Almost forgotten and upstaged by the MGM 1954 technicolored version, the 1936 production of “Show Boat,” a movie based on the book by Edna Ferber and directed by James Whale, with a musical score by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, is perhaps the greatest of all transitions from stage to screen.
It may also boast one of the best musical scores of all time, with singing by Allan Jones, Irene Dunne, Paul Robeson and Helen Morgan (one of the great torch singers of her time).
Paul Robeson’s rendition of “Ol Man River” – often greeted with spontaneous applause from theater audiences of the time – remains the greatest of songster showstoppers. It was listed in the American Film Institute’s 2004 list of top 100 songs of all time.
Worth noting is that a major plotline of the movie deals with miscegenation and racism at a time when such laws were not only still enforced, but popular. Also somewhat controversial, and culturally jarring today, is a minstrel dance performed by Irene Dunne as young Magnolia Hawks.
As “Show Boat” spans 50 years starting in the 1880s, Dunne convincingly plays Magnolia as youth, ingenue and old woman.
Did I mention that “Show Boat” was honored by the National Film Registry in 1996? Flawlessly directed by Whale, who also directed “Frankenstein,” the dialogue is literate and the cast is ideal.
Charles Winninger as Capn’ Andy, and Helen Morgan, who delivers a memorable “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, I gotta love that man till I die” as another showstopper, came over from the original Broadway cast. And of course, Allan Jones, the perfect Gaylord Ravenal (charming but weak) has remarkable range.
You have but one opportunity to see this gem as it must be seen on the Woodmere Art Museum’s giant screen. Screening is at 7:30 pm, Tuesday, March 14. Seating is limited. Free cookies.