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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Show Boat (1936)

In the 1880s, a show boat run by Captian Andy (Charles Winninger) traveling the Mississippi river picks up a gambling man (Allan Jones) to act in his show. Despite the disapproval of his wife (Helen Westley), his young daughter (Irene Dunne) falls in love with the gambler. One of the greatest musicals of the American theatre, SHOW BOAT has yet to receive a definitive film version in spite of being made three times (it was also made in 1929 and 1951). This one, directed by James Whale (BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN), is generally considered the best of the three though frankly, in spite of its flaws, I prefer the 1951 MGM Technicolor version. Dunne and especially Jones are insufferable as the romantic leads. Fortunately, the film has Helen Morgan in one of her rare film roles recreating the role of the bi-racial Julie which she played in the original show. Then there's the great Paul Robeson whose rendition of Old Man River gives one goosebumps and whose acting style seems the most contemporary of anyone in the film. Also in fine support are Hattie McDaniel who gets a chance to show off her singing talent and Queenie Smith and Sammy White as Frank and Ellie. The film's ending defines schmaltz!  One of my favorite songs from the show Life Upon The Wicked Stage is eliminated from this version but was put back in the 1951 movie. With Donald Cook and Sunnie O'Dea.

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