James Whale's Showboat has that indelible image of Paul Robeson as Joe singing "Ole Man River" (played to a dramatic montage of blacks struggling under the chains of slavery and hard living) and the brilliantly tense scene where Julie and Steve (Helen Morgan and Donald Cook) are about to be arrested for the crime of miscagenation (Julie has, in that oft repreated phrase, "Negro blood in her").

Whale manages to stuff it all in: melodrama, music, and an intriguing undercurrent of sexual and racial tensions, kept chill and bracing and suprisingly fleet-footed by the pretense that this is just a musical, dammit! With Irene Dunne as Magnolia Hawks, and Allan Jones, heartbreaking in his final scenes, as her no-good gambling lover, Gaylord Ravenal.

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