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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
The "Lux Radio Theatre" version of this film was broadcast on June 24, 1940, and starred Irene Dunne, Allan Jones and Charles Winninger from the film's cast. The radio version avoided all mention of racial issues by having "Ol' Man River" sung as a background choral number at the beginning, instead of as a number for Paul Robeson and male chorus. It also changed Julie from a mulatto illegally married to a white man to an illegal alien whose husband chose to be deported with her. See more »
As Ellie May is applying cold cream on her face, the amount she puts on changes from shot to shot. See more »
But this is Confederate money!
That's the kind they use in the hills, it's as good as yours, ain't it?
But this quarter - it don't ring!
Whaddaya want for two bits - sleigh bells?
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 »
Music by Jerome Kern
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Sung by offscreen mixed chorus (during opening credits) and in opening scene by mixed chorus of dock workers See more »
Seminal Musical Classic Well Worth Seeing Seventy Years Later
Sadly not available yet on DVD, the classic black-and-white 1936 version of the seminal 1927 Oscar Hammerstein-Jerome Kern musical is rarely seen these days since it's been overshadowed by the far more elaborate 1951 MGM color remake (which is on DVD). That's a shame since this one is like a piece of cameo jewelry from a bygone era, a sublimely entertaining piece of Americana so naïve in its approach that its pervasive use of racial stereotypes comes across more as quaint than demoralizing.
Directed by James Whale (the protagonist of 1998's "Gods and Monsters" and most famous for his 1931 classic, "Frankenstein"), it's a multi-generational story that starts with the Hawks family who runs a variety entertainment showboat in the 1880's. The jovial Captain Andy is the boat's impresario who is constantly goaded by his mean-spirited wife Parthy. They have a musically inclined daughter Magnolia who is best friends with the show's star, mulatto chanteuse Julie LaVerne. The local sheriff forces Julie out of the show for being half-black. Andy has Magnolia take her place just as gambler Gaylord Ravenal comes to town and becomes recruited as the show's leading man. Gaylord and Magnolia fall immediately in love, marry, move to Chicago and have a girl they named Kim. There, he gains and loses a fortune and then leaves Magnolia and Kim. Over the years, Magnolia becomes a big stage star and passes the torch to Kim.
The music, of course, is unbeatable with standards, chief among them "Make Believe", "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" and "You Are Love". Even though Irene Dunne was in her late thirties when she made this film, she amazingly gets away with the first half where she plays Magnolia as an ingénue. What's more, she was the rare actress who could act and sing (quite beautifully) at the same time, even when she is required to perform in blackface in "Gallivantin' Around". Allan Jones is a fine singer as Gaylord, though not as interesting an actor especially in the second half when misfortune takes over. When they sing "You Are Love" together, it's still quite magical.
What a treat to be able to see the redoubtable Paul Robeson as Joe singing "Ol' Man River" so powerfully (and filmed with an intriguing montage of woeful images), as well as legendary torch singer Helen Morgan play Julie and perform her signature song, "Bill", so touchingly. Familiar character actor Charles Winninger probably has his best role as Captain Andy, while Hattie McDaniel plays Joe's forceful wife Queenie in a performance as good as her Mammy in "Gone With the Wind". The film is really an intriguing mix of melodrama and great music with socially relevant observations regarding racism, alcoholism and gambling addiction.
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