The film begins with Magnolia, daughter of Captain Andy Hawks and his domineering wife Parthy, enjoying her childhood aboard her father's show boat. Parthy, irritated over the supposed influence of leading lady Julie (Magnolia's idol and best friend) fires her, despite her husband's objections. Many years later, Magnolia is a young woman and becomes a leading lady. Her leading man is Gaylord Ravenal, a riverboat gambler with whom she falls in love and elopes. But the sudden and unexpected death of Captain Andy forces the couple to leave the boat and move to Chicago rather than endure the disapproving Parthy, and Ravenal's gambling luck soon runs out. Then, Parthy announces she's coming to visit. Written by
Albert Sanchez Moreno
Update: some of the "lost" footage of the prologue has been found, both sound and picture, and this includes footage apparently not included in the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) edition of the film. Some of this once-lost footage is included in A&E's Biography: The Great Ziegfeld (1996) and a few scenes from this footage are now included in the three-part PBS documentary Broadway: The American Musical (2004). The discovered footage includes Jules Bledsoe singing "Ol' Man River" with the Dixie Jubilee Singers in full costume. Also featured on this "Biography" episode were scenes of Tess Gardella singing "C'mon Folks" and Helen Morgan singing "Bill." All of these scenes survive in only faintly tolerable sound and picture quality, but at least they survive. See more »
When Nola is given the letter Gaylord has left for her telling her he is leaving her, she is shown holding and reading the letter with her right hand holding the letter near the top and her left hand near the bottom. In the next shot, her hands have changed positions. See more »
You an' me,/ We sweat and strain,/ Body all achin' and wracked with pain!/ "Tote dat barge!/ Lift dat bale!"/ Git a little drunk,/ And yuh lands in jail!/ Ah gits weary/ An' sick o' tryin',/ Ah'm tired o' livin',/ An' scared o' dyin', / But Ol' Man River,/ He jes' keeps rollin' along!
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All performers in the prologue are identified verbally. See more »
Edna Ferber did not write "Showboat" as a musical, but as a novel, and this 1929 silent-early talkie version fleshes out the story of a complicated marriage and makes it completely believable. It is certainly not dated, especially with the number of people today who are addicted to gambling, and it stands on its own two feet without the Jerome Kern score. I was pleasantly surprised, and enjoyed TCM's broadcast completely.
Favorite scenes: when little Magnolia is torn from Julie (Alma Rubens, who would be dead from heroin addiction only two years later) by her jealous mother (Emily Fitzroy, with her customary severe hairknot appearance), when Gay and Magnolia first meet on the Showboat (how beautiful those close-ups were!), and the ending, when the elderly Gay falls at Magnolia's feet and the forlorn Lonesome Road is sung in the background. The last scene in particular seemed other-worldly to me, and that was because of the performances of both Laura La Plante and Joseph Schildkraut, which were so solid and touching.
Especially compared to the later musical versions, which glossed over some of the more difficult aspects of Gay and Magnolia's marriage, 1929's "Showboat" has the courage to show the seedier aspects of the downward turn in their relationship due to gambling. The Grayson-Keel musical has their child being born after Gay leaves, with Magnolia never informing Gay she was pregnant. But in the 1929 version Gay is shown to basically abandon both wife and young child, instead of living up to his responsibilities to get a real job to provide for them. We should have less sympathy for such a man, but somehow, we understand and forgive.
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