And now we have that classic 1936 film musical Show Boat, starring Irene Dunne and Allan Jones!
Coming Up Shorts! with… A Balmy Swami (1949)
(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Popeye The Sailor: The 1940s Volume 3 from Warner Archive Collection)
Disclaimer: On the disc case, it is noted that the set is intended for the adult collector, which is because these shorts were made at a time when a lot of racist and sexist stereotypes were prevalent. All I’m trying to say is, parents, be careful about just sticking these on for your kids.
(Length: 6 minutes, 49 seconds)
Popeye has to deal with magician Bluto when he hypnotizes Olive. You guessed it, we’re back to Popeye Vs. Bluto fighting over Olive. Certainly some fun gags, with Bluto making use of his magic, even when they get beyond the theater they start out in and move on to the construction site where Olive has walked to in her trance. While it really doesn’t break any new ground, I still enjoyed this one, and feel it is worth a shot!
And Now For The Main Feature…
Captain Andy Hawks (Charles Winninger) runs the show boat The Cotton Palace with his family and his theatrical troupe, which includes leading man Steve Baker (Donald Cook) and his leading lady Julie LaVerne (Helen Morgan), plus comedic dance team Frank Schultz (Sammy White) and Elly (Queenie Smith). Trouble comes, though, when it is revealed that Julie, who had one black parent, was married to Steve, a white man, which was illegal in that area. While they got out of that trouble, Steve and Julie were forced to leave the Cotton Palace just the same. Captain Hawks decided to promote his daughter, Magnolia Hawks (Irene Dunne), to the leading lady, and brought in river gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Allan Jones) to be the leading man, since he was seeking passage elsewhere anyways. Magnolia and Gaylord fall for each other, much to the dismay of her mother Parthy Ann Hawks (Helen Westley). Soon, they get married in spite of Parthy’s objections. A year later, Magnolia gives birth to their daughter, Kim, and Gaylord decides the three of them should move to Chicago. At first, all seems to go well, but then Gaylord gambles and spends all their money. Frank and Elly come to Chicago looking for a cheap place to stay since they got a job at a local nightclub, and they find the apartment they are looking at is being rented by none other than Magnolia and Gaylord! Of course, their timing couldn’t be worse, as Magnolia and Gaylord are being evicted and Gaylord decides to leave her, so she must find a job to survive. She auditions at the club where Frank and Elly are working, but it is only after the club’s current singer (which turns out to be Julie LaVerne) leaves that Magnolia is given the job. Magnolia’s parents have come to town in time for New Year’s Eve to see her, but it is her father who comes across her singing at the nightclub. When he sees her start to falter, he tries to support her, giving her the needed confidence that allows her to become a star on stage and make a comeback.
Edna Ferber published her novel Show Boat in 1926. Universal Studios soon bought the rights to the story, hoping to make a silent movie out of it. However, before they could finish, The Jazz Singer premiered, ushering in the era of sound in the movies. And of course there was also Ziegfeld’s successful production of the stage musical with music by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. Universal tried to buy the rights to the score from the musical, but by that time, enough of the movie had been done that it was too late for them to do much more than add a few of the songs to an otherwise silent movie. However, after a few years and more financial success for the studio through their horror films, they were able to try to do it again as a more full-blown musical. And, in their favor, they were able to put together a cast that consisted of cast members from the Broadway show’s original run as well as other revivals and touring shows, plus bring back the composers for a few new songs and rewrites. The results were big, with the 1936 version becoming the most highly regarded film version of the tale.
I am at this point more or less coming off my first full viewing of this movie, after having seen the later 1951 MGM musical many times over the years (but I’ll worry about comparing the two another day). With this movie, I can’t help but admit to having enjoyed it very much! Sure, the movie does have its issues, with Irene Dunne wearing blackface for one song on the show boat, not to mention the portrayals of most of the black characters being a little too stereotypical. In spite of all that, though, I can’t help but enjoy it! The movie overall is wonderful with bits of comedy here and there (especially when Charles Winninger’s Captain Andy tries to show the audience what would have happened had the show not been interrupted by an audience member who forgot they were watching a show and threatened the show’s “villain”). And the music is wonderful, too! Hearing Paul Robeson’s version of “Ol’ Man River” was very much a treat to watch and listen to! All the performances work well for me, and I can’t deny the film’s ending certainly tugs on your heartstrings (at least it does mine)! So I would DEFINITELY recommend trying this one!
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection. This release features a brand-new 4K restoration of the movie, and it looks absolutely fantastic! I can’t recommend it enough! At the moment, I’d certainly put in for this being one of the best looking releases of the year (obviously, that can change, but I admit I like it just the same)! This release also features some footage from the 1929 version, with some of the sound segments as well as about twenty minutes worth of the silent movie (even if it appears to be standard definition), plus two radio shows featuring some of the cast, as well as a few other featurettes on the director and actor Paul Robeson. Overall, a release worth recommending!
Film Length: 1 hour, 54 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
*ranked #2 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2020
**ranked #4 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2020
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Stingaree (1934) – Irene Dunne – The Awful Truth (1937)
Rose-Marie (1936) – Allan Jones – One Night In The Tropics (1940)
Charles Winninger – Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939)