Show Boat (1951) Poster

(1951)

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A feast for the eyes and ears
Sweet Charity28 December 2002
I will admit (with a great amount of shame) that the first time I saw the 1951 version of "Show Boat" I was not that impressed. I was so used to Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel as Lilli Vanessi and Fred Grahame, thought Ava Gardner was too beautiful for words, and thought Marge & Gower Champion were the coolest people I had ever seen. That was about it. I was a little bored.

But as I have come to watch it recently, I have discovered it is more magnificent the second time around. As a North Carolina native, I must say this movie holds something very special for me -- and that is TWO North Carolina natives from "Grabtown" and Winston-Salem, our ladies Ava and Kathryn respectively.

First of all, the Technicolor is vibrant and lovely and represents the very fiber that those beautiful, glorious MGM musical treasures of the 1950's were made of.

Supporting characters Joe E. Brown and Agnes Moorehead were, as usual, delightfully wonderful. I don't think I've ever seen either of them do anything "bad." William Warfield's delivery of "Ol' Man River" (accompanied with Julie/Ava's last wistful look toward The Cotton Blossom, of course) never fails to put a tear in my eye.

Howard Keel's voice was in fine form, and he did a great job of portraying the slick gambler, Gaylord Ravenal. Kathryn's voice was, as always, up to par and beautiful, and while perhaps her representation of Magnolia wasn't as vibrant as her portrayal of Lilli in "Kiss Me Kate" or Aunt... whoever it was she played in "Anchors Away" (ooh, I can't remember the name... that's BAD... REAL BAD), she was still her lovely, charming self. I found that her progression from innocent child-like creature to a portrait of woman- and motherhood was captured and characterized very well.

But my favorite parts of the movie were simply Ava Gardner, and Marge and Gower Champion.

Ava is, as always, ridiculously and insanely gorgeous. In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of her than I did. It's a stretch for a white woman to play a bi-racial woman, but she did it with what seemed like such ease. She accompanies so much with a look (which is evident as she watches Gay and Nolie sail off together with Kim -- you all know what I'm talking about). And yes, Ava's singing pipes (in my opinion) were far better than Annette Warren's and MGM is stupid for having dubbed her (just like they were stupid for dubbing Debbie Reynolds in "Singin' in the Rain"). Her songs, "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man of Mine" and "Bill," were extremely effective, but could've been even more so had they used her real voice. Such expression in those eyes. And my gosh... her speech to Gay! I don't think people in Hollywood ever really looked beyond Ava as anything but a "sex goddess" -- but she really had a beautiful talent.

Now for Marge & Gower Champion: who couldn't love them? Gower is this sort of... fluid-like creature with a stature and grace like Fred Astaire, but instead of Astaire's "lanky movements" that defined his style, he somehow executes the more athletic, brisk movements that defined Gene Kelly's style. And Marge has to be just about the cutest little person I have ever seen (great facial expressions!) and one of the most talented dancers (up there with Gwen Verdon, Carol Haney, Ginger Rogers, Chita Rivera, and all those gifted people) I've ever seen grace a screen. They're sheerly magnetic, and they never miss. "I Could Fall Back on You" and "Life Upon the Wicked Stage" are two of the most outstanding moments in the movie. You'll love them.

All in all, "Show Boat" is most definitely worth a look. Or two. Or three. Or... well, as many as you feel like!
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7/10
Spared No Expense
bkoganbing27 July 2006
When MGM acquired the rights to Show Boat for the Arthur Freed unit, no expense was spared in making this one of the most expensive films the studio had ever produced. A whole riverboat was constructed as well as the Natchez landing was completely built on a location on a lake which served as turn of the last century Mississippi river locale.

No doubt also that Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson sang beautifully together. Those three Jerome Kern ballads, Make Believe, Why Do I Love You? and You Are Love were just written for their voices.

Ava Gardner is a beautiful and fetching Julia. Annette Warren's dubbing of Julie LaVerne's songs Can't Help Loving That Man and Bill perfectly matched Ava's speaking voice.

The problem I've always felt with this version is that Howard Keel is too strong a character to be playing Gaylord Ravenal who is essentially a weak personality. Allan Jones in the 1937 version perfectly captured Ravenal's frailty.

That 1937 version also had two people from the original Broadway production who made those parts all their own, Helen Morgan as Julie and Charles Winninger as Captain Andy. And it had the incomparable Paul Robeson though William Warfield is a fabulous Joe.

The singing of the Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II score is in the major leagues. The rest of the film however is in a minor key when compared with the earlier sound version with Allan Jones and Irene Dunne.
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8/10
Make Believe it's Perfect
nicholas.rhodes3 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I had only recently settled down to watching this one which has just been issued on DVD in France. In a frustrating sense, this film shows that perfection is unattainable ! It has perfect lighting, perfect costumes, perfect music, perfect acting but oh, the plot is just so dull and lacking in substance ! But because of the rest I give it a high-ish rating. It's true, though, the plot is really lacking in spice and substance but this is to a large extent compensated for by a mixture of fantastic sets and great musical performances. Indeed, I am very impressed by the particular attention given to lighting by the cameraman ! It seems they avoided filming at midday and always used early morning or early evening sunlight with long, sharp and distinct shadows with yellowish tones. This plus the splendid technicolor is a feast for the eyes. I would be curious to have known exactly where it was filmed. Was it really the Mississippi river ? I also enjoyed those scenes in the cotton plantations. Musically of course, the film is a masterpiece and though my favourite tune is "Make Believe", I was extremely impressed by the version of Ol Man River sung by the actor William Warfield who must have had one of the most brilliant voices I have ever heard ! I confess to never having heard of this gentleman prior to seeing the film and had imagined the singer to be Paul Robeson. So I checked out WW on the internet and it appears he was a very respected and educated gentleman. To cut a long story short, I was impressed by his mellow voice and by his towering physique. Ava Gardner was too very beautiful and I also enjoyed seeing dear old Agnes Moorhead whom I have always appreciated in films. So despite a weak plot which sometimes failed to keep my attention, this film is a genuine masterpiece on most other levels and deserves viewing at least once, if only for William Warfield's performance of Ol'Man River.
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9/10
The Dubbing of Ava Gardner's Voice
Jacqui-Armitage3 February 2006
Show Boat is one of my favourite musicals, and I admit to being a solid Howard Keel fan! However, the one thing that gets me, and why they haven't returned it to the original film track, is the dubbing of Ava Gardner's voice.

I have a copy of the soundtrack on good old vinyl and have Ava singing her own songs on it and I have to say, in my humble opinion, that she actually did a better job of it, than the person who dubbed her.

Maybe in 1951 Ava's rendition was a bit.... too hot for the censors, but today, never. Why can't we have Ava's voice back on the film??? What do the rest of you think?
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Why all the putdowns of this great musical??? In many ways an improvement over 1936 original...
Doylenf8 May 2001
I strongly disagree with some of the other viewers. 'Showboat' -- the 1951 version -- is not inferior to the earlier, darker Universal version with Irene Dunne and Allan Jones. The talent used for the lavish technicolor remake is in itself superior to the cast of the original--Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner, Joe E. Brown, Agnes Moorehead, Robert Sterling -- and most importantly, Marge and Gower Champion who can do no wrong with dance numbers. By comparison, the dances in the original version appear uninspired--and even the legendary Helen Morgan (not a conventional beauty by any standards) fails to evoke the same magic Ava Gardner does as Julie. True, Morgan did her own singing but Gardner's voice on the soundtrack could just as well have been used instead of Annette Warren's.

Other than that, the MGM film is just fine--everything is staged with much more zest and enthusiasm than is present in the awkward, lumbering James Whale version. And Marge and Gower Champion's version of "Life Upon the Wicked Stage" is a priceless example of this team's artful way with a show tune. Their contribution is a major asset of the newer version.

Likewise, Grayson and Keel blend their rich voices in song the way they were meant to be heard by Kern & Hammerstein. Irene Dunne had a modest soprano voice but she was not as accomplished a singer as Grayson nor did she deliver numbers with Kathryn's uncommon ease. Performance-wise, Grayson is a bit too subdued against Gardner's more colorful character and did not kick up her heels the way she would in 'Kiss Me Kate', one of her best roles.

As for Allan Jones in the earlier version, he was a personable enough singer/actor but he was nowhere close to Keel's adroit handling of both songs and dialogue. Keel went on to become a staple of some of MGM's finest musicals and a fine reputation as a strong singer.

The pacing of the older film was slow, leisurely and downright boring at times. The remake is much easier on the eyes and ears. There's a hint of snobbism in the putdowns this film gets from some of the more discriminating viewers who cannot forgive whatever changes were made to make the plot line and time frame smoother. A deliberate change in story structure does not make a film inferior to the original.

A high point of the film is, of course, William Warfield's full-bodied version of "Old Man River" -- just another of the film's memorable musical moments. An MGM musical in the grand tradition--not to be missed.
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9/10
Take it for what it is..
popnoff200111 July 2004
Please people! Try not to over-analyze, like so many others have done in the other comments about this fabulous Techno-color classic from the early 1950's Hollywood. It isn't supposed to be a carbon-copy remake of the older 1936 version nor is it supposed to be making any sort of PC statements about race! Times changed and so did the attitudes and views of most americans, especially after WWII. Take it for what it is! A great musical wrapped around a love story. Beautiful lead actress, strong male lead and awesome broadway style tunes sung by great voices, especially William Warfield's "Old man River"!
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7/10
A Tough Musical To Film
dgz783 February 2006
I've been a Showboat fan for a long time. I've seen it live on stage 5 times as well as the 1936 version and the PBS version. After watching the MGM version again on TCM, I decided that it is almost impossible to make a satisfying version of a Showboat movie.

Its strange to say, but I think "opening up" the stage version took away some of the intimacy a live version has. Showboat's greatness does not come from the standard boy meets girl - boy loses girl - boy gets girl storyline. It comes from the music and on stage a number can start with one guy on the docks lamenting the suffering endured along the Mississippi and end with a chorus of voices singing about Ol Man River. The numbers themselves "open up" to fill the stage. But no movie can do that to the same effect.

But my biggest problem with this version is the abbreviation of the story and the musical numbers. The songs Kern and Hammerstein wrote deserve to be fleshed out in all their operatic grandeur. The first act contains what I consider the best back to back to back musical numbers in Broadway history with Make Believe - Ol' Man River - Can't Help Lovin Dat Man and the movie rearranges them out of order and only River is fleshed out. Can't Help should be an 8 minute number with the chorus joining in at the end instead of the barely noticed number in the movie.

Because the music is among the best ever written, it is really hard to make a bad version of Showboat. I'll watch this movie whenever it is on TV but if you really love Showboat, get the EMI 3 CD recording with Frederica Von Stade and Jerry Hadley. And go see it live when you have the chance.
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10/10
A Great Show
jjnxn-114 May 2012
Beautifully wrought version of the Edna Ferber novel may not hew as closely as the earlier Irene Dunne take on the story but is a sublime pleasure nonetheless.

The music by Kern and Hammerstein is some of the best either ever composed sung by extremely talented performers Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel. Both do excellent work both musically and dramatically even if early in the film its a bit of a stretch for Kathryn to be believable as the teenage Magnolia.

Taking full advantage of being shot in Technicolor the film is a feast for the eyes brimming with vibrant purples, reds and greens as well as being loaded with talent. And what talent, Marge & Gower Champion contribute several fine numbers full of bounce and zest, Joe E. Brown is a memorable Cap'n Andy funny and touching in turn, Agnes Moorehead delightful as the vinegary Parthy and William Warfield provides a soaring and haunting Ol' Man River.

The real standout however is Ava Gardner as the tragic, wounded Julie. Originally intended for Judy Garland until her meltdown and firing and while she would have made a memorable Julie full of jittery vulnerability Ava nails the part with a haunted sadness. A shame they felt the need to dub her vocals since they do appear on the cast album and are both very good and have the right feeling for the songs. Her final scene is a star making moment as surely intended by Metro.

Across the board this is a five star winner of a movie musical, one of the best the dream factory ever turned out.
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Great Plot, Director and Cast makes for a wonderful musical.
Stormy_Autumn14 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I'm tired of livin' but scared of dyin'...

Have you had the opportunity to enjoy "Showboat" (1951)? Yesterday was the 1st time I'd been able to see it all the way through...no interruptions. I had my 2+ and 5 year old granddaughters visiting me. They were so enthralled with the music, dancing and costumes they sat and quietly watched it...except when the dancing was on. At that point they joined in with great enthusiasm.

A gambler/actor, Gaylord Ravenal(Howard Keel), joins riverboat Cap'n Hawks (Joe E. Brown), his wife Parthy (Agnes Moorehead) and daughter Magnolia (Kathryn Grayson) aka: Nollie. He acts his way onto the boat, up the Mississippi River and into Magnolia's heart. The last is very much against her mother's wishes.

Gay and Nollie leave her parents to live on their own. Everything seems to go well until Gay and Lady Luck part company. As things fall apart so does their marriage. Gay runs out and Nollie is left to fend for herself. Hards time and other complications make her realize she needs her parents.

Tiny spoiler: Ava Gardner and Robert Sterling are "Julie LaVerne" and "Steve Baker" an interracial couple who are threatened with arrest because of their relationship. Their story makes up a sad portion of the plot.

What will happen to Julie? What about Nollie? They're both in difficult circumstances. Well, that's all you're getting out of me. If you haven't seen it, please do. It is so worth your time.
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7/10
Forget the story, enjoy the singing...
neilmac26 January 2007
Don't worry about comparisons with the original, supposedly weak story line, etc, etc - just suspend belief and enjoy it as a musical.

The key vocalists are absolutely first rate: Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson and William Warfield were at the tops of their games here. The superb, effortless vocals from Keel and Grayson are lessons on how to sing - you'll never hear 'Make Believe' sung better than this.

William Warfield's version of 'Old Man River' is just magic. People usually talk about Paul Robson in the same breath as 'Old Man River' but none of Robson's renditions can match this performance. Warfield is a true bass (Robson was a bass-baritone) and delivers this song with magnificent power and resonance. Warfield is The Man.

Sit back and enjoy the music...
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gorgeous
didi-525 October 2000
The plot may be changed a little, but it is still wonderful stuff, with a cast to die for. A great weepy love story, some fantastic dance sequences from the Champions, a sweet couple of leading ladies in Grayson and Gardner, and a high dose of comedy along the way. All this and Ol' Man River. The perfect Sunday afternoon wallow.
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6/10
Riverboat Shuffle
writers_reign1 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
By now Showboat is probably criticism-proof. A landmark stage musical tackling things like miscegenation as early as 1927, revived regularly and filmed twice, what can I tell you. For me it was Ava Gardner's movie all the way despite being saddled with Annette Warren to dub her vocals. I found it totally preposterous and verging on the operatic that the leading pair of lovers Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson should express their feeling via tender ballads - Make Believe, Why Do I Love You, You Are Love - which they emote at full throttle completely negating the sentiment. Gardner on the other hand handles her two numbers, Can't Help Lovin' That Man Of Mine and Bill with respect for both words and music AND sentiment, in other words expressively rather than as a 'challenge' song (any note YOU can sing I can sing loudr) and it may be no coincidence that as Frank Butler in Annie Get Your Gun, Howard Keel had already performed a challenge duet with Betty Hutton. If Ava Gardner can't, alas, take credit for her vocals - although her own singing voice was superior to that of Warren - she can claim the acting honours and is by far the best actor in the film and immensely moving. If there is a reason to watch this version it is surely Ms Gardner.
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9/10
Ava Gardner was fantastic!
wader3916 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I really liked this version of Show Boat. Some people negatively compare Ava Gardner with Helen Morgan, who played Julie in the 1936 film version as well as on Broadway, but I think Miss Gardner was fantastic. Her scene in the dressing room when she realizes Magnolia is on stage singing "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" was truly heartbreaking, especially when she starts drinking. Her "Bill" was also really quite moving (although dubbed by Annette Warren,) especially when she acknowledges that her ring finger no longer has a wedding ring on it. The 1936 version of the film is a real gem and should not be missed for Show Boat fans, but this version should not be dismissed either!
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8/10
Where are they now?
valadas18 February 2007
Ava Gardner, Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Marge & Gower Champion all under the sure and competent direction of George Sidney where are they? In which sky are those stars shining now? Maybe only in our memories. This was the golden era of musicals where other giants such as Stanley Donen and Vincente Minnelli as directors and Fred Asteire, Ginger Rogers (a little before), Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse as performers distinguished themselves. This movie is a landmark in the history of musical movies by the beauty of its lyrics and music and dance numbers. And the sceneries of course. Just only to watch (and listen to the song) the sequence where that old tune "Old Man River" is sung is this movie worth to be seen. Usually in these musicals the story is the weakest part of the movie but here it has even enough dramatic depth to interest the viewer. A very good movie in conclusion.
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OMG...what do you guys want?
movibuf19626 May 2005
The coded language being used to criticize this film is ridiculous. Too 'PC' for showing less of the shiftless Negro comic relief...too 'PC' for showing William Warfield sing "Ol' Man River" with operatic sophistication (he was an opera singer, for pity's sake!!)...an accusation that Lena Horne claimed to be promised this film? Where did THAT one come from? According to Ms. Horne's documentary IN HER OWN WORDS (which periodically airs on PBS), she never said she was promised the film, she said she was offered a shot at the stage revival (this, apparently, came from Jerome Kern himself before he passed away) back in 1945-1946. That never materialized and she did 'TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY, probably always keeping the idea of doing the film in the back of her head. MGM, so the story goes, apparently had many speculative cast packages for this film once upon a time: Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald were considered in the 30's as Gaylord and Magnolia, then in the 40's, Tony Martin and Kathryn Grayson-- with either Dinah Shore or Judy Garland as Julie (in retrospect, this wouldn't have been that far-fetched; Shore was a dark-haired, decidedly exotic looking, band singer at the time, and Garland had recorded several Kern songs as singles, including "Bill"), but Garland was already fired from the studio by the time they started filming. The final decision to use the gorgeous Ava Gardner was just fine, thank you; I just wished Gardner was allowed to keep her own singing voice in the final film. And as far as justifying not using Horne (as someone else noted) because she is 'obviously a woman of color:' if the studio felt that way, they wouldn't have created a special 'Light Egyptian' face powder for her to make her darker on film (claiming that without this makeup she photographed white.) The film is wonderful in its rich Technicolor cinematography, costumes, and lush music. Yes, the book has been shortened to make the film less than two hours; otherwise, it would be nearly four hours, just as it is on stage. And when it is remade again as a film (as I imagine it will be someday), will you then complain that it is "too long?"
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7/10
Financially successful, but unsatisfying if you are familiar with the original show
critic-214 January 1999
This Technicolor remake of the famous Kern-Hammerstein musical has been very successful financially over the years due to the fact that its re-releases, frequent TV showings, digital re-mastering,and soundtrack album kept the excellent Universal 1936 film from being seen for a long time. It has its good points, among the best being the beauty of Ava Gardner (who gives one of her best portrayals,although she makes Julie more obviously sexy than either Edna Ferber or Oscar Hammerstein II intended), the sumptuous color photography, the thrilling voice of William Warfield singing "Ol' Man River", the likewise excellent voice of Howard Keel, and the dancing of Marge and Gower Champion. Then we get to the negative points, beginning with mostly indifferent or awful acting, slow pacing, especially in the first thirty minutes, and an atrociously rewritten script, which keeps the basic plot line,but throws out most of Hammerstein's dialogue to make way for some memorably corny lines ("There's still not enough room on this boat for the two of us!"). By doing this, the film makers ruin one of "Show Boat" 's greatest virtues--a libretto good enough to enable the show to stand the test of time. Many other 1920's shows have not, principally because of the quality of the scripts, although their songs remain famous and popular. Both "Show Boat"'s score and libretto are highly regarded today.

In addition,the script for this 1951 film version either waters down or eliminates several hard-hitting elements in the plot which were rendered extremely faithfully in the '36 version, though it would spoil the story, as well as that 1936 film, if I gave away what those moments are. It also manages to reduce an important supporting role, that of Queenie,the black cook, to just two lines and no singing, as well as to eliminate the black chorus, an important element of all the show's stage productions as well as of the 1936 film version. The all-purpose M-G-M chorus substitutes for the black chorus, and they do so offscreen.

Scenically,everything is just too artificial and prettied up-you can tell MGM was deliberately ignoring any historical authenticity,especially in the too elaborate and inaccurate redesigning of the show boat itself as a luxurious self-propelled paddlewheeler.
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A stunning musical with serious overtones
treeline120 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
It is the 1880s, and Captain Andy's paddle wheel boat, the Cotton Blossom, travels the Mississippi putting on shows. When the headliners, Julie (Ava Gardner) and Steve are forced to leave, the Captain's young daughter (Kathryn Grayson) and a handsome gambler (Howard Keel) take over the spotlight. When they, too, leave the show, they live on his winnings, but then his luck runs out.

This wonderful Jerome Kern show has a dream cast and classic, unforgettable songs. The plot is more serious than most musicals, consisting of two tragedies; the first deals with racial discrimination and the second with love gone wrong. Grayson has a lovely operatic voice and is exquisite as the innocent girl who becomes sadder and wiser. Keel is dashing as her husband and Ava Gardner steals the show with her heartbreaking performance as the unfortunate Julie.

The songs include "Make-Believe, "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," and the wonderful "Ol' Man River." The movie is filmed in dazzling Technicolor with lively dance numbers. Even though it's a tear-jerker, it's one of the best musicals MGM ever made.
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My kingdom for a shadow
jayson-418 October 2001
This film is often disparaged as the "least" version of Show Boat, and I can't say that I disagree. It abbreviates the story, discards a sinfully large chunk of the score, and virtually eliminates the key characters of Joe and Queenie. And it pushes the limits of MGM Technicolor to the breaking point; the sets and the actors seem to have been doused with radium.

The blinding color notwithstanding, the production is actually rather cheapjack and can't hold a candle to James Whale's 1936 version. Just compare the pivotal "After the Ball" sequence in the two films: The MGM rendering is naive and listless, while Whales' b&w sequence is so beautifully art-directed, populated, costumed and photographed that it actually comes off as the more colorful of the two. And while Irene Dunne as Magnolia is sometimes a little hard to take (especially when she "shuffles"), she seems far more authentic than Kathryn Grayson.

The MGM version has one virtue, however, that's unmatched in any other: Ava Gardner as Julie. Although her singing was dubbed in the release print (even if the original tracks reveal her superior singing voice), the Ava Gardner of 1951, photographed in ridiculous old Technicolor, was quite possibly the most beautiful creature ever to appear before a camera. In a couple of closeups (especially her last), she is literally breathtaking, and those shots alone make the film worth viewing.

By the way, the great Lena Horne has often said that she was promised the role of Julie (having acquited herself so admirably in the Show Boat sequence of "Til the Clouds Roll By") and then was betrayed by the bigwigs at MGM. But this has never made any sense to me. Julie is supposed to be a woman of multi-racial parentage who passes for white. Lena Horne was (and is) beautiful, elegant, uniquely talented, and unmistakably a woman of color. How, exactly, was that supposed to work?
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7/10
Some flaws but overall an enjoyable musical
utgard147 May 2016
While it's far from one of my favorite musicals, I did enjoy this version of Show Boat quite a bit. The songs are nice, particularly "Ol' Man River" and "Can't Help Loving Dat Man." The sets, costumes, and Technicolor are all beautiful. Speaking of beautiful, the great Ava Gardner really steals the show here. Despite only playing a supporting part, she's riveting to watch and left a lasting impression on me. That's more than I can say for leads Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel, who are both a little on the dull side. Joe E. Brown is fun to watch in a supporting part. Agnes Moorehead is wasted, however, as Brown's old crow of a wife. She basically just shows up a few times to be a shrew. There are quite a few themes in this that were risqué for their time but won't have as much impact today. Oddly enough, the 1936 film version of Show Boat was more gritty than this one. Both versions are good, though, and you should see them both if you like classic musicals.
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Excellent music and photography, but lead characterizations lack substance
rmears127 June 2001
This third film version of the beloved musical features superb music and an effective recreation of time and place, but unfortunately falls short in the story and characterization departments. The lead characters are presented in very broad strokes, with any real depth glossed over. This leaves only surface personalities to mask their essential hollowness.

The main plot line involves the captain's daughter, Magnolia (Kathryn Grayson), who falls in love with a debonair cardsharp (Howard Keel). His gambling fever quickly puts their marriage to the test, and she is helpless to prevent him from throwing away their fortune when luck ceases to shine on him at the card table. Realizing he is no good for her, he hops a train out of town, unaware that she is carrying his child…

The chief problem with all this, in the way it's presented, is that it is simply not very interesting or compelling. Much more so is the subplot involving the tragic Julie (Ava Gardner), forced to leave the showboat when it is discovered that she is half black. Drifting aimlessly from one bar to another, she nonetheless keeps constant tabs on Magnolia from afar. She is determined that Magnolia's life be worthwhile even as her own lies in shambles. One cannot help thinking that the film would have been much better had it shifted its focus to Julie, because she's the only fleshed-out person in the story.

To give the film its due, the Technicolor photography is striking and adds a great deal to the movie. `Ol' Man River,' the show's signature song, is performed with feeling by William Warfield (although it can't match Paul Robeson's version from the previous film). Julie's renditions of `Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man' and `Bill' are marred by the fact that Gardner's dubbing is painfully obvious. Among the other songs, `Make Believe' and `Life Upon the Wicked Stage' come off best.

Despite her abilities as a singer, Grayson does not possess the actorly charisma necessary to carry the film. Her performance is bland and lacking in dimension. Keel tries hard to make more out of his role, but fails to raise it above the clichéd suave gambler persona. Joe E. Brown makes a whimsical and sympathetic Captain Andy. However, the heart of the movie is Gardner's performance as Julie. She is stunningly beautiful and heartbreakingly poignant - her final close-up almost makes the whole thing worthwhile. Not a bad film; in fact there's quite a bit to like, but there are just too many missed opportunities to merit a recommendation.
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4/10
Can't hold a candle to the 1936 version
richard-178730 January 2019
This movie has great color photography. And that's about all it has, frankly, compared to the 1936 bw version with Irene Dunne and Allen Jones.

Irene Dunne could act circles around Kathryn Grayson. (So could your grandmother, I suspect.) She also had a much better singing voice. Grayson is like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard.

Howard Keel was very handsome and a decent actor. But he was very masculine, which made him a poor choice for the weak Gaylord Ravenal. Allen Jones was very good at playing weak.

William Warfield sings "Old Man River" beautifully. But who can hold a candle to Paul Robeson?

As others have remarked, this version of *Showboat* is prettified. It takes out all the social commentary that was very much a part of the original show. I honestly don't see any reason to recommend this movie. If you want to listen to the music, which is great, go on YouTube and find a recording. But why sit through this maudlin excuse of a movie?
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6/10
Unispired, but Gardner, Keel and Warfield manage to salvage it
e_tucker31 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
It's not possible to watch this film without comparing to the 1936 version. Both films have their strengths and weaknesses and if it were possible to combine the best elements of both, I think you would end up with a definitive version. What's mainly lacking in the '51 version is Whale's attention to narrative and his inspired staging, which told stories within stories. I am missing the lover's nighttime tryst on top of the riverboat with the mist swirling around them, the wonderful montage of suffering and toil during Robson's "Old Man River", the charwoman's faces as Dunne auditions in the Trocadero and most of all the incredibly staged New Year's Eve scene which was pure movie magic. By contrast, Sidney's staging is claustrophobic and mundane, which serves well enough for the Champion's excellent dance numbers - but all that is really required here is to hold the camera steady - and well enough for Gardner's scenes because here's an actress who knows how to emote with her whole body and and is able to completely inhabit even this cramped and uninteresting framing. Grayson, doesn't fare as well, she seems lost and lacking in affect compared to poignancy of Dunne's luminous performance. To be fair, Sidney seems to have no clue how to present her character, which is most glaringly obvious when he trots her out in a hideous bottle green dress for her over lit Trocadero number. In Whale's version this scene is probably the emotional high point of the film. Dunne is framed in long shot, a tiny ethereal presence isolated on a cavernous black stage, transforming her into a fragile, otherworldly creature who just blew in from another realm. Very disappointing.

Which brings me to the next problem - costuming. Just because it's Technicolor and you can showcase every noxious color in the spectrum and bring every light to bear on it doesn't mean you should. Less would have been better here, even if Gardner is gorgeous enough to carry off the most blinding hues of magenta and gold - she shouldn't have to. I often felt sorry for Grayson, perpetually squeezed into gowns that made her head look several times too large for her body.

Much or the casting is also misjudged, though this holds true for both films. While the captain is written to provide some comic relief to what is probably the most melancholy of classic musicals, Brown turns the part into too much of a bad joke. Keel on the other hand is fine, though a bit too strong for the part of the weak and feckless riverboat gambler. But too much presence is preferable to the utter absence of it brought by Allan Jones. In spite of this miscalculation, Keel still manages to convey some of the wistful sadness of the story, a responsibility that he is left to shoulder alongside Warfield and Gardner in the face of Sidney's bland and bloodless imagery. Moorehead also was fine, what little I saw of her, as her part was almost completely written out. I could have done with more of her and a lot less of the unlovable Helen Westley of the '36 version. Warfield's amazing voice and emotive power was an entirely acceptable alternative to Robson for me, but again, Gardner's departing carriage,though not unaffecting is still an inadequate substitute for the original montage. Last, but by no means, least, I am going to go out on a limb here and say that as much as I admire Helen Morgan as Julie LaVerne, I prefer Gardner, dubbing and all. She basically carries the movie and I found myself waiting through scenes to see her back on screen. Although she didn't have to, I doubt that Morgan could have brought that off. Many speak of that last shot, but for me Gardner delivers her best during her final scene with Keel on the riverboat - she brings all the physicality the part requires effortlessly - proving that she really knows how to work a red dress.

To sum up, Whale's version is elevated by a compelling expressionistic vision but somewhat hampered by a few casting mistakes. Conversely, Sidney's film is sunk by a banal conceptualization and only partially rescued by some lucky casting and extraordinary talent. Both films are worth watching for different reasons and beyond the obvious comparisons, probably both should be watched, as they seem to inform one another.
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6/10
Disappointing Musical With a Corny Conclusion
claudio_carvalho1 January 2007
In the end of the Nineteenth Century, the show boat "Cotton Blossom" owned by Captain Andy Hawks (Joe E. Brown) flies along the rivers in the South of North America with the lead stars Julie LaVerne (Ava Gardner) and her husband Stephen Baker (Robert Sterling) and musical entertainment. When Julie and Stephen are accused of miscegenation, they have to leave the boat, and Captain Hawk's daughter Magnolia (Kathryn Grayson) and the gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel) take their places. They fall in love for each other, get married and move to Chicago, living in a fancy and expensive hotel. However, the jinx of Gaylord consumes all their money, and later Gaylord completely broken leaves Magnolia without knowing that she is pregnant. She struggles to survive, returns to her father's business in the boat and raises her daughter with her parents. Years later, Julie accidentally meets Gaylord and tells him about his daughter.

"Show Boat" is a disappointing musical with a corny conclusion. The predictable story is supported by dated musical numbers, but the worst is resolution of the drama of Magnolia, with the return of Gaylord and her immediately acceptance. The despicable racism that is the lead of the story, the relationship of a woman with mixed blood with a white man, was probably usual in the end of the Nineteenth Century, therefore it is acceptable in the story, but Ava Gardner never convinces as a half-blood woman. My vote is six.

Title (Brazil): "O Barco das Ilusões" ("The Boat of the Illusions")

Note: On 15 February 2014, I saw this movie again.
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8/10
Best Musical of all time
willrams26 April 2004
Another of the great musicals I have seen so many times, and wish to comment on it and compare with the original made in 1936 with Irene Dunne and Alan Jones. Although the original is in black and white, the 1951 version is so colorful and story and acting so good and more developed and three-dimensional, that I had a few tears myself. Dancing by Marge and Gower Champion were truly champions. Joe E. Brown as Capt. Hawks plays a much funnier role than Charley Winninger did in 1936. He has such a rubbery face, and I can still hear him saying "Happy New Year". There are eight wonderful songs by Kern and Hammerstein and the best were "Make Believe" and "You Are Love" and "Old Man River" but there were other old goodies, too, like "After The Ball". 8/10
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Wrong Colors
tedg13 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Wow, there is so much in this to get upset about.

You know, that it has one memorable song, presented so profoundly well that by itself it could have been the first successful music video. But it stands apart from everything else in this lurid mistake.

Even if it had been a good film, viewers would tinge from the handling of race. Its so alien now that its even puzzling as to what the story actually is — so far from that world we've come.

Here's the setup: we have four worlds. One is the world of the performer. Its a rich, rewarding happy world, one that you can always retreat to. Its a work of "make-believe" which is truer than true. Because all of the performer's songs are tepid, this is anchored by the dancing Champions. They are terrific, sexy, full.

A second is the world of gambling. All people are gamblers to some extent in this movie, but there is a specific, closed gambling space and populace. These people are performers of sorts.

The third world is the world of the viewers. They are arrayed up and down Huck Finn's river, and are eager, passive and barely human. We are folded into this class: tepid, lifeless humans.

The fourth world is truly unsettling. Its the world of the blacks. They span the other worlds: they are smiling, happy audience, pleased to be in the fields picking cotton and to be distracted by the fun of the boat. They are natural performers, just look at one for a moment and they amuse. In fact, there is a story element strangely shoehorned in that depends on the top, sexy, unstable actress being "secretly" black -- supposedly explaining her passions and talents. This actress falls into sexual slavery in the gambling world.

The core of the story follows a young girl as she drifts among these worlds. Its famously bad, except for the "Old Man River" segment. Its truly fine in so many ways. But seeing it in such a context ruins it.

I've seen this several times. I believe that the original Technicolor print revealed painfully bad colors in the production design: costumes, hair, environment, everything. Now there does not seem to be a good print in existence, so the colors are even worse. Its horrible.

Ted's Evaluation -- 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.
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