Show Boat (1951) Poster



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  • The plot of the show covers a period of forty years, from the 1880's to the late 1920's (the show premiered on Broadway in 1927). This means that everyone who is in their 20's and 30's at the beginning is at least 60 in the final scene, and Kim, Magnolia's daughter, is a grown woman rather than a little girl. Cap'n Andy is supposedly in his 40's at the beginning of the story, and 82 at the end. This was the pattern also followed in the 1936 film version.

    In the 1951 film version, only about five or six years pass, and all the adults look pretty much the same age at the end as they did at the beginning. Kim remains a little girl about three or four years old. Cap'n Andy, played by the then sixty-year-old Joe E. Brown, looks sixty (or perhaps sixty-five) throughout the film. Edit (Coming Soon)

  • Three things:

    1) The "N" word was included in it (the first two lines of the opening chorus "Cotton Blossom" , presumably meant to be sung rather angrily by the black chorus, were "Niggers all work on the Mississippi; niggers all work while the white folks play"; these lines also occur in "Ol' Man River", at about the middle of the song). The word has been changed to what was considered a more acceptable term in later revivals as well as the 1936 film version and the 1989 television version - although the 1936 film did use the now unacceptable word "darkies" instead of "niggers". Most stage revivals, including the 1989 television version, now use the term "colored folks". In other productions, the line is changed to "Here we all work on the Mississippi; here we all work while the white folks play". In the 1951 film version, the line was dropped altogether, so that it is not heard during "Ol' Man River" either.

    2) The opening chorus in the stage version was not completely a lighthearted piece intended to make the audience forget their problems, as most opening choruses in shows were back in 1927. The very first thing the audience heard and saw was the black dock workers singing about how difficult their work was.

    3)This was the first show in which African-Americans and whites sang together in unison onstage. This happened in the song "Cotton Blossom", though in stage productions the finale sometimes features both blacks and whites joining in the final chorus of "Ol' Man River". Edit (Coming Soon)

  • No. In the show, the first half of it is sung by the black dock workers (who are referring to the "cotton blossom" growing on the levee rather than the boat, which is named Cotton Blossom), and the second half of it is sung by the white townspeople, who are referring to the boat ("Cotton Blossom, Cotton Blossom, Cap'n Andy's floating show") and waiting to see the troupe of actors and the show boat parade. The song ends with both groups singing different lyrics simultaneously. In more modern productions, because of advances in stage machinery, the song begins before the boat's arrival, and concludes as the boat actually pulls into the dock, whereas productions up until the late 1960's had the boat already onstage as the curtain went up .

    In the 1936 film, because the name of the boat was changed to Cotton Palace, the section of the song sung by the townspeople was omitted. The section sung by the dock workers was begun over the film's opening credits, and segued into the opening scene.

    In the 1951 film, because the song is sung by the show boat's chorus rather than the dock workers and/or the townspeople, some of the lyrics were changed, but only for dramatic purposes, not because they are offensive. The section sung by the dock workers is omitted in the 1951 film.

    In the 1946 M-G-M biography of Jerome Kern, "Till The Clouds Roll By", the number is sung nearly complete, and more or less as it is done in the stage version, though the dock workers seem improbably light-hearted. Edit (Coming Soon)

  • Very little. Nearly all of the film was shot in Hollywood. The opening credits and the scenes of the crowd running toward the river, together with the shots of cotton fields and Southern mansions, were filmed in Mississippi, and in those scenes the real Mississippi River is shown. But all the scenes showing the boat from a distance, and the scenes in which the boat pulls up to or leaves the wharf were shot on the MGM backlot, with the lake used in the MGM Tarzan movies doubling as the Mississippi River. The scene in which Cap'n Andy introduces the show boat actors to the crowd, the scene in which Howard Keel sings "Where's The Mate For Me?" and the one in which he and Kathryn Grayson sing "Make Believe" were shot on that lake, as was the scene in which Ava Gardner sings "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man". The final scene of the film was also shot there, and "You Are Love" was filmed (rather obviously; the sunrise is very phony-looking) on a Hollywood soundstage rather than on the actual deck of the boat. The riverboat was never actually on the Mississippi, only on the MGM backlot, and that is also where William Warfield sings "Ol' Man River". The wharf is considerably more "prettied up" than would have been the case in real life. The wharf in the 1936 "Show Boat" more closely resembles what a wharf of that era would have looked like.

    The only shot of a real boat on the Mississippi is the exterior shot of a packet boat late at night towards the end. That is supposedly the boat on which Ravenal meets Julie. However, the interiors of all the boats shown in the film are actually studio sets.

    None of the Chicago scenes were really filmed there.

    The 1951 "Show Boat" is the only film version of the musical in which any part of it was actually filmed in Mississippi, although the 1929 part-talkie "Show Boat" wasn't filmed there either.

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The FAQ items below may give away important plot points.

  • In some ways, very different. The basic plotline of the show is followed, but only in a general way. The biggest change in the storyline is that when Ravenal abandons Magnolia in the 1951 film, their daughter Kim has not been born yet. (In the stage version and the 1936 film Kim is already a little girl when Ravenal leaves, and a grown woman when he returns. In the 1951 film, Kim is a small child when Ravenal returns.) And unlike the stage or the 1936 film version, Ravenal actually does meet Julie in a crucial new scene near the end of the film.

    Another change is that the "miscegenation" scene, in which it is revealed that Julie (Ava Gardner) is part-black and therefore illegally married to her white husband (Robert Sterling), is given much less shock value than in the play or the 1936 film. This is mostly due to the fact that when Steve draws blood from Julie so that he and Julie can claim that Steve too is part-black , he pricks Julie's finger with what looks like a tiny sewing pin, rather than cutting the back of her hand with a threatening-looking pocket knife, and neither Julie nor any of the others watching react to this.

    The screenplay for this film version throws out nearly all of Oscar Hammerstein II's original dialogue, which had been kept in the 1936 film. Several new scenes and conversations not by Hammerstein have been added to this film, and the order of some of the songs has been shifted - for instance, "Ol' Man River" is first sung much later here than in the original show or the 1936 film, and "Life Upon the Wicked Stage", which was played but not sung or danced in the 1936 film, is here moved to the New Year's Eve sequence in Chicago rather than sung in Mississippi, as in the original show. It is also performed as a number on a stage, rather than "in character", as in the show. The "Cakewalk", from the Act I Finale, is danced by the black levee workers in both the stage version and the 1936 film version, while in this version it is danced first by Ellie and Frank (who are white), and later by Cap'n Andy and Kim (who are also white).

    The African-American chorus, which adds so much atmosphere in both the stage version and the 1936 film, does not sing or dance at all in this version, so that in this film those who would normally be members of that chorus are reduced to being simply extras. A "disembodied", offscreen chorus is heard singing instead. Edit (Coming Soon)

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