Monday, June 10, 2013

Show Boat (1951)

2 Nominations, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Cinematography, Color - Charles Rosher
Nomination: Best Music, Scoring of Musical Picture - Adolph Deutsch and Conrad Salinger

The importance of the stage musical Show Boat cannot be overstated.  Before it premiered on Broadway in 1927, the theater world had never seen anything like Show Boat, a show in which the musical numbers advance a serious plot, rather than existing as a series of unrelated or only marginally related songs.  It is one of the most significant shows in the history of musical theater, and despite many of the themes no longer being relevant in society, the show has aged remarkably well in the 86 years since its debut.

The film adaptation of Show Boat is a dramatic departure from the musical, both due to the evolution of musical theater between 1927 and 1951 and because of racial themes.  The film tones down many of these issues, though a surprising amount is maintained.  Without these themes, there's not much substance left to the story beyond the tale of a gambler who abandons his family.  There are some great songs along the way, but with the exception of the breathtaking rendition of "Ol' Man River" by William Warfield, there are no indelible moments.  The story limps along slowly to its snooze of an ending, leaving little memorable in its wake.

Howard Keel is his usual charming self, stealing scenes with his booming baritone and not a hint of subtlety.  Kathryn Grayson is fine but unspectacular, Ava Gardner gives one of her better performances, and Joe E. Brown and Agnes Moorehead are their usual wonderful selves.

The film's two nominations came for its cinematography and its score, both highlights of the film.  The film's cinematography is pleasant if unambitious, but the "Ol' Man River" scene with its haunting fog and dim lighting deserved the nomination by itself (it lost the award to An American in Paris, clearly the superior effort).  The score is also top notch, and likely would have won the Oscar if not for, once again, An American in Paris and its superb score.  In most other years, Show Boat would have won one and possibly two Academy Awards.

Remaining: 3141 films, 870 Oscars, 5395 nominations

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