Last week I was watching an old Katherine Hepburn/Cary Grant film titled Holiday, from 1938. In the story Johnny Case (Grant) meets, falls in love with, and gets engaged to Julia Seton (Doris Nolan) while on a skiing trip. When they return he meets her family, including her sister Linda (Hepburn), and brother Ned (Lew Ayers). The Seton family is extremely rich and snobby, except for Linda, of course. Johnny isn't rich, and doesn't much want to be rich, which is [SPOILER ALERT] why he ends up with Linda instead of Julia.
But it is the brother Ned who we are most concerned with. In a scene where Johnny and Linda are sitting around talking, Ned is plunking around in the background on several different instruments: piano, drums, banjo. BANJO?! Yep. I was completely surprised when the tinky sounds of a plectrum banjo started emerging from my television speakers. I had to pause the movie and call my parents to share the exciting news. Banjos were not unfashionable in the nineteen-thirties, and Ned could strum the heck out of it, as evidenced in a later scene where they sing "Camptown Races" to his able accompaniment. A plectrum banjo is a four-string with the same length neck as a bluegrass five-string. It is played with a flatpick, which is no doubt why it fell out of style!
Seeing the banjo in that movie brought to mind another film from that same era, Destry Rides Again (1939), starring James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich. The banjo in this flick is a tenor, also played with a flatpick, strummed by the town drunk and acting sheriff Washington Dimsdale. He sings, repeatedly and enthusiastically throughout the picture, a song called "Little Joe," which I'd never heard before, but is very catchy. I don't know whether they wrote it for the soundtrack or if it is an old traditional number, but it makes a very good rousing, sing-along number.
Anybody else got any banjo-in-the-movies titles to share? (In addition to Zombieland...)