Friday, November 25, 2016

“Show Boat” Comedy Romance Drama Movie is the December Film Classic in Bigfork

If you are ready for a very warm “feel-good” movie about love and its power, this is a good film to see. It is a comedy-romance-drama film based on the Broadway musical of the same name by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein.  With several of the original Broadway actors and much of the same music, here is a chance to “go to” a Broadway play of the 1930s.  Kern and Hammerstein wrote three additional songs for the film that replaced some of original music.  The movie stars Irene Dunne, Allen Jones and Charles Winninger with the fourth “star” being the great music. The movie is “Show Boat” and it is the December Classic Movie shown on the big screen of the Edge theatre by Jack Nackbar. It will be accompanied by Jack’s presentation providing a better understanding of the time period of the movie.  Date Thursday December 8th. Time 6:30PM. Price free of charge.    

“According to film historian Miles Kreuger in his book Show Boat: The History of a Classic American Musical, great care was taken by director James Whale to ensure a feeling of complete authenticity in the set and costume design for the 1936 film. This included the design of the show boat itself.”  The movie really does a great job of reproducing Broadway on the screen. Ten numbers from the stage score are sung, with four others used as background music. The orchestra was used just as if this was a Broadway production. The result is that some critics have said this movie is one of the best musical films of all time.  It was a daunting task and the results speak for themselves.

Irene Dunn was almost 38 when she played the youthful Magnolia opposite her love interest Allen Jones who was eight years younger.

Irene Dunne (1898-1990) was a stage and film actress and singer of the 1930s, 40s and early 50s. Nominated four times for Oscars and given the Kennedy Center Honors Award for her services to the arts.  Interesting that she should have this part in a play about steamboats, because they were part of her childhood. Her dad was a steamboat inspector for the US government. She would later write, "No triumph of either my stage or screen career has ever rivaled the excitement of trips down the Mississippi  on the river boats with my father."

Dunne's role as Magnolia Hawks in the play “Showboat” was the result of a chance meeting with Florenz Ziegfeld on an Elevator and was discovered by Hollywood during a road trip of the play. Signed by the RKO Studios, her age was always a topic because she was already in her 30s when her film career just got started. Her tombstone possibly even has the wrong birth year on it.

The actor first selected to play Allan Jones’ part in the “Showboat” movie was Russ Columbo. He was accidentally shot and killed before productions started, and the movie was delayed from 1934 to 1936 until Allen Jones was selected.  

Allen Jones (1907-1992) was a actor and tenor on stage and in the movies of the 30s and 40s. Allen was a coal minor as a young adult and left that job to study voice at New York University.  His father and grandfather were musically inclined. "My father had a beautiful tenor voice. So did my grandfather. ... Grandfather taught violin, voice and piano when he could. My father sang every chance he could get and realized his ambition through me. Although he starred in many musicals in Hollywood in the 1930s and 40s, he is best remembered for his role in “Showboat”.

Another actor, Charles J. Winninger, whole career is remembered by playing a comedic “Cap’n Andy Hawks” first in the stage version of “Showboat” and then further cemented in this movie version.

Charles J. Winninger (1884-1969) was both a stage and film actor most often cast in comedies or musicals but was very capable of dramatic roles. He started in vaudeville but found his niche in this movie role. He was in the Broadway play version, and both the 1932 and 1936 movie versions of “Showboat”.  He could do other parts, but always best known for his “kindly, lovable, grandfatherly…and chubby” image. It was a good career with lots of work.


For a period look at how the movie was received, here is part of a May 1936 New York Times review by Frank Nugent: “We have reason to be grateful to Hollywood this morning, for it has restored to us Edna Ferber's Mississippi River classic, "Show Boat." It really was too grand a piece to suffer neglect just because the stage had wearied of it. Universal's excellent screen transcription, preserving the Jerome Kern score and accepting Oscar Hammerstein's book and lyrics, is the pleasantest kind of proof that it was not merely one of the best musical shows of the century but that it contained the gossamer stuff for one of the finest musical films we have seen. The Radio City Music Hall should be proud of its new tenant.”  You can read more at the following URL: 

Enough said about how one critic felt back then, but you need to see it to appreciate it. So come and see a movie on the big screen and see what a Broadway musical was like back in the 1930s all free of charge. An appropriate snack will be served courtesy of Jack and his wife/projectionist, Lynn.  Place: The Edge Center for the Arts, Bigfork. Date and time: Thursday December 8th at 6:30PM. It will be worth going to Bigfork, because Jack will give you lots of background about the movie and a cartoon of the period will give you some laughs.

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