Pros: Great Story, Great Music, Great Production, Great Casting, technically almost perfect.
Cons: Hard to find a copy. Shown on Television on TCM on Dec 13, 2007
SHOW BOAT (1936) - Adapted from the 1927 Broadway Stage production by Florenz Ziegfield; which was based on the 1926 Novel by Edna Ferber.
Did You Watch It? TCM played it on December 13, 2007 at 8:30pm PST. It was another rare opportunity to see this MOVIE
Both this second Film Version and Asourdough4 first saw the light in the same year of 1936. It was the first movie I remember seeing but I spent most of the showtime in my favorite seat.. or, rather, under it. Some of the scenes terrified me... It was sometime in 1940 at the movie house in Downtown Juneau, Territory of Alaska.
Plot Details: This Epinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
A 2004 Epinion, on the Novel, the Music, and the Broadway Play of Edna Ferber's SHOW BOAT is found at:
"HERE COMES THE SHOW BOAT!"
It is 1888 and here is the "COTTONBLOSSOM Floating Palace Theatre", returning to another small town, LeMoyne, Mississippi, on the Mississippi River. Faithful to Edna Ferber's Novel, we can see clearly that there is a steam powered 'tug boat' named the "MOLLIE ABLE" a true STERNWHEELER that pushes the theater; which is actually a building on an unpowered barge.
"COTTONBLOSSOM" was launched in St. Louis in 1889 - Capacity, "1,000 Seats" (actually 600). A Show Boat design trades engine room and cargo space for an auditorium and living spaces for the entertainers. Over on the tug "MOLLIE ABLE" is the double-duty and powerful machinery that turns the great sternwheel paddle that drives both vessels along. Here are the accommodations for the crew members and space to store supplies, including many 'ricks' (cords) of seasoned wood picked up at landings along the river. Here, on "MOLLIE ABLE", is the Pilot who is responsible for safe navigation and the Engineer, who keeps things moving. And, so is the steam Calliope; designed to be heard 5 miles around. And it IS heard. The population swarms in to the landing from home and farm, business and schoolhouse, in a scene of frantic pandemonium. Even the pigs and stable horses join the rush, scenes so aptly repeated in "The Music Man" when the "Wells Fargo Wagon" Is A-coming.
The opening credits, often detested by impatient and restless audiences, are displayed on a rotating set of billboards that unwind like a merry-go-round. The viewer must be a fast reader indeed to catch everything and then be ready for the show; which starts immediately.
When the "SHOW BOAT" touches the wharf, is tied up, and the gangway is lifted out and set on the bank; the excited crowd is treated to a parade of characters and crew. The troupe of paid actors and crew members doing double duty as entertainers, puts on a preview show of skits right at the top of the gangway. In a whirlwind of introductions, we meet Captain Andy, who is the owner of the Boats, the Producer, Manager, Musician and the Show Barker. In turn, appear his wife Parthenia (Parthy) and their daughter Magnolia (Nollie). There she is! The best actress on the rivers, the dashing leading lady with a past, Julie Dozier-LaVerne and her husband Steve, now, it is Ellie and Frank who are the husband and wife song and dance team, Queenie the Cook and her husband Jo (No typo here, Ferber dropped the "e".) A series of 'teaser' tidbit acts hint at what will come when one buys a ticket. We get to know Pete, the sinister one-eyed Engineer from the "MOLLIE ABLE" whose obsession with Julie maddens her husband Steve. Pete sees that Queenie the cook is wearing a cheap brooch that he had given to Julie; Pete confronts Julie, Steve confronts Pete, a fight breaks out and they are down in the dust and bleeding in a trice. Captain Andy breaks it up and covers by convincing the onlookers that the fight was only a prelude to the real show on board. "... we're just one big haaaaaaapy family". Strutting like a circus troupe, the whole gang parades off the Show Boat and up the main street. The characters we see here will be seen again. Like the Broadway Play it was based upon, "SHOW BOAT" (1936) movie breaks away from traditional short Vaudeville acts; following many of the characters through whole acts and three generations of Comedy and Tragedy. To tell her story, Ferber's 2nd Novel needed 19 Chapters to hold 200,000 words. My copy has 311 pages.
But there is trouble brewing.
When the excitement and the crowd fades, we see a character strolling along the waterfront (no levee at this town, it is a cut bank landing) . This fellow is a dandy with a cane, top hat and cracked leather shoes; here is Gaylord (Gay) Ravenal, a down at the heels River Boat Gambler down on his luck. His is a lonely career, he describes his condition in his first song: "Where's The Mate For Me?" He looks up and there she is, on the second deck of the "COTTONBLOSSOM".
Here is real trouble, for Parthy, who fears for the virtue of her daughter Magnolia (Nollie). She sees Gaylord and talks to him; improper behavior, this business of talking to a stranger... He understands her hesitation and offers a solution: "...We can pretend..."
"Only Make Believe I love you,
only Make Believe that you love me,
Others find peace of mind in pretending,
Couldn't you?, couldn't I?, couldn't We?"
"Make Believe our lips are blending,
In a phantom kiss or two or three.
Might as well Make Believe I love you,
For to tell the truth, I do."
She takes the refrain, then they join in a Duet.
It is an aria that could have been inspired by Puccini, who had died in 1924. Think "La Boheme" and the three showstopping songs by Mimi and Rudolpho in Act 1.
DIRECTOR James Whale
Frankenstein '31, The Invisible Man '33, The Bride of Frankenstein '35, Sinners in Paradise '38, The Man in the Iron Mask '39
Some viewers may realize that "SHOW BOAT" could be called an American Light Opera, with spoken dialog and wonderful songs. Called "Musical Comedy Theater" on a long-ago Saturday afternoon radio program; Comedy in this context means a happy ending:
fr Greek "komoidia" (komos) revel (aeidein) to sing.
Show Boat started an amazing series of American gifts to entertainment.
And now, there continues the sad and realistic portrayal of life on the Mississippi. For there are people of different color, existing side by side on the Show Boat; in a cultural collision with the very towns that would furnish the audiences that pay the way. The incidents occur in relentless portrayals of pure bigotry and outright legal disdain. Ferber put these words in the mouth of Sheriff Ike: "There's Civic Minded Folks in this Town." It is a threat. Being ridden out of town on a rail, after being tarred and feathered is a common and enriching civic activity. So is lynching.
When Nollie tells Jo about her encounter and rushes off to tell Julie about the handsome man she
has seen, Jo wonders what "Old Man River" would say. When recording this song, Paul Robeson's first take was good enough for evermore. The composer team had a terrific and enduring hit - Kern said that he only wanted to create a statement of peaceful resignation. The Director, James Whale, ordered the camera to circle the singer as he lounges on the dock. The result is an incredible performance that included surprisingly accurate details of the Wharf and its construction. (OK, OK, I was a sailor once.)
THE PLOT THICKENS
It seems that the greatest crime committable in the great State of Mississippi is that of a White being married to a Black. Julie and Steve are such a couple but the degree is shockingly trifling. She is never going to be "Light" enough to BE a white and her heritage will catch up with her. Her husband Steve plays off this ridiculous principle when the time comes. He skirts the law by slashing her finger and sucking her blood, witnesses aplenty. When the local Sheriff swarms aboard with an accusation of miscegenation, he explains that only a drop of Negro blood makes a person a Negro. The rejected Pete has his revenge; has betrayed Julie. However, because Steve is now technically a Negro with more than just "...a drop of Negro blood..." in him, there is no crime. The Sheriff agrees but orders them out of town on general principles. For, you comprehend, no Negro EVER prevails over a WHITE MAN. And this WHITE MAN has two Negroes to put down. Everyone understands that they need to leave the Show Boat but it is a heart-wrenching scene to watch the couple depart to the accompaniment of a soft and wrenchingly sad humming chorus from the whole cast.
SCORE Jerome Kern - Swingtime, Lady be Good, Lovely to Look At
LYRICS and BOOK Oscar Hammerstein II - OKLAHOMA!, South Pacific, Sound of Music
"Cotton Blossom" - Background and Overture, Orchestra & Chorus
"Where's the Mate For Me" - Gaylord Ravenal, expressing the Gambler's shiftless life and loneliness.
"Who cares if my boat goes upstream..."
"Make Believe" - Gaylord's solo, Nollie's reply, both in Duet, strong scene that develops the love interest.
"Ol' Man River" - Sung by Jo, who expresses some of the lot of the 'emancipated' slaves.
"Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man of Mine" - Julie, who surprises Queenie, who gives us a hint of what will follow. She challenges Julie to sing all of the song and she does.
"Till Good Luck Comes My Way" - The more dignified Gaylord Ravenal, expressing his philosophy. He never plays at Poker, nor other "Percentage" Games. He plays win or lose.
"Life Upon the Wicked Stage" - Elly Chipley, telling it true when fans on the landing envy her status.
"Life Upon the Wicked Stage ain't nothin' what a girl supposes". She sings of "Stage Door Johnnies". "...when a Johhny wants to hold your hand it could mean an extra beer or sandwich."
And plaintively, although she plays the desirable igenue; she assures us that:
"I've Got Virtue That's Not Been Tested."
"I Have the Room Above Her" - Gaylord, once aboard as a member of the cast, regarding Nollie.
"At The Fair" - The troupe, celebrating the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.
"Gallivantin' Around" - Dance routine.
"You Are Love" - Another three part aria
"Cakewalk" - Pleasant interlude tunes
"Ah Still Suits Me" - Jo, expressing satisfaction with his life. "My man is shiftless, and good for nothing too" sings Queenie. "He's never 'round here when there is work to do.
"Why Do I Love You?" - Indeed, a faustian question; why can a Gambler captivate Nollie?
"Why do I love you?,
Why do you love me?
How can there be two, happy as we?"
"Bill" - Not a special man at all but I love him. Helen Morgan invented the role (first production) of Julie, the popular actress and singer. Julie had lost her man years before and was now addicted to brandy. And had nobody.
"I love him because he's wonderful,
because he's just my Bill!"
"Goodbye My Lady Love" - Schultz & Schultz, singing and dancing.
"After The Ball" - Nollie's debut solo after finding her own job and a reunion with her father, Cap'n Andy.
(Kern and Hammerstein did not create this song.)
CAST Name, Character Played, Other Works
Irene Dunne: Magnolia/Nollie/Maggie Cimmaron, Penny Serenade, Life with Father, I Remember Mama
Allan Jones: Gaylord Ravenal Rose Marie, A Day at the Races, A Swinging Summer
Charles Winninger: Captain Andy Hawks Babes In Arms, Ziegfeld Girl, State Fair
Paul Robeson: Jo/Joe
Helen Morgan*: Julie LaVerne Applause, Marie Galante, Frankie and Johnny
Helen Westley: Parthenia Ann Hawks Heidi, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms, All This and Heaven Too
Queenie Smith: Elly May Chipley Tip Toes, Mississippi, Foul Play.
Sammy White: Frank Schultz The Bad and the Beautiful, Pat and Mike, The Helen Morgan Story
Donald Cook: Steve Baker Baby Face, Viva Villa, Here Come the Coeds
Hattie McDaniel: Queenie Alice Adams, Saratoga, Gone With The Wind**, Since You Went Away
Arthur Hohl: Pete The Sign of the Cross, Blondie Has Trouble, Mystery of the Riverboat
*Helen Morgan lived the life she acted out, died in 1941 - age 41, an acute alcoholic.
** Academy Award, Supporting Actress
On opening night in 1927, SHOW BOAT ran for nearly 3 hours, with Act One taking nearly 2. For the next show on the following night, several numbers were deleted from the Stage Show depending upon audience reaction. James Whale carved all but 1 hr 50 minutes from this it when creating Movie Version 1936. Imagine what had to be omitted!
Although touted as the "...closest to the Book or the Play", SHOW BOAT (1936) actually took considerable liberties with Edna Ferber's story. Ferber liked to write about Women who prevailed in spite of their choices in Husbands. In typical style, Ferber disposed of Gaylord Ravenal; Magnolia never saw him again after he left her in Chicago. Cap'n Andy Hawks was drowned in Ol' Man River One night when Nollie was a pre-teen. Steve Baker left Julie and Frank Schultz left Elly. Regardless, Ferber had experience of her own in Broadway Plays. She and others wrote stories that followed a successful outline that audiences loved: set up the Lead Characters, Put them through hoops and separate them for a while and then wrap it up with a tear-filled reunion.
Ferber set her book over a half century starting in the 1880's; I have witnessed racial actions equally as despicable in 1950's Florida and Mississippi, 1960's Oklahoma and Texas, and a third of the 1976 Continental United States. Don't get me wrong, California is not free of this disease of the minds. I am no angel for I too was "...carefully taught bigotry and racism..." by a mother who was vicious and had a complete vocabulary for what to call anyone even slightly different than she. The stereotyping of blacks in the "Tom & Jerry" Cartoons made audiences scream with pleasure but that came to disturb me. The 1948 edition of "INFORMATION PLEASE" facts book included a carefully constructed table of racial nicknames (I, for example, am a "BLUENOSE" Scot.) That was a long list. I carried my 'education' with me into the U.S. Navy; where I encountered blacks and other peoples as individuals who resented being labeled and were ready to fight people like me. I came to fear for my life before I got the message - thanks, Mommy!
For three and a half years, this Epinion languished in my "Unpublished" content section. It was a half-hearted effort to provide an alternative view; another of my broadsides in favor of BREVITY. I had already tried to issue a minimum-word Epinion that was exactly 100 Words long; which is no easy feat and took hours of editing. No matter. Instantly, those 100 words drew ferocious criticism from the reader/critics who pounced on it with cries of joy. (I often wonder if any of them even READ it?) Maybe it really was a lousy review but the experience refined and reinforced my love of the unconventional. Today, I see that we are allowing brevity and award SHOW (or NOT). So, it was a Pyrhhic Victory. My blather is just as lenghthy as anyone's but, there is a lot to say if one really addresses the social issues behind the latest Latte' or bottled water. I always try to do that and always encourage others who dare the Epinions lightning.
I felt that there was something wrong with my recommending a product that was obsolete, no longer on the shelf or simply
could not be found for sale. So, I hesitated. After all, the story had already been told 2004, in the Music and on the
Stage. In all of its many varieties and revivals, SHOW BOAT in any form remains my number one favorite sentimental entertainment. So I just could not hit the DELETE key. Just last week, we were a bit down due to a virulent cold that was wearing us out; so I loaded my homemade DVD copy of SHOW BOAT - (1936) and we were tapping our toes again. Those were the good ol' days alright.
As for not being available, I searched for a schedule in the TCM Data Base and SHOW BOAT (1936) was not even in their library - according to my findings yesterday. Then, I happened to be browsing the December 2007 issue of "NOW SHOWING", a monthly publication of Turner Classic Movies. In the index, there it was:
SHOW BOAT (1936) actually IS AVAILABLE !
By one of those fortuitous twists of fate, TCM will be running it at 8:30pm on December 13, 2007! Have your recorders ready!
The 1929 Version of SHOW BOAT is in the TCM Database. It began as a SILENT but had some of the songs patched into is before releasing it as a "TALKIE". Some of this version was included on a 1980's LaserDisc that I never could afford to buy. I caught SHOW BOAT (1936) from TCM on VHS in April 1993, transferred it to DVD December 2005. I also caught the 1989 PBS Version completely by accident and luck. It is the best of all versions. SHOW BOAT (1951) was horrible, everyone stumbling and mumbling in slow motion. The only redeeming portion of that version was the Husband and Wife team of Marge and Gower Champion performing as the Schultz pair. This was the first color film version of SHOWBOAT. It is readily available but I do not recommend it.
BIGOTRY REVISITED, AGAIN AND AGAIN
I was stupified by a fellow designer in the Tulsa factory who was genuinely and sincerely concerned about how it felt "...to have a black mayor..."; the newly elected Tom Bradley of Los Angeles. I wouldn't have known, since I lived in Long Beach at the time. How was I supposed to feel?
One of the design drafting crew I worked with was named Ziegler Oswald White. He had been an Air Force Pilot, flying F-100 Fighters up and down the coast of North Korea - riding on an armed Nuclear Weapon. Months passed, Ziggy waiting for the command to turn inland. When Kennedy was killed, Ziggy changed his name to Ziegler Oneal White. I respected that man. Our lead man was of Chinese extraction. A decent engineer from UCLA, this fellow was the ultimate BIGOT; frequently sidling over to my desk to confide another of his racial comments. We worked in a room with 400 people at desks. Messengers looking for Ziggy would check up front, then beat a path right over to him on the opposite side of that hangar of a building. "You're Ziggy White, aren't you?" He would mutter: "How Do You Think he found me so easy? Huh?"
When layoffs became necessary, Ziggy was the first to go. He was disgusted; he came back from his meeting in Personnel, muttering something about "...it getting to be LILY WHITE around here." I think Ziggy White became a Chiropractor.
Paul Robeson traveled far and wide and came to believe that the Soviet Russian system could solve the "American Race Problem". He was excoriated, vilified, demonized and had trouble finding work in his chosen profession in the United States.
***** ***** *****