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I strongly disagree with some of the other viewers. 'Showboat' -- the
1951 version -- is not inferior to the earlier, darker Universal
version with Irene Dunne and Allan Jones. The talent used for the
lavish technicolor remake is in itself superior to the cast of the
original--Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner, Joe E. Brown,
Agnes Moorehead, Robert Sterling -- and most importantly, Marge and
Gower Champion who can do no wrong with dance numbers. By comparison,
the dances in the original version appear uninspired--and even the
legendary Helen Morgan (not a conventional beauty by any standards)
fails to evoke the same magic Ava Gardner does as Julie. True, Morgan
did her own singing but Gardner's voice on the soundtrack could just as
well have been used instead of Annette Warren's.
Other than that, the MGM film is just fine--everything is staged with
much more zest and enthusiasm than is present in the awkward, lumbering
James Whale version. And Marge and Gower Champion's version of "Life
Upon the Wicked Stage" is a priceless example of this team's artful way
with a show tune. Their contribution is a major asset of the newer
Likewise, Grayson and Keel blend their rich voices in song the way they
were meant to be heard by Kern & Hammerstein. Irene Dunne had a modest
soprano voice but she was not as accomplished a singer as Grayson nor
did she deliver numbers with Kathryn's uncommon ease. Performance-wise,
Grayson is a bit too subdued against Gardner's more colorful character
and did not kick up her heels the way she would in 'Kiss Me Kate', one
of her best roles.
As for Allan Jones in the earlier version, he was a personable enough
singer/actor but he was nowhere close to Keel's adroit handling of both
songs and dialogue. Keel went on to become a staple of some of MGM's
finest musicals and a fine reputation as a strong singer.
The pacing of the older film was slow, leisurely and downright boring
at times. The remake is much easier on the eyes and ears. There's a
hint of snobbism in the putdowns this film gets from some of the more
discriminating viewers who cannot forgive whatever changes were made to
make the plot line and time frame smoother. A deliberate change in
story structure does not make a film inferior to the original.
A high point of the film is, of course, William Warfield's full-bodied
version of "Old Man River" -- just another of the film's memorable
musical moments. An MGM musical in the grand tradition--not to be
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