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Show Boat Details


The third and (to date) last film version of the Edna Ferber/Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II musical Show Boat falls just short of greatness but is still a whale of a show. Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson are in fine fettle as irresponsible gambler Gaylord Ravenal and showboat ingenue Magnolia Hawks. The plot adheres closely to the Broadway original making several welcome improvements in the final act (which was always a bit shaky). Magnolia, daughter of showboat impresario Captain Andy (Joe E. Brown) and Parthy Hawkes (Agnes Moorehead), falls head over heels in love with the raffish Ravenal. When the show's leading lady, Julie (Ava Gardner), and leading man, Steve (Robert Sterling), are forced to leave when Julie's mulatto heritage is revealed by disgruntled suitor Pete (Leif Erickson), Magnolia and Gaylord step into the vacant stage roles and score a hit. Eventually, the two are married and for several months are quite happy. After incurring serious gambling losses, however, Gaylord walks out of Magnolia's life never realizing that his wife is expecting a baby. With the help of her former showboat colleagues Ellie and Frank Schultz (Marge and Gower Champion) and a behind-the-scenes assist from the tragic Julie, Magnolia secures work as a Cabaret singer in Chicago. Her new year's eve debut threatens to be a bust until her father Captain Andy quells the rowdy crowd and guides his daughter through a lovely rendition of After the Ball (a Charles K. Harris tune that pops up in every stage version of Show Boat). Magnolia returns to her family, with her daughter Kim in tow. Upon learning from Julie that he has a daughter, Gaylord returns to Magnolia and Kim, setting the stage for a joyous ending. Virtually all of the Kern-Hammerstein songs are retained for this version of Show Boat (though none of the songs specially written for the 1936 film version are heard). These cannot be faulted, nor can MGM's sumptuous production values. Still, the 1951 Show Boat leaves one a bit cold. Perhaps it was the removal of the racial themes that gave the original so much substance (as black stevedore Joe, William Warfield exists only to sing a toned-down version Ol' Man River while Joe's wife Queenie is virtually written out of the proceedings). Also, MGM reneged on its original decision to cast Lena Horne as Julie; the role was recast with Ava Gardner and rewritten with an excess of gooey sentiment). Or perhaps it was the production's factory-like slickness; typical of the film's smoothing out of the original property's rough edges was the casting of Marge and Gower Champion, who are just too darn good to be convincing as the doggedly mediocre entertainers Frank and Ellie. Even so, Show Boat does have Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson at their peak, not to mention the peerless Joe E. Brown as Captain Andy. And the film was a financial success, enabling MGM to bankroll such future musical triumphs as Lena Horne and Lena Horne. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi


Awarded by
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Adolph Deutsch Best Musical Score 1951 Nominee
Directors Guild of America George Sidney Best Director 1951 Nominee
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Conrad Salinger Best Musical Score 1951 Nominee


Kathryn Grayson
as Magnolia Hawks
Howard Keel
as Gaylord Revenal
Ava Gardner
as Julie Laverne
Joe E. Brown
as Capt. Andy Hawks
Marge Champion
as Ellie May Shipley
Robert Sterling
as Stephen Baker
Agnes Moorehead
as Parthy Hawks
William Warfield
as Joe
Lisa Ferraday
as Renee
Ian MacDonald
as Drunken Sport
Emory Parnell
as Jake Green
Robert Fortier
Fuzzy Knight
as Troc Piano Player
Edward Keane
as Hotel Manager
Alphonse Martell
as Headwaiter
Bette Arlen
Ida Moore
as Little Old Lady
Bert Roach
as Drunk
Marietta Elliott
Norman Leavitt
as George the Calliope Player
Tom Irish
as Bellboy
Joyce Jameson
as Chorus Girl
James Pierce
as Doorman
Frank Wilcox
as Mark Hallson
Leif Erickson
as Pete
Earl Hodgins
as Bartender
Anna Q. Nilsson
as Seamstress
William Tannen
as Man with Julie
Judy Landon
Chick Chandler
as Herman
George Ford
Lynn Wilde
Louis Mercier
as Dabney
Regis Toomey
as Sheriff Ike Vallon
Anne Dore
George Lynn
as Dealer
Owen McGiveney
as Windy McClain


George Sidney
Arthur Freed
Edna Ferber
Book Author
John Lee Mahin
Conrad Salinger
Composer (Music Score)
Conrad Salinger
Musical Direction/Supervision
Oscar Hammerstein II
Oscar Hammerstein II
Composer (Music Score)
Jerome Kern
From Musical by
Adolph Deutsch
Musical Direction/Supervision
Adolph Deutsch
Composer (Music Score)
Jack Martin Smith
Art Director
Cedric Gibbons
Art Director
Edwin B. Willis
Set Designer
Richard A. Pefferle
Set Designer
Walter Plunkett
Costume Designer
Douglas Shearer
Sound/Sound Designer
Warren Newcombe
Special Effects
Peter Ballbusch
Special Effects
William J. Tuttle
Alex Romero
Assistant Choreographer