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Friday, 17 January 2014

Classic Film Review: Carnival Boat (1932)

Carnival Boat stars William Boyd as Buck Gannon, a lumberjack frequently at odds with his father and foreman, Jim (Hobart Bosworth). One of the things they disagree on is Buck's relationship with Honey (Ginger Rogers), an entertainer on the carnival boat that occasionally docks nearby. Jim has been told he's to retire at the end of the season and is desperate for Buck to take his place but, apart from Buck's distractions, there's also a human problem in the shape of Hack (Fred Kohler), who wants the foreman job for himself.

This is a lacklustre film redeemed by a few good stunts. The title really is disingenuous when the majority of the action takes place at the lumber camp. The boat is very much peripheral and so too, sadly, is Ginger Rogers. Because we don't see much of the romance between Honey and Buck, it feels contrived and Rogers only really has one scene in this early film where the excellent actress she will become in a few years expresses herself properly. That's down to the script and lack of chemistry between her and Boyd. There's a comic subplot involving two lumberjacks where one is doing all the work and doesn't realise it and the other one repeatedly breaks his pipe by accident. It's a nice distraction from what can be a heavy film.

However, there are two good 'adventure' moments that make Carnival Boat worth watching. When a train is carrying too heavy a load while Jim is driving, the faulty breaks snap and the train goes hurtling down the tracks. Buck, alerted to the fact his father's in danger, uses the yard's machinery to get him close enough to the train to jump on - then has to negotiate his way to the front. It's a very good stunt, obviously a little dated, but strong enough to revive my attention when it was flagging. Similarly, the stunt that forms the finale of the film involves Buck and Hack going to clear a log jam, leading to some nefarious activity from Hack when he realises this is his chance to get ahead of his rival. It's less exciting that the out-of-control train but still enjoyable.

Ultimately, Carnival Boat suffers from not being what it professed to be. There are, though, redeeming moments, and as a specimen of stunt attempts from 1932 it's rather good. There are moments of humour and peril intertwined with boring ones. Really, a mixed bag.

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