Show Boat (1936)

Approved  |   |  Comedy, Drama, Musical  |  17 May 1936 (USA)
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Reviews: 54 user | 25 critic

Despite her mother's objections, the naive young daughter of a show boat captain is thrust into the limelight as the company's new leading lady.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Charles Winninger ...
Helen Westley ...
Queenie Smith ...
Sammy White ...
Donald Cook ...
Francis X. Mahoney ...
Rubber Face
Sunnie O'Dea ...
Arthur Hohl ...


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 Tommy Peter

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Here Comes the Grand and Glorious "Show Boat" (version of 1936) See more »


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Parents Guide:





Release Date:

17 May 1936 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Edna Ferber's Show Boat  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Noiseless Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Several scenes were cut before release, because they presumably would have made the film much too long (films lasting two hours or longer were still a rarity in 1936). Among the scenes omitted were a sequence featuring Paul Robeson and Hattie McDaniel in old-age makeup, with Robeson singing an additional reprise of "Ol' Man River" while McDaniel sits beside him in a rocking chair and a modern speedboat is seen in the background; a World War I scene featuring Irene Dunne and Charles Winninger, and a vocal reprise of "Gallivantin' Around", one of the additional songs written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II for the 1936 film version. This last one would have been part of the movie's final sequence in which Kim (played as an adult by Sunnie O'Dea) makes her debut in a leading role on Broadway. She was supposed to have sung the song in addition to dancing to it. The vocal of "Gallivantin' Around" was eventually cut from this final sequence, but much of the rest of the scene remains in the film, except for a "modern" portion which shows how dancing evolved from the nineteenth century to the jazz era. See more »


About five minutes in, Cap'n Andy Hawks is introducing Miss Ellie May Chipley, the toast of Cairo, Illinois. He mispronounces Cairo. His pronunciation is for the capital of Egypt. Cairo, IL is pronounced Kay'ro, with perhaps other local variants. But NEVER as the Egyptian capital. See more »


Julie: (singing) Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, I gotta love one man till I die, Can't help lovin' dat man of mine.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Though this film version is an extremely faithful adaptation of the Kern-Hammerstein musical version of the novel (rather than the novel itself), and although the film retains all the major changes that Hammerstein made to the novel when adapting it for the stage, the on-screen and poster title for the film reads "Edna Ferber's 'Show Boat'" rather than "Kern and Hammerstein's 'Show Boat'". See more »


Featured in Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist (1979) See more »


Make Believe
(1927) (uncredited)
(Second reprise)
Music by Jerome Kern
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Sung in voiceover by Allan Jones
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Excellent Movie. The best musical ever made by Hollywood.
25 July 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The Paul Robeson and chorus rendition of Old Man River has to be without a doubt the greatest single rendition of one song in the history of Hollywood musicals. And what makes it even more impressive is that the number was directed by a director who had made his reputation directing monster movies. Of course, the name of the director was the iconic James Whale. So remarkable was his career that in 1998 a movie was made about him. Great song, great director, great performers, great everything, it all came together in the production of that song.

After watching a myriad of current Hollywood special effects potboilers I needed to recover so I watched the 1936 movie Show Boat. Oh my, how movies have changed. This movie has to be the best musical Hollywood ever produced, and for a potboiler factory like Hollywood, that's saying a lot. That Hollywood was able to put together such a great movie is proof that there was a time when Hollywood could produce a commercially viable product that did not sacrifice, or rather completely trash, artistic quality. If Hollywood tried to make this musical today, it would be a laughable joke, a fiasco, a travesty, an embarrassment, and why? Not because of the lack of talented performers because they are out there, and not because of the lack of talented musical arrangers and choreographers, because they're out there, but because the production crew itself would want to "modernize" the story and render it almost unrecognizable from the original when in fact the story itself is timeless. Could Hollywood recreate the "Ol' Man River" number? The answer is YES, but it won't happen and that's too bad because the talent is out there but will never be showcased. But there's always the 1936 version ... the best musical ever made by Hollywood.

The 1936 movie Show Boat is arguably the finest musical ever produced by Hollywood. Not only does the movie contain an impressive array of wonderful and entertaining musical numbers, the acting is is excellent and the story compelling. All the performers are impressive. Irene Dunne, Helen Morgan, Alan Jones, Charles Winninger, Hattie McDaniel, Sammy White and all the others are excellent. But especially impressive is Paul Robeson, particularly Robeson's classic rendition of "Ol' Man River." Although cast in a supporting role, Robeson's presence nonetheless dominates the movie. "Show Boat" is definitely worth watching, and although the movie candidly deals with serious social issues, it's still a movie for the entire family.

A few further comments about the scene with Paul Robeson singing "Ol' Man River." This version of "Ol' Man River" has to be one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, single musical piece ever filmed by a Hollywood studio. What's also remarkable is that the movie was produced and directed by James Whale, a former British POW with no previous experience in making movie musicals. It just proves that when given the chance and the encouragement people can excel and do great things.

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