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.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.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.
Also Allan Jones and Irene Dunne are as perfect a Gaylord Ravenal and Magnolia Hawkes as you'll ever find. Irene was THE Jerome Kern girl on the silver screen, she was lucky to be in three musical adaptions of his shows, this one and Roberta and Sweet Adeline. His songs and her voice seem to be made for each other.
Ravenal's part is one of the most difficult to do in musicals. In the 1951 Show Boat Howard Keel sang wonderfully, but he projects too strong an image for the part. Gaylord Ravenal is a charming, but a very weak character. Allan Jones was the one who really got it right and it's on Ravenal's performance that the whole plot of the show turns on. He really rings true in Hattie McDaniel's assessment of him as the kind of gentlemen it's a pleasure to wait on.
James Whale as director really captures the spirit of 20 years on each side of the turn of the last century with warts and all. Show Boat as a play was bold in its day in tackling racism and miscegenation. Even when this was produced first in 1927 there were still miscegenation laws on the books. He gave Helen Morgan the career role she was most identified with.
Helen Morgan personified the phrase torch singer. From 1927 until this film she had descended into alcoholism and five years from this film she would have passed away from the effects of same. She had a career in Hollywood as well as Broadway and this was her final effort. How fortunate we are to have a filmed record of her performance and her singing of Can't Help Lovin' That Man and Bill.
Ravenal and Magnolia are given three great ballads to sing, classics all, Make Believe and You Are Love and Why Do I Love You. The first two are sung by Jones and Dunne and the third was eliminated from the film although it is heard on the soundtrack. Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein wrote another song I Have the Room Above which is also a most charming duet.
Of course no discussion of Show Boat is complete without Paul Robeson and Ol' Man River. Believe it or not Robeson wasn't in the original Broadway cast. The Broadway opening was delayed and Robeson had some other contractual commitments in 1927. Another black baritone concert singer named Jules Bledsoe introduced Ol' Man River, arguably the greatest song Jerome Kern ever wrote. It became a signature song for Paul Robeson in both stage performances of Show Boat and in this film. His presence in singing Ol' Man River is another reason for this being the greatest Show Boat of all.
Robeson also has a duet with Hattie McDaniel in I Still Suits Me another song Kern and Hammerstein wrote for this film. It's a nice comedy duet. In fact I would say that Show Boat and Annie Get Your Gun are the two shows with the most hit songs in them ever written.
Show Boat is a grand American classic. Somewhere as I write this review there is a company performing right now on this planet. It will be so for generations to come.
- Aug 17, 2006