Show Boat started beguiling audiences back in 1927, when it was first brought to the Broadway stage after a Philadelphia tryout. Since then, in many legit versions and in two previous film treatments, it has continued that beguilement.
There has been no tampering with the basic line of the Edna Ferber novel, from which Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II did the original musical. There are a few changes in this latest film version, the first in color, and an introduction of the finale in a time span much shorter than the original.
‘Ol’ Man River’, ‘Make Believe’, ‘Why Do I Love You’, ‘You Are Love’, ‘My Bill’, and ‘Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man’ are Kern tunes that lose nothing in the passing of the years. With voices of such show-tune ableness as Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel to sing them they capture the ear and tear at the emotions.
Grayson is a most able Magnolia, the innocent show boat girl who runs off with the dashing gambler (Keel), finds her marriage wrecked by his love of lady chance, goes back to the show boat to have her child and then reconciles with the wandering mate after a few years.
Ava Gardner is the third star, bringing to her role of Julie, the mulatto who is kicked off the Cotton Blossom because of early southern prejudice, all the physical attributes it needs to attract attention. [Actress’ singing voice was dubbed by Annette Warren.]
There is an amazing amount of freshness instilled into the picture by Marge and Gower Champion, young dance team who handle the roles of Ellie May and Frank Schultz, show boat terpers. The other big song moment is William Warfield’s rich baritoning of ‘Ol’ Man River’.
1951: Nominations: Best Color Cinematography, Scoring of a Musical Picture