Way Up Thar
Release Date: 1935 11 08
Running time: 19 minutes (1645 Feet)
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Directed by Mack Sennett
In the 1930s, anything "hillbilly" was very much in vogue as comic relief from the grim reality of the Depression. Set in the Ozarks, Way Up Thar is as hillbilly silly as possible. Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers have no dialogue but are visible in most of these scenes and provide the music for all of them. This is Joan Davis's film debut and also features Buster Keaton's mother (Myra) and sister (Louise).
The plot involves a selfish and greedy parent trying to relieve himself of the responsibility of paying his own debts by marrying his son off to someone he doesn't love. His son's sweetheart and her family suddenly become rich and famous on radio, changing the crafty old man's point of view.
We are grateful to a Sons of the Pioneers fan who directed us to YouTube and whoever made this rare little film available to the public.
John W. Jackson as Jim Higgins and Joan Davis as Jennie Kirk
Al Lydell as Sam Higgins, Jim's father and Myra Keaton as Maw Kirk
June Gittelson as Sophie Cramer and Richard Cramer as Cramer, Sophie's father
Louise Keaton as Liddie
Sons of the Pioneers as the Kirk Brothers, a Hillbilly band
Courtesy of Les Adams
04. Goldfish (Joan Davis)
07. Chicken Reel
10. Hillbilly Blues
11. Barnyard Jubilee (Bob Nolan - Tim Spencer [sic])
13. Stuttering Song
14. Rye Whiskey
NB: The film we viewed was 17 1/2 minutes long. The original was 19 minutes. The following songs, or parts of them, were reportedly in the film as well. The first two are likely the "unidentified instrumentals" in the list above:
• I'm a Gambler and a Rambler (Hugh Farr)
• Hoe Down
• Way Out There (Bob Nolan)
• Oh Susanna
The film opens with a kiss in a kitchen. A home brew still bubbles conspicuously on the stove. Maw Kirk's five sons (the Sons of the Pioneers) are sitting around the table and her daughter, Jenny, is sharing a kiss with Jim Higgins behind a large dishpan near the sink. Maw stops this nonsense as soon as she sees it. She orders Jenny to finish washing the dishes and check the still.
Jenny, a pretty girl but not too bright, obediently turns a knob or two and tastes the brew. It startles her with its strength.
The boys are tapping their feet in time with Len's harmonica and Karl's guitar. Len's image segues into Sam Higgins' who is playing the same tune on his mouth organ in his store.
Liddy is climbing a ladder to reach something on a tall shelf but her ladder slips and she hangs there, waiting for Sam to untangle his legs to help her.
Sophie Cramer and her father enter the store to buy ten cents' worth of peppermint drops. The jar on the counter is empty and Liddy has disappeared so Sam must climb the ladder to get them. On his way back down, Sam sits in a basket of fresh eggs on the counter.
Sophie asks about Jim and, on being told he is at Kirk's, she complains about Jenny. Sam tells her she needn't be jealous because he sent Jim to Kirk's with a bill. The word "bill" reminded Cramer that Sam owed him money, too. Sam assures Cramer that he will be paid as soon as Sam's customers pay him. The Kirks owe him for grain. Then Jenny Kirk comes in for five cents worth of peppermint drops.
Sophie stamps her feet and says she won't stand for the way Jim Higgins is treating her. She works herself up into a tantrum, throws herself into a chair which collapses under her considerable weight, and Sam promises her she will marry his son.
The next scene takes place in Kirk's kitchen once more. The boys are practicing for their radio debut and all are visible but Bob who is standing beside his bass fiddle at the left. They are playing Listen to the Mockingbird but Jenny is singing "She'll be Comin' Round the Mountain" off key.
Maw tells her she's singing in the wrong hall so Jenny switches to Goldfish, a little ditty that exasperates her mother who is determined her boys must practice for their radio appearance.
Maw sends Jenny off to finish drying the dishes for Jim Higgins while she conducts the boys with her corncob pipe baton. They continue to play Listen to the Mockingbird, accompanied by a duck and a bird.
Jim starts singing I Live in the House with Her as he washes the dishes and Jenny artistically tosses them into a pile that refuses to topple over. The still bubbles happily on the stove. Maw has to remind Jenny to finish cleaning up the dishes but she step dances with a stack of plates to Chicken Reel instead, finally collapsing onto Jim's lap.
Unfortunately, Jim's father chooses this moment to enter the kitchen and he sends Jim back to the store. He accuses Maw of putting notions into his son's head. Furthermore, he tells her, he doesn't want Jim hanging around her kind of music.
Then he demands payment of the last batch of corn the Kirks bought from him. Maw reminds him of the city feller who promised to put her boys on radio and has Jenny read the telegram from him.
Sam insists on getting his money and Maw tells him when her boys get on the radio, she'll buy his old store. The boys swing into another instrumental while Maw and Sam continue their argument.
Back in the store, Sam warns Jim against becoming involved with the Kirks. He demands his son pay more attention to Sophie Cramer who enters the store right then. She is a most unlovely piece of spoiled girlhood. When she spots a beautiful wrist watch in a display case, Sam tells her it will make a great engagement present. Sam orders a reluctant Jim to take Sophie into a back room, ostensibly to look at new hats, while he calls Liddy and directs her to deliver two packages for him.
The wrist watch is to be delivered to Sophie as an engagement present, complete with note supposedly from Jim. The other package is designed to quell any interest Jenny may have in Jim. Then Sam gets on the phone and tells Cramer what "Jim" has done. Jim objects, "You can't control love." "You'd be surprised," his father answers, "how I can control it." But it is Cupid who is in control and, in the guise of Liddy, gets the parcels mixed up.
When Jenny opens the gift of the wrist watch and reads the note, she is ecstatic. The boys swing into Eighth of January in noisy delight. Sophie opens her package and sets off, sobbing, with her father to see Sam.
Back in the store, Jim sings Hillbilly Blues, describing his feelings about his coming marriage to Sophie. He is interrupted by the Cramers who drag Sam into a back room.
As Jim continues his work in the front of the store, the whole Kirk family enters noisily and demands Jenny and Jim kiss each other. Jim does not object but he is startled and delighted when Jenny brings the watch to his attention. Thinking his dad has given in and accepted Jenny as a daughter-in-law, he whoops and kisses Jenny again but he is a little premature.
Just as Maw declares this the happiest day of her life, Cramers and Sam re-enter the room. Sam goes directly to Jenny and, to her horror and Sophie's delight, removes the watch.
Maw is immediately up in arms and demands an explanation. When Sam tells her to mind her own business, she takes her umbrella to him.
The next scene opens in a radio studio with the boys singing Barnyard Jubilee.
The scene cuts to the store where Jimmy and his father are leaving for good. They've lost their store to Cramer. Jim offers to marry Sophie if it will help but Sam's delinquent pride has finally surfaced and he refuses. He leaves, owning only the boots he's wearing.
The story cuts to the Cramer's livingroom where they sit, listening to the radio broadcast with derogatory remarks from Sophie. Cut again to the radio station where Jenny sings her Stuttering Song.
The Kirks are a success on the radio and are instantly wealthy. The last scene opens with Liddy as parlour maid to Maw who is lying on a chaise lounge, wrapped in ermine. Liddy answers the door and lets in Sam Higgins who still has his eye to the main chance.
Maw puts the run on him with her rifle.
As the door shuts behind Sam, she hears singing from the living room and tiptoes to that door. When she sees Jim and Jenny billing and cooing to Jim's old song, she runs to the front door and calls Sam back.
Maw changes her mind, shakes hands with Sam, and everyone is happy when the two young people announce their engagement to the tune of Texas Crapshooter.
courtesy of Ed Phillips
courtesy of Ed Phillips
courtesy of Ed Phillips