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 rights to this film were bought by M-G-M in 1942, so all prints shown on TV until the mid 1990's had the roaring lion logo at the beginning. However, despite having bought the rights, M-G-M retained Universal Pictures' spinning globe for the "The End: A Universal Picture" credit at the film's close. See more »
No question that this is the Show Boat with soul. The '51 version has some lovely chorus numbers, including a beautiful opening sequence, but it is entirely safe and a predictable piece of MGM-dom.
On this 1936 version, I found myself thinking "There isn't a dull moment in this thing".
The pacing is fast and most unsentimental. The editing is so curt as to be almost surreal, and songs are suddenly launched out of nowhere, which is curiously satisfying. To be truthful, the film's strongest cohesive stretch is its first third, after which the story-telling becomes a bit rushed (presumably) to keep the film to a tolerable length. Hattie McDaniel and Paul Robeson are magical. McDaniel's first scene is positively electric and Robeson is given to a pleasant, warm demeanor, and both he and McDaniel seem surprisingly modern during a time in which blacks were seldom portrayed as such, especially in a mixed cast.
Charles Winninger shows his Vaudeville roots here, and he does a most riveting take on the Show Boat stage, portraying a melodrama for two. His timing is perfect, and his energy is inspiring throughout the picture.
Magnolia's blackface peregrinations do ring true to the time (more 1870's, than 1930's), but the wince-worthy scenes are more those of the black river boat hands who must constantly be shown bucking and winging their way to the irresistible music, eyes rolling.
The ending has some satisfaction to it, and is lightened considerably by the fact that Gaylord Ravinal is not completely humiliated by story's end. This last scene must have somehow anticipated "A Star Is Born", with undying love and honor being its undercurrent theme.
George Gershwin once stated on network radio that Kern's [Show Boat] score was the finest light opera in American history. It may still be. Just the bridge to "Only Make Believe" is heart stopping stuff.
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