue, as do confusion and manhunts in the boat-dwelling community.

Banjo On My Knee is an odd and exciting film.


Solid performances are given throughout. Cecile B. DeMille’s adopted daughter Katherine stands out as the brash, very funny and Ernie-crazy Leota. Walter Brennan (as Ernie’s father, Newt) and Buddy Ebsen (of Beverly Hillbillies fame) are also great.

It’s a bit baffling how Barbara Stanwyck was able to turn out so many on-point performances throughout her entire career, and she gives a knock-out performance here as usual.

The film is hard to place into a single genre. To my knowledge it is most frequently billed only as a comedy, so I was surprised to find upon watching that it’s actually a musical.

Luckily, the surprise was a pleasant one. The soundtrack includes the title track, “With a Banjo On My Knee,” as well as a great rendition “St. Louis Blues.” Stanwyck lends her very natural, very pleasant singing voice to “Where the Lazy River Goes By.”

The genre surprises don’t stop there. In the very beginning it seems like light romantic fare, but it then takes a turn for the dramatic. The rest of the hour and a half duration is spent flip-flopping between all of the aforementioned genres, which certainly keeps the viewer’s attention.