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.
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.
- Oct 11, 2006