Show Boat - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Show Boat Reviews

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June 5, 2016
A good musical for the time.
December 12, 2014
The most faithful adaptation of the groundbreaking musical is still uneven dramatically, but the musical numbers are nicely performed by a fine cast that includes Irene Dunne, Allan Jones, Paul Robeson, Hattie McDaniel and - from the original cast - Charles Winninger and Sammy White. Best of all is Helen Morgan, recreating two classic numbers: "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" and "Bill."
September 14, 2013
Puts the 1951 version to shame. Directed by James Whale (Frankenstein) and with the great Helen Morgan, this is one musical not to be missed. If you have the chance, see it!
½ September 1, 2013
Featuring some of the most prolific storytelling of its era, "Show Boat" is a quick change to the frenzied spectacles of the 1930s musical that Busby Berkeley made so famous.  Filmed back when falsetto, near operatic singing was still in style, "Show Boat" features beautiful songs and excellent performances by its well-adapted cast.  It's the best of the best, and while it isn't the sort of escapist fun most people look for in a musical, it stands in a league of its own.
The film tells the story of Magnolia Hawks (Irene Dunne), the daughter of a family that owns a show boat, the Cotton Palace. They put on live shows for towns along the Mississippi, with much success. It isn't long before the eighteen-year old Magnolia finds her soulmate, Gaylord Ravenal (Allan Jones), at one of their venues. The twosome quickly get married and have a baby, but once this occurs the legacy of the Cotton Palace draws to a close.
Years later, Magnolia and Gaylord are struggling, considering they're living off of Gaylord's terrible gambling habits while Magnolia remains helpless. But when he leaves her for her own good, it isn't such a bad thing; Magnolia's opportunity to become a success on the stage comes in full-swing.
Under two-hours, it's impressive how well "Show Boat" tells its story, spanning over four decades with many characters going in-and-out through the sands of time.  There are many moments that drag, as there is so much get through, but by the end, you'll be glad you watched the film. There are so many touching, endearing moments, that is instantly gives you a feeling of nostalgia. It's filmmaking at its finest, and it shows the musical genre in a whole different light.
More than anything though, "Show Boat" is famous for two things: Helen Morgan's torchy rendition of "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" and of course, Paul Robeson's booming, chill-inducing "Ol' Man River."  Both are so heavenly to the ears that they alone are worth watching the film.  While neither actor gets nearly enough screen-time (or enough songs to sing), when they do get their chance, they're spectacular.
At the center of everything though, is Dunne, an unfortunately forgotten actress who as usual, gives a wonderful performance here.  Much less dramatically talked about than other actresses of her era (one can quickly point to either Bette Davis or Joan Crawford), Dunne was one of the few that could make your heart melt just with a stare.  She's so sweet and likable in this film, yet so vulnerable and emotional, that it sets a perfect tone for the film as a whole.  "Show Boat" represents the hardships of show-business, and Dunne's Magnolia gives the honest truths of the highs and lows.
It may not be as entertaining as "Top Hat," but "Show Boat" is a dramatic musical that's much more complex than one would expect. Nearly every aspect of it is very well-done; it's a fine film, if a flawed one.
September 1, 2013
Considered to be the best filmed version of the musical, this Show Boat may be the best musical of the golden era. Robeson's rendition of "Old Man River" is deeply stirring, and resonates throughout the entire film, despite appearing in the first act. The entire first half of the film is quite masterful, in fact - the mixture of tragedy and comedy is harrowing and brilliant. The second half of the film meanders, but perhaps only because it holds too close to the source material, a novel which spands four decades.
Super Reviewer
July 19, 2013
this is the show boat to watch, and in spite of irene dunn's blackface number, one of the most racially sensitive films i've seen from the 1930's. just watch the scene where helen morgan sings 'can't help lovin that man of mine' or paul robeson's 'old man river'. if this doesn't move u then you're made of stone
½ February 3, 2013
James Whale's eye for composing images serves at least as well in SHOW BOAT as it did in FRANKENSTEIN. Beautiful to watch and lovely to hear; including Paul Robeson's unmatched rendition of "Ol' Man River" which reprises hauntingly through the film.
½ August 8, 2012
You can't go wrong with any movie that has a musical score like this one does!! Wonderful classic!!
½ June 6, 2012
This was a good musical and I learned it from music class.
½ May 10, 2012
As one might expect from the title, a lavish and well-made production for the time. Great songs and story.
May 6, 2012
Classic movie with Paul Robeson singing Old Man River. Progressive words to this song written by Oscar Hammerstein.
December 10, 2011
Haven't seen it yet but can't wait to see Helen Morgan as Julie.
½ February 9, 2011
Horrible on practically every level, Show Boat fails almost as badly as Gjergji in the mile run.
Super Reviewer
September 6, 2010
So much better than the 1951 version.
½ May 4, 2010
To tell you the truth, after having seen the flashy 1951 version of this musical I wasn't very tempted to see the 1936 version, afraid to be very disappointed again. But thankfully I listened to all those wise people saying that it is the 1936 version or nothing else you should watch.

After the first ten minutes I started thinking, nah...this looks like a 70%-movie. But then Paul Robeson came along singing this old classic Ol' Man River, I've heard so many times, but never like this. Wow! I swear, I had goosebumbs by the time he had finished and said to myself; this got to be one of the highlights of the history of Hollywood-musicals. It cannot get better then this!

Or so I thought...

But then Helen Morgan came along and sang Can't Help Loving Dat Man of Mine, and later was joined by Hattie McDaniels (Who actually had a singing career behind her. Many years before her acting career started. Been researching if there exists any old records with her singing, but without any results) and Paul Robeson among others. Extacy! Magic! I don't else know how to describe that feeling I got.

But besides being an excellent musical, this is as well a very cute and sweet romantic tale.

I have a really hard time figuring out why this DVD is so hard to find, and why they show the darn 1951 on TV every second week, but not this. Bad taste or copyright problems?

After seeing this I feel ready to see the Helen Morgan Story with Ann Blyth and Paul Newman!
Super Reviewer
½ April 17, 2010
Somewhat more faithful to the book and it does record Helen Morgan's legendary stage performance but the later Ava Gardner version is still the superior film and the one to watch.
January 20, 2010
The story of "Showboat" is one that goes back to the mid 20's. Notorious for being controversial and ahead of its time are just some of the key ingredients that make this movie a classic. Most notable about this movie is Paul Robeson's performance of "Old Man River". Most people know this song whether they have seen "Showboat" or not. Though the mentality toward Robeson's melody has changed it still just as it did back then, convey such a simple message. Though there are two other adaptations to this movie, the 1936 version is a clear across the board best of the three. You just can't beat Paul Robeson.
July 31, 2009
Good first 2/3, but the last bit feels very episodic and takes away the interest that the film builds up in the characters.
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