Show Boat (1951) starring Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner, Howard Keel, Joe E. Brown directed by George Sidney Movie Review

Show Boat (1951)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Kathryn Grayson in Show Boat (1951)

Musical Show Boating

With the sound of the organ wafting through the air everyone flocks to the river as the "Cotton Blossom" show boat, owned by the Hawk family, arrives in town to put on a show. But trouble soon arises when someone informs the police that Julie Laverne (Ava Gardner), part of the star attraction, is in fact mixed blood and as such is illegally married to a white man which forces them to leave the show. Captain Andy Hawks' (Joe E. Brown) daughter Magnolia (Kathryn Grayson) steps in with the help of Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel), a gambler who sweeps her off of her feet. Despite Magnolia's mum's objections Magnolia and Gaylord marry and head off on honeymoon before settling down to a new life. But soon the honeymoon is over as Magnolia discovers that Gaylord can't help himself when it comes to gambling and ends up leaving her penniless whilst unaware that she is pregnant as well.

Some things in life never change and it seems that 60 years ago people were moaning about remakes as much then as they are now, often using the same arguments, the newer one is more entertaining and lively, the older one had more depth. That brings me to "Show Boat" the 1951 version of the Edna Ferber novel turned play which had previously been made in to a movie in 1936 and also 1929. The thing is whilst there was a time when I would have moaned about a remake I now say if you liked the previous version then the remake is probably not for you but a new generation.

Ava Gardner in Show Boat (1951)

So as to "Show Boat" well in truth it isn't my favourite musical and find it a bit of a drag but it has its moments and when it gets it right it really gets it right to the point that everything around you stops as you become mesmerised by what is happening on screen. A prime example of which is when Julie, played by the stunning Ava Gardner, sings "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" or in fact Annette Warren dubs the song, anyway the combination of the lyrics, Warren's smooth tones and Gardner's beauty provides one of the movies many stop dead moments which last with you long after the movie has ended. And there are others because the musical scenes are a nice mixed bag with some lively, others just colourful and flamboyant whilst some are slow such as William Warfield's classic rendition of "Ol' Man River".

But the trouble is for me that whilst the musical side is great and the performances are first rate through out with Howard Keel offering his rich tones to proceedings whilst Joe E. Brown provides plenty of humour the actual storyline does little for me. In fact "Show Boat" is one of those musicals where the musical aspect is so strong and dominant that the storyline suffers as at times it seems to be there solely to link the musical scenes together rather than the other way around.

What this all boils down to is that "Show Boat" features some magnificent musical scenes which surpass what you will have seen in many musicals and from a visual perspective it is an impressive production. But for me the actual storyline suffers because the musical side of "Show Boat" is so impressive.