A lavish but sanitized version of the famous stage musical already filmed twice before (1929 and 1936), MGM's SHOW BOAT is not what it could be, but with such a marvelous cast and several unforgettable songs by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, it is still glorious entertainment.
Let me get this controversial opinion out of the way right now: Ava Gardner was gorgeous. Okay, it's not controversial, it's obvious. But beyond her beauty, you'll find the film's best performance. As showboat singer Julie LaVerne, she is forced out of town for having mixed blood and later left by her man, Gardner gives a heartbreaking portrayal of a woman who is down but never quite out. After her scenes, the most memorable is William Warfield's electrifying version of the classic "Ol' Man River", a song given an equally spine-chilling rendition by Paul Robeson in the 1936 film.
The main story, about the marital troubles of the showboat captain's daughter and her rambling, gambling husband, never really becomes as important as a film's plot should be, but Joe E. Brown's great turn as Captain Andy, some tremendous dance routines by the real life husband and wife team of Marge and Gower Champion, and such beautiful Kern and Hammerstein standards like "Make Believe", "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" and "Bill" all help to overcome the film's story deficiencies. ½ - JB