Show Boat (1951)

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The third and (to date) last film version of the Edna Ferber/Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II musical +Show Boat falls just short of greatness but is still a whale of a show. Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson are in fine fettle as irresponsible gambler Gaylord Ravenal and showboat ingenue Magnolia Hawks. The plot adheres closely to the Broadway original making several welcome improvements in the final act (which was always a bit shaky). Magnolia, daughter of showboat impresario Captain Andy (Joe E. Brown) and Parthy Hawkes (Agnes Moorehead), falls head over heels in love with the raffish Ravenal. When the show's leading lady, Julie (Ava Gardner), and leading man, Steve (Robert Sterling), are forced to leave when Julie's mulatto heritage is revealed by disgruntled suitor Pete (Leif Erickson), Magnolia and Gaylord step into the vacant stage roles and score a hit. Eventually, the two are married and for several months are quite happy. After incurring serious gambling losses, however, Gaylord walks out of Magnolia's life never realizing that his wife is expecting a baby. With the help of her former showboat colleagues Ellie and Frank Schultz (Marge and Gower Champion) and a behind-the-scenes assist from the tragic Julie, Magnolia secures work as a Cabaret singer in Chicago. Her new year's eve debut threatens to be a bust until her father Captain Andy quells the rowdy crowd and guides his daughter through a lovely rendition of After the Ball (a Charles K. Harris tune that pops up in every stage version of Show Boat). Magnolia returns to her family, with her daughter Kim in tow. Upon learning from Julie that he has a daughter, Gaylord returns to Magnolia and Kim, setting the stage for a joyous ending. Virtually all of the Kern-Hammerstein songs are retained for this version of Show Boat (though none of the songs specially written for the 1936 film version are heard). These cannot be faulted, nor can MGM's sumptuous production values. Still, the 1951 Show Boat leaves one a bit cold. Perhaps it was the removal of the racial themes that gave the original so much substance (as black stevedore Joe, William Warfield exists only to sing a toned-down version Ol' Man River while Joe's wife Queenie is virtually written out of the proceedings). Also, MGM reneged on its original decision to cast Lena Horne as Julie; the role was recast with Ava Gardner and rewritten with an excess of gooey sentiment). Or perhaps it was the production's factory-like slickness; typical of the film's smoothing out of the original property's rough edges was the casting of Marge and Gower Champion, who are just too darn good to be convincing as the doggedly mediocre entertainers Frank and Ellie. Even so, Show Boat does have Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson at their peak, not to mention the peerless Joe E. Brown as Captain Andy. And the film was a financial success, enabling MGM to bankroll such future musical triumphs as Singin' in the Rain and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
Rating:
NR
Genre:
Classics , Drama , Musical & Performing Arts
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
 wide
On DVD:
Runtime:
Studio:
MGM Home Entertainment

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Cast

Kathryn Grayson
as Magnolia Hawks
Howard Keel
as Gaylord Ravenal
Ava Gardner
as Julie Laverne
Joe E. Brown
as Capt. Andy Hawks
Agnes Moorehead
as Parthy Hawks
Marge Champion
as Ellie May Shipley
Gower Champion
as Frank Schultz
Robert Sterling
as Stephen Baker
Adele Jergens
as Cameo McQueen
Owen McGiveney
as Windy McClain
Regis Toomey
as Sheriff Ike Vallon
Earl Hodgins
as Bartender
Frank Wilcox
as Mark Hallson
Emory Parnell
as Jake Green
Sheila Clark
as Kim Ravenal
Ian MacDonald
as Drunken Sport
Fuzzy Knight
as Troc Piano Player
Norman Leavitt
as George the Calliope Player
Anne Dore
as Showboat Cast Girl
Christian Lind
as Showboat Cast Girl
James Pierce
as Doorman
Lyn Wilde
as Showboat Cast Girl
Marietta Elliott
as Showboat Cast Girl
Joyce Jameson
as Showboat Cast Girl
Bette Arlen
as Showboat Cast Girl
Helen Kimball
as Showboat Cast Girl
Tac Porchon
as Showboat Cast Girl
Mitzie Uehlein
as Showboat Cast Girl
Judy Landon
as Showboat Cast Girl
Nova Dale
as Showboat Cast Girl
Mary Jane French
as Showboat Cast Girl
Marilyn Kinsley
as Showboat Cast Girl
Alice Markham
as Showboat Cast Girl
Michael Dugan
as Showboat Cast Boy
Robert Fortier
as Showboat Cast Boy
George Ford
as Showboat Cast Boy
Cass Jaeger
as Showboat Cast Boy
Boyd Ackerman
as Showboat Cast Boy
Roy Damron
as Showboat Cast Boy
Joseph Anthony Roach
as Showboat Cast Boy
George Lynn
as Dealer
Louis Mercier
as Dabney
Anna Q. Nilsson
as Seamstress
Ida Moore
as Little Old Lady
Alphonse Martell
as Headwaiter
Edward Keane
as Hotel Manager
Tom Irish
as Bellboy
Jim Pierce
as Doorman
William Tannen
as Man with Julie
Bert Roach
as Drunk
Earle Hodgins
as Bartender
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Critic Reviews for Show Boat

All Critics (9)

No excerpt available.

Full Review… | March 25, 2009
Variety
Top Critic

No excerpt available.

Full Review… | June 23, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

No excerpt available.

Full Review… | March 24, 2006
New York Times
Top Critic

A much weaker Show Boat version than the 1936 one by James Whale.

Full Review… | February 1, 2006
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

No excerpt available.

July 15, 2005
EmanuelLevy.Com

No excerpt available.

February 11, 2005
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Audience Reviews for Show Boat

½

MGM's loving, lovely Technicolor adaptation of the groundbreaking stage musical retains most of Jerome Kern's music and strengthens the role of Julie, poignantly played by Ava Gardner; William Warfield also does well singing "Ol' Man River."

Michael Troudt
Michael Troudt

Mostly a mediocre musical film, but there are some moments of absolute brilliance. The cinematography deserves some recognition, particularly the scene with William Warfield singing "Ol' Man River". It wasn't too far from being a good movie, but I got bored at times. (First and only viewing - 10/9/2013)

Adam R
Adam R

This film just screams bloated. Every thing about this film is over the top. I haven't even seen the entirety of the 1936 film and I like it better. I give it two stars for Howard Keel and that the material itself is so good that it shines through the circus.

Garrett Cash
Garrett Cash

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