I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Movie Musical Challenge: Show Boat

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
In Movie Musical Challenge, I'm watching all 25 picks for AFI's Greatest musicals starting from the bottom.  Number 24 is the 1936 production of Show Boat.  Unfortunately I could not find that version at the library or for streaming/rental so I ended up watching the 1951 version starring Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel.  It does seem that the 1936 version is thought of as the best though, so I hope to watch it someday!

"Ol Man River" is pretty much the only thing that I knew from this show going into watching this.  So I was not expecting how much I would LOVE this musical!!  Wow, I hope I get to see a production of this live someday.  For a musical this old, I was expecting something very feel good and upbeat, but there is a melancholy and an unexpected tragedy to the story.  There's lots of optimism and romance in the beginning, but also racism, trifling men, and two women (much too good for their men) who have to bear their individual tragedies.  And with the setting of this wonderful show boat, which was a traveling theatre for the people who would live along the river.  I loved the setting, the music (the bluesy/jazz/ragtime type numbers - I love that type of music) and even though I was very disappointed in the character of Mr. Gaylord Ravenal (I was rooting for you Gay, how could you do that to me!!), the romance was wonderful.

Just going by the film though, I think it's obvious there were some cuts to the story - it paces excellently, but there are a few characters I wish I knew more about.  After looking up this musical it does appear that the 1936 version is thought of as the better one because it is closer to the source material, and this version "sanitizes" the story which has even more darker aspects to it - especially when it comes to some of the characters.  But for me, in terms of cinematography, acting and setting, this version was fantastic  It's gorgeous to watch, and while you don't get to see much of the show boat interior, the exterior looks wonderful.  I also really enjoyed the dancing duo who is sort of tangential to the story - Frank and Ellie - who have a couple great numbers in the film.  They were adorable.  This version might have taken something away from the depth and nuance of the story, but it's a highly enjoyable film.

I do have a favorite sequence, and consequently song, from this musical - "Can't Help Lovin Dat Man" which is sung very sentimentally by Ava Gardner's character Julie (Ava Gardner was dubbed in the film) and then it's sung faster with a little dance between Julie and Magnolia.  It's a beautiful song, and I loved that there was a slow and upbeat version done back to back.  I have to say though, I did listen to a theatre cast recording of this song, and I think the original way this song plays is better - this film version really slows down the song, and the infectious beat is lost, or at least diminished.

Again, this musical is fantastic!  I already know it will be ranked much higher on my list than 24 because of the the music and the moving character arcs of Magnolia and Julie.  Even Gaylord's realization of what a mistake he's made of his life moved me, despite my being frustrated with his character.  And something interesting that I found out about this musical is that it is historically significant because it marked the first shift from musical comedy - which was spectacle and entertainment - to a musical that revolved around plot.  Also it features a song with lyrics written by P.G. Wodehouse - one of my favorite authors!

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