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
The cost of production for the movie was more than Universal Studios could afford. Head of the studio, Carl Laemmle Jr., had to borrow money to finish the picture and to keep the studio afloat. When he reneged on an agreement to repay the loan, Universal Studios was taken over by a New York City lending institution. Laemmle Jr. lost his position at the studio his father had started and never again worked in Hollywood. See more »
At the end of "Ol' Man River", Joe smiles while his and the male chorus's voices linger for about three seconds on the soundtrack. See more »
The credits for this film say "A James Whale Production" although Whale did not produce the film, while the film's posters say "A Carl Laemmle, Jr. Production", and Laemmle did produce the film. See more »
What an exquisite and enjoyable film! Along with "The Great Garrick"(1937), "The Old Dark House"(1932) and "The Bride of Frankenstein"(1935), "Show Boat" is one of James Whale's loveliest and most enduring classics. By far, the best "Show Boat" ever captured on film. The plush 1951 MGM remake is a cartoon by comparison.
Like Whale's "The Great Garrick," the film is a delicate, self-reflexive study about the entrancing possibilities of the theater, or for that matter acting. Acting as a metaphor for life. One of delights of "Show Boat" is that it does not avoid depicting either the joy of make-belief (the basis of the theater) or its inevitable heartbreak. In this regard, it invites comparison to Jean Renoir's exquisite "French Cancan"(1955), another back stage musical that understands, accepts, and celebrates the difficulties and ultimately the magic of the theater.
In addition to being an honest and frank celebration of miscegenation, "Show Boat" is also a genuinely felt evocation of a stage actress (wonderfully played by Irene Dunne in one of her greatest performances ever), who goes from a stagestruck teen to a mature woman seriously dealing with the consequences of a marriage to a gambler(played by the occasionally bland Allan Jones).
Paul Robeson's extraordinary, melodious rendition of "Ol' Man River" is the highlight of the film, occasioning in great and inventive montage sequence.
A great film.
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