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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
Nothing special, though not as painful as I had anticipated-
I had long heard about this film version of "Show Boat", and "Show Boat" being my favorite Broadway musical, I had anticipated this part-talkie as something truly dreadful to sit through. It was televised the other day, and I finally got my chance to see it.
The film is not a catastrophe by any means, but it certainly isn't good, either. It is mostly silent, and much of the dialogue and singing that was originally part of the film has either been lost forever or simply not found yet. Some of the film's two-reel prologue has turned up (both sound and picture) in A&E's biography of Florenz Ziegfeld, so somebody should obtain those excerpts and include them as part of this showing. It is inexcusable for Turner not to have done so. At present, none of the prologue in the TCM print is shown visually; it's all audio, with an "OVERTURE" card on the screen as the songs are sung. And as of now, only two of the five songs originally filmed for the prologue are heard. The prologue now ends with Otis Harlan heard enthusiastically saying, "And now, Jules Bledsoe will sing 'Ol' Man River'!" - however, we never get to see or hear this portion!
The singing by choral groups supposedly heard on the soundtrack isn't in this print of the 1929 film either; all we get during the action is orchestral accompaniment and a few sound effects. Jules Bledsoe's voice can be heard on the soundtrack at the end, singing "The Lonesome Road", a fairly good number also in the style of a work song, but no match for the great "Ol' Man River".
As for the acting, it never becomes the kind of silent film or early talkie acting that strikes people as unintentionally funny. Laura la Plante and Joseph Schildkraut are actually quite good in their dialogue scene on the stage of the show boat (here, as in the 1936 film version, renamed the Cotton Palace). Schildkraut, especially, is good, his Viennese accent hardly getting in the way. He shows a surprising and welcome ability to act "intimately" as opposed to the hammy overacting featured in most early talkies, except in the scene where he gets drunk. Gaylord Ravenal is presented as being much more of a jerk in this version than in the Kern-Hammerstein musical adaptation; he is shown being especially nasty (verbally) to Magnolia when his gambling luck runs out.
The film is directed in a very flat style; nothing in it seems especially interesting and one never becomes involved in the story; in fact, the musical version presents the story more dramatically. The racial angle in the original Ferber novel and in the musical is completely eliminated in this 1929 version, however, draining the film of much of its potential dramatic power and leaving it little more than a romantic soap opera. And without the beautiful Kern-Hammerstein score to hear, except for those two songs in the prologue and an orchestral rendition of "Ol' Man River" played as background music during the boat's arrival, one is tempted to ask, "Why bother with this version when you can have the classic 1936 film, or even the 1951 remake?"
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