The 1936 romantic drama, Show Boat, is a musical film that is based in Mississippi in the United States. The film tells a story of two riverboat entertainers, namely Magnolia Hawks and Gaylord Ravenal, that come together and find love.

The novel, Show Boat by Edna Ferber was adapted into a musical by Jerome Kern, who took care of the music and Oscar Hammerstein II on lyrics and scripting. It is this musical and the original story that the 1936 film is based on.

Cast and Crew

Show Boat is directed by James Whale, a Hollywood director best known for his horror films such as Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein.

The film was presented by the very well-known, Carl Laemmle and produced by his son, Carl Laemmle, Jr.

The actors featured in Show Boat include Irene Dunne as Magnolia Hawks, Allan Jones as Gaylord Ravenal and Charles Winninger as Captain Andy Hawks.

Show Boat Plot Overview

The film starts in the late 1880’s, with focus on the daughter of a show boat captain, Magnolia Hawks who falls in love with an attractive gambler by the name of Gaylord Ravenal.

The two perform on the showboat, Cotton Palace, and eventually marry with the blessing of Magnolia’s father, in spite of the fact that her mother Parthy objects. In a parallel plot, a friend of Magnolia’s, Julie LaVerne is introduced to viewers during rehearsals, when her and her husband are accused of miscegenation and ultimately have to flee.

The Ravenals have a child together and move to Chicago, where Gaylord provides a life for the young family through his gambling winnings. Ten years go by and the gambler goes through an extremely bad losing streak that ultimately pushes him to abandon his wife and daughter, Kim, as he fears that he is more of a burden for his losses than a sense of financial security.

Also abandoned by her husband, Julie is now a full-blown alcoholic singing at the Trocadero but quietly backs down so that Magnolia could gain some work and support her daughter. What Magnolia didn’t realise, is that this performance would ultimately change everything.

Production Notes

The head of Universal Pictures, Carl Laemmle was deeply dissatisfied with the idea of a part-talkie film and set out to release an all-sound musical of Show Boat. The film was to be made in 1934, but following the death of the original actor lined up to play the role of the gambler, Russ Columbo, shooting was rescheduled.

Release and Reception

Released on the 17th of May, Show Boat is considered by certain critics to be one of the best musical films of all time, largely due to the fact that it is also considered one of the best stage-to-film adaptations that was ever seen.

In 1996 the United States Library of Congress selected the 1936 film for preservation in the National Film Registry, as it was considered “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

2006 then saw the 1936 Boat Show ranked number 24 on the American Film Institute’s list of Best Musicals, thus proving it safe to say this film has been warmly received for a great deal of time.