The show that first defined the Broadway musical has never come to the screen intact, despite three tries. But take this splashy 1951 MGM extravaganza on its own terms, and it boggles the eyes. Not to mention the ears: ... more »The Kern-Hammerstein score includes some staples of the American songbook, such as "Make Believe," "After the Ball," and "Can't Help Lovin' That Man." Perhaps a riverboat gambler is almost too-easy casting for Howard Keel, and Kathryn Grayson is overly twittery, which may be why the film's middle sags when they take center stage. But any time the uncannily beautiful Ava Gardner smolders, a lush tragic undertone takes over (even if the most interesting parts of her story seem to take place offscreen). The physical production is extraordinary: the busy riverside setting, the outrageous color design, and best of all an "Old Man River" (sung by William Warfield) staged in the mists of morning. -- Robert Horton« less
"This version of Show Boat was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1951. It is one of the finest movie musicals ever made and was the second biggest money maker of all films released in 1951. This movie represented MGM at their best. However, there are a number of people who prefer the earlier 1936 Universal version of Show Boat to this one. To see why, there are two different ways to take this movie into consideration...First, as a screen adaptation of the Broadway play. If a person takes the movie in that way, then he/she will find that this version is dreadfully unfaithful to the B'way original (that is the common complaint about this movie). The 1936 Universal version is generally accepted as the most faithful version (which, really, it is, out of all 3 versions; 1929, 1936, 1951). I cannot go into too many particulars on that version, as I have never seen it. But from what I've read, it generally follows the play scene by scene, with only the ending altered. A few songs were added for that version and one song, "Why Do I Love You?," dropped for running time. Someone please correct me on that if I'm wrong. This 1951 version cuts down the role of Joe and all but eliminates the Queenie character (who actually had a fairly substantial role on stage).
[Please note: the 1929 version is actually a part silent/part talkie screen adaptation of the original novel. After the Kern/Hammerstein play opened, a few songs were added.]Second, as a movie-musical in its own right...
If one does not take this movie as a screen version of the Broadway musical, it is a lot easier to see where this movie soars. What a movie! Excellent cast, fantastic sets, gorgeous sound, and lush technicolor make this version a feast for both eye and ear. Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel are both fabulous as Magnolia and Ravenal. Whenever I read about Show Boat, Grayson and Keel are the first people that come to mind. Grayson's singing may sound a little harsh on the ears at times, she's still the best Magnolia. I also prefer Keel's singing to that which I've heard on any of the revival/studio cast albums. And Ol' Man River has never been sung better. William Warfield's breathtaking rendition of the classic song always sends chills up my back, especially during the closing sequences. He became sononymous with the role of Joe as did Paul Robeson and Jules Bledsoe before him. Fabulous. Done in the true MGM fashion, this is not one to be missed. The best!Note: another reviewer is in error. He states that MGM's Show Boat was shot and released in 4 track stereo, which it was not. The immortal Kern and Hammerstein score was recorded by placing "stem" mics around the recording stage to capture the different orchestral angles, with the vocals recorded on separate tracks, which were combined into a monaural mix down track for use in the film. The film was thus released in monaural. This practice had been in use at MGM since the thirties. By today's standards, to have recorded tracks in this way is considered to have been recording them in monaural, since they were mixed to mono, even though many of these "stem" tracks (where they exist) from the great MGM musicals are being remixed for stereo. True stereo recording in the movies was still a few years away. MGM's first film recorded and released in stereo was "Kiss Me Kate," also starring Keel and Grayson, in 1953."
Eric Paddon | Morristown, NJ | 06/11/2000
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Okay, the movie does have that grand sense of MGM style that only that studio could bring to a musical. And Ava Gardner is wonderful as Julie. Having said that, this version pales before its magnificent 1936 predecessor because MGM decided to totally rip out the guts and substance of the original musical that has made it an enduring classic since 1927. All we're left with are the feel-good elements and that in the end makes this version of "Show Boat" something it should not be. What happened to Queenie, such a prominent character in the original? The wonderful angry middle section of "Ole Man River?" How can MGM be so stupid as to take out Capn'Andy's best part from the show, where he has to act out the melodrama singlehandedly (something that Joe E. Brown would have been born to do)? Why is Magnolia made less of an independent woman by having her go home instead of becoming a success? While the 1936 version was sadly truncated in some sections it at least managed to retain the essence of what makes "Show Boat" a musical classic. MGM's version only gives us a sugarcoated edition that has it's moments, but ultimately fails."
SHOW BOAT A TECHNICOLOR DREAMBOAT!
hcampo | Culver City, Ca. | 04/09/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The 1951 film version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's groundbreaking operetta, Show Boat, is one of the most beloved movie musicals of all time. The highest grossing picture of 1951, it has attracted several generations of appreciative audiences through countless theatrical re-releases and on home video. This DVD release showcases Show Boat's justly famous Technicolor cinematography better than any other previous video format. The opening sequence alone could well serve as a demo for the visual capabilities of the DVD medium. No motion picture, before or since, has the rich, incredibly saturated palette of colors displayed in Show Boat. Although this DVD version was made from the most recent Technicolor restoration of this film, there are still a few scenes (especially large blue speckles in the Ol' Man River sequence) which could benefit from digital cleaning and enhancement. Considering that Show Boat is approaching its fiftieth anniversary this year, these minor flaws do not seriously detract from the overall excellence of the image. Alas, the same can't be said for the sound. Although MGM recently did a surround stereo mix from the original multi track recordings of Show Boat, this DVD uses an older monaural mix, which while clean and dynamic, is no match for the superb picture. The current laserdisc version uses the surround stereo mix and it sounds truly awesome. The laserdisc also has running commentary by the film's director, George Sidney, which should have been included on this DVD. Warner Bros., the current owners of this film, should reissue Show Boat on DVD with a 5:1 mix derived from the surround stereo. Then the sound would equal Show Boat's spectacular picture quality. Also, Ava Gardner's own lovely vocals should be re-inserted into the picture in place of Annette Warren's dubbing. Today's audiences would find Gardner more convincing in the songs as her fine singing voice more closely matches her superb acting performance as the tragic Julie and an older audience grew up on Gardner's vocals, which were included on the best-selling Show Boat soundtrack album.Although this version of Show Boat has its detractors, especially among purists who prefer the stage and earlier black and white screen version, MGM's production is still an impressive achievement with several key sequences that are visually the most stunning examples of color art direction and cinematography ever committed to film. The score is performed beautifully by Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Marge and Gower Champion and especially William Warfield, whose definitive, magnificent, moving performance of the classic Ol' Man River, has become the standard by which all past, present and future renditions of this song will be judged. In fact, everyone associated with this matchless film should feel justifiably honored. And this DVD is the best way to experience Show Boat, short of a theatrical re-release."
I LOVE THIS MOVIE, AND SO WILL YOU
Brandon Langeland | Fort Wayne, IN USA | 10/12/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"So what if this isn't very faithful scriptwise. The story they did have, plus the music, plus the singing, kept me glued to my seat, unable to take my eyes off it. Not since West Side Story has a movie musical had this effect on me. I suppose that if you grew up seeing the stage play, you might be taken aback by the cuts, but how many of you would really be willing to sit and watch a movie for the four hours that the original play takes? You can't even sit through Gone With the Wind without taking a little "intermission." The singing is incredible. I love to hear Kathryn Grayson hit those oh-so-high notes, and I love to hear Howard Keel, well, anytime. After hearing the soundtrack I was kind of mad that they didn't let Ava Gardner do her own singing, but her wonderful performance makes you forget about it. One reason I am glad they changed the story for the movie is when we see Julie at the very end. It's the kind of bittersweet finishing touch that gets ya choked up no matter how many times you see it. So buy this movie, gosh darnit, and be prepared to sit back and enjoy a cinematic masterpiece."
A vanished genre, a vanished time
Chrijeff | Scranton, PA | 05/30/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Just about any movie featuring Howard Keel is likely to be among the very best of the late MGM musicals, and this version of the oft-adapted Broadway classic shows you why. He plays Gaylord Ravenal, "of the Tennessee Ravenals," a river gambler and dandy who loses his steamboat ticket in a game and wanders down to the riverside to try to con his way aboard Cap'n Andy Hawks's (Joe E. Brown) showboat "Cotton Blossom." There he meets, and instantly falls for, the Captain's daughter Magnolia (usually known as Nolie), a romantic and aspiring actress played by Kathryn Grayson, another frequent face in 1950's MGM films. "We're full up, son," says Andy, but that soon changes. When Nolie's dear friend, leading lady Julie LaVerne (Ava Gardner), is betrayed to the sheriff by a jealous stevedore as "a miscegenation case...[part-]Negro woman married to a white man" (her beloved leading man Steven Baker (Robert Sterling)), Gay returns and is quickly snapped up, and Nolie--who, having grown up on the boat, naturally has an encyclopedic knowledge of its repertoire--is promoted to leading lady. Courting on stage in full view of audiences and Nolie's mother Parthenia (Agnes Moorehead), the couple's love deepens and they finally leave the boat to marry. But a gambler's life has no certainties, and when Gay's luck turns sour they quarrel. Nolie instantly regrets her words, but by the time she's ready to make up Gay has left her all the money he had and headed West. Still, their love endures, and at the end they are reunited and, as Cap'n Andy says, "It's Saturday fo'ever."
Besides the gorgeous music--which is in itself reason enough to own and rewatch this movie (I always sing along with my two favorite pieces, "Ol' Man River" and "You Are Love," even though I have to keep adjusting my pitch!)--the lavish production values make it a superior example of the last glory days of the greatest musical studio ever to grace the hills of Hollywood; the opening sequence, when the "Cotton Blossom" pulls in to one of the many river towns and draws a stampeding crowd of men, women, and children, old and young, black and white, and even is delightedly watched by two "shady ladies" on a lacy wrought-iron balcony, is one of the best scenes in it. (It flows seamlessly into the full-cast teaser performance on the "Blossom"'s foredeck, which introduces many of the principals, though I question whether a *real* showboat, seeking to attract the "respectable" trade, would have dressed its females in quite such short skirts!) Gorgeous Technicolor and beautiful costumes are other plusses, along with the splendid dancing of Marge and Gower Champion (a well-known hoofer team of the day) as Ellie Shipley and Frank Schultz (later Schultz & Schultz). Among the most delightful aspects are Brown, the smiling, big-mouthed comedian, and Moorehead (later Endora on "Bewitched") as Nolie's parents, sharp-tongued Parthy and warm-hearted, generous Andy. And Ava Gardner shines as the beautiful, tragic mulatto who becomes a sort of dea ex machina to Nolie--walking out on the New Year's show in the Trocadero so her protegee can get the job, revealing to Gay after a chance meeting above Memphis that he has a daughter. (The little actress who plays Kim Ravenal, though uncredited ([...] gives her name as Sheila Clark), has a particularly nice dance sequence with "Grampa Andy.") Grayson's soaring soprano blends beautifully with Keel's warm baritone, and even her occasional "twitteriness" (as another reviewer calls it) is put to good use in her solo, "After the Ball," as she struggles with stage fright at the Trocadero. Made long before Political Correctness came into vogue, the script doesn't mince its words about Julie and her situation, but that only adds to its impact and historical veracity. You get the feeling that this could well have been how life would be on the rivers in the late 1880's and early 1890's, with the South finally recovering from the Civil War and a certain romantic innocence back in flower. Whether the 1936 version is, as often claimed, "the definitive," I can't say, never having watched it, but this one certainly stands on its own."