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After watching today's lecture on Showboat and the discussion about differences between the Universal & MGM versions. Some of that is due to the nature of the studio heads, as well as a sign of what was happening in society at the time of the MGM version. Louie B Mayer considered himself a father figure to all of his employees. He want clean wholesome pictures. Pictures that only reflected the best of the US. Being a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe, he wanted to fit in, become main stream America. He ran a very puritanical home not letting his daughters out w/o a chaperon. He would want to down play the gambling and abandonment, and other vices.

Society at the time was is turmoil, with woman returning to traditional rolls after the war, issues with race, we were good enough to fight and be treated as equals, then to come home to Jim Crow again. Also the rise of morals, this time it was anti-gaming. The Kefauver committee hearing had start in 1950. The Senator took his committee throughout the US turning a spot light on gambling and organized crime. Even though TV was not a popular medium at the time, it was must watch TV for those how had access to it. At the same time you have people in Hollywood being Blacklisted for being communists. If only through contact. Sen McCarthy when after the entrainment industry. Again this became must see TV.    

I think Showboat this is a good film to show how what is important to society as time goes on. What would Showboat look like today? Who would be the gay character? How would other races be placed in key rolls?   

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I am not a big fan of the 1951 MGM version of Show Boat.  I watch it for the music, of course, and Kathryn Grayson and the always stunning Miss Ava Gardner.  

I made the "mistake" of watching the 1936 Universal version with Paul Robeson, Hattie McDaniel, Irene Dunne, Allan Jones, Helen Morgan (a favorite of my grandfather's) and Charles Winninger, directed by James Whale.  To me, the story is more developed and although not as glossy, I find it more engrossing.  I also greatly enjoy the relationship of Queenie and Joe and their musical numbers.  

I also prefer Paul Roebson's version of "Old Man River."  While singing the classic, there is a montage of the workers and how hard their lives were.  

The great thing about musicals is how they relate to varied tastes, so some may prefer the 1951 version, but give me the old black & white Show Boat any day.  

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I think James Whale’s 1936 Show Boat is one of the great musical films. It is full of emotion and empathy and the Settings really feel authentic for once. Almost like a documentary on riverboat life. And it expresses the generational changes in entertainment that the novel was really about. It’s a gem.

To me the flashy MGM version leaves out most of what makes it a great show. More like “highlights from Show Boat”.

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There are pros and cons to both versions. I read the book in high school and I saw a local stage production in my early 20s. The 1936 version was truer to both, in particular because it includes Magnolia becoming a middle-aged woman as her daughter Kim becomes a show business success in her own right. In the 1951 movie, as pointed out in the lecture, Magnolia and Gaylord are reunited when Kim was still a little girl, and her character never grew and progressed as it should have.

But I enjoyed Parthy and Hawkes' portrayals in the 1951 version much more than the 1936 one. Hawkes was just adorable and Parthy, although prudish and tight lipped to a fault, had just a tiny spark of humor about her that was lacking in the grim, dour Helen Westley's interpretation.

I'm torn between Paul Robeson and Williams Warfield, but in the end I would lean more towards Warfield. Some of that, after watching the lecture, I think is due to the staging of the number in the 1951 film. An to be honest, I don't remember much about the treatment of Queeny and Joe, but it is telling that on IMDB's cast listing from 1951, the character of Queeny isn't even mentioned, unless the name was changed. I've seen the movie many times but I will have to pay special attention to that when watching it this go round. 

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26 minutes ago, BlueMoods said:

An to be honest, I don't remember much about the treatment of Queeny and Joe, but it is telling that on IMDB's cast listing from 1951, the character of Queeny isn't even mentioned, unless the name was changed.

The role of Queenie is greatly reduced to the point that the role is not credited in the film.  But IMDB does list Frances E. Williams as the uncredited person who played Queenie.  

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56 minutes ago, Jim K said:

The role of Queenie is greatly reduced to the point that the role is not credited in the film.  But IMDB does list Frances E. Williams as the uncredited person who played Queenie.  

Thanks, I skimmed the cast list pretty quickly, so I missed that. But not listed or listed but not credited in the film speaks volumes. 

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I’ve never see the 1936 version but after taking this class I think I’d like to give it a shot. The 1951 movie has never been one of my favorites even though I adore Howard Keel. In general I prefer my musicals to be more entertaining than tackling serious subjects. However, if it s going to be serious, then it should be done properly, as West Side Story does. MGM’s “glossing” of the underlying stories hits a jarring note for me.  

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While I know that the 1936 version is more true to the original stage production and novel, and gives Joe and Queenie more to do (which they do delightfully), I prefer the 1951 version.  A lot of this has to do with the beautiful production values of the MGM version: use of elaborate outdoor settings for some of the songs, fluid cinematography.  I also prefer its staging of the musical numbers.  I  find Ava Gardner's performance truly moving, and William Warfield's rendition of Old Man River superb.

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Though I agree with you that the original version is, overall, the better version, I’m a little biased when it comes to William Warfield. I met him in the 1980s; I was working at a fine arts camp and he performed there (I played in the orchestra!). I had a wonderful and memorable 20-minute conversation with him...mostly about possibly doing a voice masters at the University of Illinois, where he taught at the time. By this time, he was in his early 60s, and he still had that voice...and of course, he sang “Old Man River.” 

Another friend of mine knew him, as well, and concurs with me about what a lovely man he was. I was saddened when I learned about his death.

So I’m a little partial about his performance. It’s my favorite scene in the movie. 

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Of the two, I've always preferred the 1936 version of "Showboat." It is a movie with some great pairings and some great singers. Charles Winninger and Helen Westley make a great Captain Andy and Parthy; his frenetic optimism and her dour pessimism makes for an interesting contrast. Irene Dunne and Allen Jones are compelling as Magnolia and Gaylord, both in good times and bad - and both have great singing voices. And Paul Robeson and Hattie McDaniel are the perfect choice for Joe and Queenie. Their dueling duet version of "I Still Suits Me" contrasts the two with humor and affection. It is my favorite scene in the movie. A close second is Joe singing "Ol' Man River." It is a more energetic and effective version than the slower, operatic presentation of William War in 1951. Another great voice is Helen Morgan as Julie, she was a popular torch singer in the 1920's who often sang with the same sort of sad and weepy style that she used in the song "Bill." She also sings the (slightly) more upbeat "Can't Help Lovin' That Man." And if all that wasn't enough to tip the scale towards the 1936 version, it was directed by James Whale, who also directed the first two Frankenstein movies - "Frankenstein" (1931) and "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935). 

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IMHO, James Whale's Show Boat is vastly superior to the 50's remake.  It shows the uglier side of racial discrimination that is written into the script, was part of our culture in the 30's, and is still evident in our society today.  Segregation is clearly shown as blacks enter and exit the theater through separate entryways, they must sit in the balcony, and they are not allowed in the church when Magnolia and Ravenal get married.  The 50's remake glosses over this at a time when our society was still segregated -- Rosa Parks' bus ride was a few years after the remake was released.

Compare the treatment of "Old Man River" in the two films.  William Warfield's interpretation seems to stress Joe's weariness with life.  But Paul Robeson's interpretation stresses a racial double standard ("get a little drunk and you land in jail") that still resonates today.  Not to take anything away from Warfield who is excellent, but Robeson's performance is much more profound.  And that, to me, is the main difference between the two films as a whole.  The 50's remake just does not hit the depth of profundity that the earlier version handles so well.

James Whale liked to use actors from the stage in his films, and he hit gold in Show Boat.  Many of the actors had played their roles on stage before they appeared in the film:  Allan Jones, Irene Dunne, Charles Winninger, Paul Robeson, Helen Morgan, Hattie McDaniel, Sammy White (Frank).  Maybe their familiarity with their roles contributed to the depth of their performances.  But I think the real difference in the two films is that James Whale doesn't shy away from the story's social issues.  His version is a soulful look at an ugly page of our history, while the 50's version is a colorful greeting card.

Having said all that and how much I love the 30's version, I must say that I cringe at Irene Dunne singing Galavantin' Around.  It is not just that she is in blackface (though that alone would be hard enough for me), but she also plays African American stereotypes.  It is an odd moment in a film that otherwise treats African Americans with dignity.

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I am loving this thread, so I wanted to chirp in, too!

My first "Showboat" viewing was of the MGM one. I thought it was beautiful and well sung, but it didn't particularly strike a chord within me. 

When telling my voice teacher of my latest viewing, so told me "You have to watch the black and white one! It is closer to the stage version and the book." I looked for it for years on TCM, and I think the first time I was able to watch it was 2013. Since then, I have been obsessed! 

The 1936 version is not only closer to the stage musical, it is also a time capsule. It stars Helen Morgan, the original Julie. That right there is already amazing because musicals/movies didn't necessarily have the foresight to record the original interpreter. It also starred Paul Robeson for whom "Ol Man River" was written for, but did not have the chance to play on Broadway! Not to mention the many other stars. It is an extremely well cast movie. As Jim K above so eloquently pointed out, it also treats African Americans with dignity-- something that wasn't afforded to them all the time in big pictures, let alone anywhere. It is such a shame that a movie that pushed the envelope so well had to have that "Gallavantin around" number. 

I recommend this movie to all true lovers of musicals and operetta.  

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