Restored 'Showboat' churns majestically across the screen

August 23, 1991|By Stephen Wigler

Jerome Kern's "Showboat" was the first great American musical and may still be -- after 64 years -- the greatest ever. Anyone interested in the musical theater who does not take in the 1951 movie version during its two-week run at the Senator TheatreJerome Kern's "Showboat" was the first great American musical and may still be -- after 64 years -- the greatest ever. Anyone interested in the musical theater who does not take in the 1951 movie version during its two-week run at the Senator Theatre will be making a big mistake. Many Kern aficionados tell me that they prefer the 1936 version that featured the great Paul Robeson and Helen Morgan. I don't know that film; I do know that the '51 version makes me weep every time I see it.

It always was an incredibly lavish-looking and beautiful-sounding film. The print now showing at the Senator is a brand-new one -- this is its first engagement in the 40th anniversary run of the film -- and it has been magnificently restored. Those bales of cotton in the fields in the opening scene look as fresh and as startlingly white as they did 40 years ago. Ava Gardner was never lovelier than she was as Julie -- and when you see her face on a 23-foot screen, you realize something about star quality that just doesn't play through a VCR.

This is also a "Showboat" that sounds as great as it looks. Gardner was dubbed by Annette Warren, who does a fine job with "Bill" and "Can't Help Lovin' That Man"; no one -- not even Paul Robeson -- sang "Ole Man River" better than the young William Warfield; Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson are splendid in such numbers as "Only Make Believe"; and the dancing of Marge and Gower Champion (of the latter's choreography) is stunning.

'Showboat'

Starring Howard Keel, William Warfield, Kathryn Grayson and Ava Gardner.

Directed by George Sidney.

Released by MGM/UA.

Unrated.

***

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.