Directed by James Whale
Written by Oscar Hammerstein II based on the novel by Edna Ferber
Oh, how I loved, loved, loved this screen adaptation of the Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein 1927 Broadway musical!
Captain Andy Hawks (Charles Winniger) runs a show boat on the Mississippi River. His leading lady Julie (Helen Morgan) and leading man Steve are married. A jealous boat hand reveals that Julie has negro blood and she and Steve leave the boat under charges of miscegenation. Captain Andy’s daughter Magnolia (Irene Dunne) takes over for Julie. Riverboat gambler Gaylord Ravenal needs to get out of town and hitches a ride on the show boat, taking over from Steve as leading man. He and Magnolia fall in love and marry but things take a turn for the worse when Gay tries to support her with his gambling winnings. With Paul Robeson as Joe and Hattie McDaniel as Queenie.
I love this film so much that I sat rapt through a 16-part YouTube viewing of the movie, the only means that was available to me. The story gets pretty melodramatic by the end but the musical numbers are just perfect. Three of them gave me chills: Robeson’s rendition of “Ol’ Man River”; the ensemble “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”; and Helen Morgan’s “Bill”.
This was James Whale’s favorite of all his pictures and I think he was right. It is certainly beautifully staged. The casting is wonderful. I like Irene Dunne better every time I see her. In fact the only thing I can find fault with was the decision to cut several of the stage show’s songs in favor of original numbers. I could gush on and on.
It is criminal that there has never been a DVD of this film. It is vastly superior to the 1951 version, which is readily available.
Clip – “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” (gives me the chills! — when Robeson joins in behind the women)