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Show Boat (1929)

Passed | | Drama, Musical, Romance | 28 July 1929 (USA)
A mostly silent version of Edna Ferber's original novel, with some songs from the musical as a last-minute addition


Harry A. Pollard, Arch Heath (uncredited)


Edna Ferber (by), Edward J. Montaigne (story supervisor) | 3 more credits »


Complete credited cast:
Laura La Plante ... Magnolia
Joseph Schildkraut ... Gaylord Ravenal
Emily Fitzroy ... Parthenia Ann Hawks
Otis Harlan ... Capt. Andy Hawks
Alma Rubens ... Julie Dozier
Jack McDonald Jack McDonald ... Windy
Jane La Verne Jane La Verne ... Magnolia as Child / Kim
Neely Edwards ... Schultzy
Elise Bartlett ... Elly
Stepin Fetchit ... Joe
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Jules Bledsoe Jules Bledsoe ... Joe [prologue]
Tess Gardella Tess Gardella ... Queenie [prologue] (as Aunt Jemima)
Bettye Junod Bettye Junod ... Perfomer
Carl Laemmle ... Carl Laemmle [prologue]
Helen Morgan ... Julie LaVerne [prologue]
Learn more

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The film begins with Magnolia, daughter of Captain Andy Hawks and his domineering wife Parthy, enjoying her childhood aboard her father's show boat. Parthy, irritated over the supposed influence of leading lady Julie (Magnolia's idol and best friend) fires her, despite her husband's objections. Many years later, Magnolia is a young woman and becomes a leading lady. Her leading man is Gaylord Ravenal, a riverboat gambler with whom she falls in love and elopes. But the sudden and unexpected death of Captain Andy forces the couple to leave the boat and move to Chicago rather than endure the disapproving Parthy, and Ravenal's gambling luck soon runs out. Then, Parthy announces she's coming to visit. Written by Albert Sanchez Moreno

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


ZIEGFELD stars singing the hits from the musical comedy; a brilliant Universal cast headed by Laura LaPlante, Joseph Shildkraut, Otis Harlan, portraying the tremendous drama of Edna Ferber's great novel. Carl Laemmle's picture magnificent! SEE and HEAR the grandest show ever put on! (Print Ad- Border Cities Star, ((Windsor, PO)) 6 September 1929) See more »


Drama | Musical | Romance


Passed | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Update: some of the "lost" footage of the prologue has been found, both sound and picture, and this includes footage apparently not included in the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) edition of the film. Some of this once-lost footage is included in A&E's Biography: The Great Ziegfeld (1996) and a few scenes from this footage are now included in the three-part PBS documentary Broadway: The American Musical (2004). The discovered footage includes Jules Bledsoe singing "Ol' Man River" with the Dixie Jubilee Singers in full costume. Also featured on this "Biography" episode were scenes of Tess Gardella singing "C'mon Folks" and Helen Morgan singing "Bill." All of these scenes survive in only faintly tolerable sound and picture quality, but at least they survive. See more »


When Nola is given the letter Gaylord has left for her telling her he is leaving her, she is shown holding and reading the letter with her right hand holding the letter near the top and her left hand near the bottom. In the next shot, her hands have changed positions. See more »


Magnolia: Oh, Gay. I've never seen you like this before.
See more »

Crazy Credits

All performers in the prologue are identified verbally. See more »

Alternate Versions

This movie is currently in the Turner library, since MGM bought the rights for the 1951 remake. The Turner Classic Movies Channel broadcast a 118-minute version, which included an Overture (i.e., the sound portion of the Prologue, and only part of it, at that) and Exit music. The Overture contained 2 of the 5 songs of the prologue ("Hey, Feller!" and "Bill") so you do get to hear Tess Gardella and Helen Morgan. Otis Harlan introduces those songs and then introduces "Ol' Man River," but that song is not heard. For some sections with lost sound dialog, subtitles are provided. Although we do hear a brief rendition of "Coon, Coon, Coon" sung by Laura La Plante as she rehearses, her scenes singing that song and 4 others on stage are totally silent. The only other songs sung were "The Lonesome Road", presumably by Jules Bledsoe dubbing Stepin Fetchit, and "Why Do I Love You" by an unidentified singer as part of the Exit music. None of the other vocals are included in the TCM print of the film. See more »


Symphony No.6 in B Minor (Pathétique), Op.74
(1893) (uncredited)
Written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
First movement partially played in the score twice
See more »

User Reviews

Pretty good when judged as a silent film...
21 November 2009 | by AlsExGalSee all my reviews

...but frustrating if judged as a talkie. I use the term "talkie" in the loosest of terms, because very few talking passages survive. In a tragic reverse of what is the case of many dawn of sound era films, the video film elements for this movie largely remain and do so in good quality, and the talking and singing passages largely do not. For example, you can find CDs of the entire soundtrack of 1929's Gold Diggers of Broadway - minus a very little - but it is the film itself that no longer exists with the exception of two reels. We owe this to the durability of Vitaphone discs and to the throw-away attitude that the film industry had towards these early talking and part-talking experiments.

There is a prologue at the beginning of the film in which stars from the Ziegfeld production do numbers from the musical, and the video portion of that is lost. Then the first half of the film is largely silent with synchronized sound effects. The second half of the film was largely synchronized dialogue, but the audio portion has been largely lost. All that remains where there is both video and dialogue are two short scenes between romantic leads Laura LaPlante (as Magnolia) and Joseph Schildkraut (as Gaylord Ravenal). Notice that the film has Ms. LaPlante billed ahead of the now well-known Schildkraut. LaPlante was a big star at Universal at the time having starred in films such as "The Cat and the Canary".

This incarnation of "Show Boat" differs from the 1936 and 1951 versions in big ways besides just the technical aspects. For one, a large portion of this film is devoted to the disintegration of the Ravenal marriage after the couple leave the Show Boat. Also, Julie is only a passing figure in this film, and Captain Andy has a completely different fate than in the latter two films.

In spite of all the odd decisions - to put the musical numbers associated with Ziegfeld in as a prologue, and to make this musical a part-talkie with non-musical stars in the first place, the film made money for Universal, largely outside the big cities where people had not seen Ziegfeld's Broadway version. In short, this is an example of a film that was dated in technique as soon as it was made, but was rushed out the door in order to cash in on the dawn of sound in motion pictures.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Release Date:

28 July 1929 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Show Boat See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Universal Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


(including prologue) | (Turner library print)

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric System) (talking and singing sequences)| Silent

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

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