Disney Film History: Davy Crockett and the River Pirates

river pirates

Davy Crockett has to be one of the 1950s greatest pop icons. Coon skin hats and toy guns were smash hits with kids. the “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” song became a radio hit, and the Disneyland television show became must see television. Davy Crockett was aired on the Disneyland show in several stories, but in 1955 the first three episodes of Davy Crockett were compiled into one film titled Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. The film was a success for the Disney company and with the film and television series running wild, it only made sense to continue the series on television and hope to also release another film. That’s exactly what Walt Disney and his company did.

river pirates 1

In the 1955 film we saw Crockett’s life and eventual death, or at least it’s alluded to. So where do you go from there? You create your own tall tales! Walt Disney continued the television series with two new stories about Davy Crockett, both predating his battle at the Alamo. The two episodes of the Disneyland television show were shown in November and December or 1955, several months after the first film came out. These two episodes were much more fictional and eccentric than the original three episodes that made up the King of the Wild Frontier film. The first was an episode titled “Davy Crockett’s Keelboat Race” which pitted Crockett against Mike Fink, a rugged and exceptional keelboat sailor. Mike Fink, like Davy Crockett, was a real man but is lost in his own folklore as a fighter, navigator, and all around sailor of keelboats. This makes him a perfect match for Crockett. Despite the story being a complete work of fiction instead of a historical fiction like the previous episodes, it still worked over the Crockett crowd and kept the character in the forefront of American pop culture.

The second episode titled “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates” is where the name of the film also comes from. In this episode, Crockett and his sidekick, George Russel, are captured by Native Americans after white men murdered their tribesman. They learn that “river pirates” had been doing this and they duo help the Native Americans by capturing the bandits and bringing justice to the river.

river pirates 2

The film was released as a mash up of these two episodes on July 18, 1956. The 7 month gap between the airing of the episodes and the film kept it fresh for moviegoers and again proved that Davy Crockett could be a success at the box office. The Disney studio was smart in keeping their lead stars for the series and eventual film. Buddy Epsen and Fess Parker continued as Russel and Crockett, portraying their characters just as perfectly as they did a year earlier. Despite the over-the-top stories, Davy Crockett and the River Pirates can testify as one of the crown jewels of 1950s Disney. Davy Crockett’s success in every aspect of 1950s pop culture showcases how great Disney’s creative and marketing teams were and still are. I won’t say that this is the best film of the 1950s or even of the two Davy Crockett films, but it stands as an example of how good Disney was during this time period.

Josh Taylor
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Posted on January 8, 2015, in Articles, The Whole Picture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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