Singing and Talking: "Show Boat"
by Mordaunt Hall
New York Times, April 21, 1929 page 119
On Wednesday evening at the Globe, Carl Laemmle, president of
Universal Pictures Corporation,
launched his part-dialogue pictorial transcript of Edna Ferber's story, "Show
Boat," which benefits particularly by the melodies from Florenz Ziegfeld's stage
production. Jules Bledsoe, Helen Morgan and Aunt Jemima are heard in an
introductory portion singing the songs that they have rendered over the
footlights in Mr. Ziegfeld's theatre for some months. They are introduced by
Otis Harlan, who impersonates that loveable old person, Captain Andy Hawks, and
their vocal efforts start things in an inspiring fashion, especially Mr.
Bledsoe's stirring rendition of "Ol' Man River." And almost as effective is Miss
Morgan's singing of "Can't Help Lovin' that Man" and "Bill."
A good deal of this production is virtually silent, the subtitles of old
being used. The staging is splendid and the glimpse of the show boat, an actual
craft of its kind, known here as the Cotton Palace, are pleasing to the eye.
Like Mr. Ziegfeld's stage contribution they give one an idea of chances for a
quiet, comfortable life aboard the boat, until that harsh person, Parthenia Ann
Hawks, the captain's wife, appears upon the scene.
The story, however, is frequently maudlin and the agony is prolonged by the
director, Harry Pollard, who betrayed a decided penchant for the overdoing of
pathos in his pictorial conception of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." The scenes in
Chicago, where Magnolia and her husband, Gaylord Ravenal, go after their
elopement, are filmed in a ponderous manner. There are the gambling sequences
where the weak Ravenal is perceived losing his money, and then there is a spell
where the Ravenals, with their child, are shown first in the Sherman House,
which gradually dissolves into a comfortless room. The gambling-crazed Ravenal
has a stroke of good fortune at the roulette wheel, but he is not cured of the
fever, for when he is offered, over the telephone, a trotting horse for a mere
$5,000, he at once seizes upon the bargain and takes up racing. The racing scene
is full of life, but other episodes are often tiresome, especially those wherein
Ravenal returns intoxicated, with money he has borrowed from Julie. Joseph
Schildkraut is handsome, but his antics as the inebriated Ravenal are absurd and
the footage given over to this is much too long. Ravenal has a jocose jag and he
laughs until it becomes irritating. Although Laura La Plante as Magnolia "can't
help lovin' that man," one rather wishes she would bolt with the $2,000 her
husband has brought home just to teach him a lesson. Magnolia assuredly is a
long-suffering wife, but in the end she goes on the stage, sings the songs she
sang on the old show boat and becomes most successful. But still loving "that
Fortunately for the picture, it ends with a series of captivating melodies,
which result in one leaving the theatre pardoning some of the boring periods.
© 1929 The New York Times