Show Boat (1936 film)

Show Boat (1936 film)

Infobox Film
name = Show Boat

image_size =
caption =
director = James Whale
producer = Carl Laemmle Jr.
writer = Edna Ferber (novel)
Oscar Hammerstein II
narrator =
starring = Irene Dunne
Allan Jones
Charles Winninger
Paul Robeson
Helen Morgan
Helen Westley
Hattie McDaniel
Queenie Smith
Sammy White
music = Jerome Kern
lyrics = Oscar Hammerstein II
cinematography = John J. Mescall
editing = Bernard W. Burton
Ted Kent
distributor = Universal Pictures
released = 1936
runtime = 113 minutes
country = United States
language = English
budget =
website =
amg_id = 1:44519
imdb_id = 0028249

"Show Boat" (1936) is a film based on the musical by Jerome Kern (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (script and lyrics) and the novel by Edna Ferber.

This film version from Universal Pictures, which had in 1929 filmed a part-talkie version of Ferber's original novel, is, for the most part, a faithful adaptation of the famed Broadway musical version of the book, and retains the interracial subplot so important to both the novel and the show.

In addition to the songs retained from the stage production, Kern and Hammerstein wrote three additional songs for the film. Two of them were performed in spots previously reserved for songs from the stage production.


Magnolia Hawks is an eighteen-year-old on her family's show boat, the "Cotton Palace" (renamed from the stage original's "Cotton Blossom)" which travels the Mississippi River putting on shows. She meets Gaylord Ravenal, a charming gambler, and eventually marries him. Together with their baby daughter, the couple leaves the boat and moves to Chicago, where they live off Gaylord's gambling winnings. After about ten years, he experiences an especially bad losing streak and leaves Magnolia, out of a sense of guilt that he is ruining her life because of his losses. Magnolia is forced to bring up her young daughter alone, but is reunited with the repentant Ravenal after twenty-three years. In a parallel plot, Julie LaVerne (the show boat's leading actress , who is part African-American, but "passing" as white) is forced to leave the boat because of her background, taking Steve Baker (her white husband, to whom, under the state's law, she is illegally married) with her. Julie is eventually also abandoned by her husband, and she consequently becomes an alcoholic, from which she presumably never recovers. Her husband, Steve, also presumably never returns to her. But Julie, who has Magnolia's best friend during their days on the show boat, secretly enables Magnolia to become a success on the stage in Chicago after Ravenal has abandoned her. In the film's most significant change from the show, the couple is reunited at the theatre in which Kim, their daughter, is starring in her first Broadway show, rather than back on the show boat, as in all other versions.

Production history

This film version of "Show Boat" stars Irene Dunne and Allan Jones, with Charles Winninger, Paul Robeson, Helen Morgan, Helen Westley, Queenie Smith, Sammy White, Donald Cook, Arthur Hohl, and Hattie McDaniel. It was directed by "Frankenstein / Bride of Frankenstein" director James Whale, who tried to bring as many people from the stage production as he could to work on the film. Winninger, Morgan and White had all appeared in both the original 1927 stage production and the 1932 stage revival. Robeson, for whom the role of Joe was actually written, had appeared in the show onstage in London in 1928 and in the Broadway revival of 1932. Dunne had been brought in to replace Terris in the touring version of the show, and had toured the U.S. in the role beginning in 1929.

The 1936 film also enlisted the services of the show's original orchestrator, Robert Russell Bennett, and its original conductor, Victor Baravalle. The screenplay for the film was written by Hammerstein.

The songs were performed in a manner very similar to the way they were done in the original stage version, not counting the three new songs written for the film, of course. Many of the show's original vocal arrangements (by an uncredited Will Vodery) were retained in the film. "Why Do I Love You?" had been filmed in a new setting - inside a running automobile - but was cut just before the film's release to tighten the running time. There is no word on whether or not this footage has survived.

According to film historian Miles Kreuger in his book "Show Boat: The History of a Classic American Musical", great care was taken by director James Whale to insure a feeling of complete authenticity in the set and costume design for the 1936 film.

The 1936 version of "Show Boat" is considered by nearly all film critics to be one of the classic film musicals of all time, and one of the best stage-to-film adaptations ever made. Ten numbers from the stage score are actually sung (with three others heard only as background music). Except for the final sequence and the three additional songs written especially for the film by Kern and Hammerstein, it follows the stage musical extremely closely, unlike the 1951 version released by MGM. It also retains much of the comedy in the show. Due to time constraints, Whale was forced to delete much of his ending sequence, including a "modern" dance number to contrast with the romantic, "Old South" production number we see Kim starring in, and which was intended to highlight African-American contributions to dance and music. In 1996, this version of the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Temporary withdrawal from circulation

This version of "Show Boat" was successful at the box office, but was withdrawn from circulation in the 1940's, after MGM bought the rights so that they could film a Technicolor remake; however, MGM's version did not begin filming until 1950, and was released in the summer of 1951. The controversy surrounding Paul Robeson's supposed Communist leanings further assured that the 1936 film would not be seen for a long time, and it was not widely seen again until after Robeson's death in 1976. In 1983 it made its debut on cable television, and a few years later, on PBS. It was subsequently shown on TNT and now turns up from time to time on TCM. It has yet to be released on an authorized DVD.

In 2006 the 1936 "Show Boat" ranked #24 on the American Film Institute's list of best musicals.

Today, Turner Entertainment owns the film as part of the pre-1986 MGM library, with fellow Time Warner division Warner Bros. handling distribution.


(first billed only)
*Irene Dunne as Magnolia Hawks
*Allan Jones as Gaylord Ravenal
*Charles Winninger as Cap'n Andy Hawks
*Paul Robeson as Joe
*Helen Morgan as Julie LaVerne
*Helen Westley as Parthenia "Parthy" Hawks
*Queenie Smith as Ellie May Chipley
*Sammy White as Frank Schultz
*Donald Cook as Steve Baker
*Hattie McDaniel as Queenie
*Francis X. Mahoney as Rubber Face Smith
*Marilyn Knowlden as Kim as a child
*Sunnie O'Dea as Kim (at 16)
*Arthur Hohl as Pete
*Charles B. Middleton as Sheriff Ike Vallon
*J. Farrell MacDonald as Windy McClain
*Charles C. Wilson as Jim Green
*Clarence Muse as Sam, Doorman at Trocadero

Musical additions

The three new songs written by Kern and Hammerstein for the 1936 film are:
*"I Have The Room Above Her" (a duet for Magnolia and Ravenal, sung in a new scene not included in the original play, but performed approximately in the spot in which the song "Life Upon the Wicked Stage" was sung in the show. "Life Upon..." is only heard instrumentally in the film.)
*"Gallivantin' Around" (a blackface number sung onstage by Magnolia, in place of the Olio Dance composed for the original play)
*"Ah Still Suits Me" (a duet for Joe and Queenie, written especially to expand both their roles, and sung in a new scene especially written for the film)

External links

* [ "Showboat"] Film page, Reel Classics - photos, sound clips

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