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Adaptation of the Broadway musical. Magnolia Hawks is the lovely but protected, and thus very naive, daughter of Cap'n Andy Hawks, the genial proprietor of a show boat that cruises the Missisippi, and his nagging wife, Parthy. She is best friends with the show boat's star, Julie LaVerne, but Julie and her husband Steve are forced to leave when it is revealed that Julie has "Negro" blood in her, thereby breaking the state law by being married to the white Steve. Magnolia replaces Julie as the show boat's female star, and the show's new male star is the suave gambler Gaylord Ravenal. "Nola" and Gaylord fall in love and marry against Parthy's wishes. They and their young daughter lead the high life when Gaylord is lucky in gambling, but live like dirt when he's unlucky. During one such unlucky streak, a broken Gaylord leaves Nola, and she is forced to start over by returning to the stage. Like Old Man River, as the famous song from this show goes, she just keeps rollin' along.Written by
Because of copyright problems involving a real "Cotton Blossom" show boat sailing the Mississippi in the 1930's, the name of the showboat in the film had to be changed to "Cotton Palace". This required omitting the second half of the opening chorus, in which the townspeople sing about the boat while the stevedores continue singing about their daily work, and the "cotton blossom" growing on the levee. The section sung by the stevedores is still heard in the film. See more »
At one point in the story, Cap'n Andy and Parthy discuss hiring a new leading man and leading lady. Just before Cap'n Andy says, "But where do we go from here? We can't give no more shows without a leading man !" he and Parthy are abruptly seen in a slightly different position. See more »
Oh, I can't explain. It's surely not his brain That makes me thrill. I love him Because he's - I don't know... Because he's just my Bill!
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For the opening credits, we see a cardboard cutout display of a show boat parade, with cutout paper townspeople watching it, on a moving turntable. The parade revolves past the camera carrying cardboard banners on which are printed the title and other credits to the film. Most of the parade figures are simply figures, but among them we can discern cutouts of Paul Robeson and Helen Morgan (the appearance of these figures does not coincide with the appearance of their names onscreen). In the background can be seen the shadows of a paddlewheel and a riverboat. See more »
"The Kind of Gentlemen It's A Pleasure to Wait on."
When we talk about adaptions of Show Boat for the screen, we talk first about this one and then the others. If for no other reason than it gives us a chance to see three of the original performers from the original Broadway cast, Charles Winninger, Helen Morgan, and Francis X. Mahoney. Their performances on stage and on the screen became career roles for each.
Also Allan Jones and Irene Dunne are as perfect a Gaylord Ravenal and Magnolia Hawkes as you'll ever find. Irene was THE Jerome Kern girl on the silver screen, she was lucky to be in three musical adaptions of his shows, this one and Roberta and Sweet Adeline. His songs and her voice seem to be made for each other.
Ravenal's part is one of the most difficult to do in musicals. In the 1951 Show Boat Howard Keel sang wonderfully, but he projects too strong an image for the part. Gaylord Ravenal is a charming, but a very weak character. Allan Jones was the one who really got it right and it's on Ravenal's performance that the whole plot of the show turns on. He really rings true in Hattie McDaniel's assessment of him as the kind of gentlemen it's a pleasure to wait on.
James Whale as director really captures the spirit of 20 years on each side of the turn of the last century with warts and all. Show Boat as a play was bold in its day in tackling racism and miscegenation. Even when this was produced first in 1927 there were still miscegenation laws on the books. He gave Helen Morgan the career role she was most identified with.
Helen Morgan personified the phrase torch singer. From 1927 until this film she had descended into alcoholism and five years from this film she would have passed away from the effects of same. She had a career in Hollywood as well as Broadway and this was her final effort. How fortunate we are to have a filmed record of her performance and her singing of Can't Help Lovin' That Man and Bill.
Ravenal and Magnolia are given three great ballads to sing, classics all, Make Believe and You Are Love and Why Do I Love You. The first two are sung by Jones and Dunne and the third was eliminated from the film although it is heard on the soundtrack. Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein wrote another song I Have the Room Above which is also a most charming duet.
Of course no discussion of Show Boat is complete without Paul Robeson and Ol' Man River. Believe it or not Robeson wasn't in the original Broadway cast. The Broadway opening was delayed and Robeson had some other contractual commitments in 1927. Another black baritone concert singer named Jules Bledsoe introduced Ol' Man River, arguably the greatest song Jerome Kern ever wrote. It became a signature song for Paul Robeson in both stage performances of Show Boat and in this film. His presence in singing Ol' Man River is another reason for this being the greatest Show Boat of all.
Robeson also has a duet with Hattie McDaniel in I Still Suits Me another song Kern and Hammerstein wrote for this film. It's a nice comedy duet. In fact I would say that Show Boat and Annie Get Your Gun are the two shows with the most hit songs in them ever written.
Show Boat is a grand American classic. Somewhere as I write this review there is a company performing right now on this planet. It will be so for generations to come.
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