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Posted: May 27th, 2008, 2:16 pm
by benwhowell
I've yet to see the '51 version, but I can't see the '36 version enough. James Whale was a whale of a genre-bender and did a marvelous job bringing this musical to the screen...depicting the lives of vagabond "show" people (on stage and off) and the horrors of extreme prejudice.
I really loved how all the musical numbers were staged-from the production numbers to the more intimate performances...especially in the kitchen with Robeson, Hattie and Irene. Magnolia's "shuffle" is a hoot! My FAVE is the "Ol' Man River" sequence. Whale was about 50 years ahead of his time with that fantastic "music video." Robeson must have been the first black male sex symbol.
Also love the opening title sequence.

Posted: May 27th, 2008, 6:13 pm
by drednm
The opening sequence of the 1936 version is so simple and yet very effective.... and I swear Robeson is crying at one point during "Old Man River." Just amazing.

Posted: May 29th, 2008, 11:41 pm
by Moraldo Rubini
mrsl wrote:...I also believe William Warfield was more than equal to Robeson - that was one number that should not be contested - they were both exceptional exhibitions of a wonderful song that only certain people should attempt to sing. Sinatra did o.k. when he was younger, but as he got older he should have stopped, because he no longer had the vibrancy needed.
Your mention of Sinatra in connection with "Ol' Man River" made me chuckle. I think of his rendition of the Kern showstopper as one of the surpreme examples of bad taste to come out of MGM. To have Sinatra singing "tote that barge and lift that bale" from atop a pedestal and dressed in white tailcoat is over-the-top kitsch. The song is about hardship and travails and the insignificance of humanity (as the river just keeps rolling along), and he's singing with the sterile schlock of the MGM orchestra. What were they thinking?!

Posted: May 30th, 2008, 2:20 pm
by charliechaplinfan
Moraldo I really agree with you. Frank Sinatra had a wonderful voice but one song he shouldn't have sung is 'Ole Man River'

Posted: May 31st, 2008, 8:47 am
by stuart.uk
if Old Man River didn't work for Frank, it certainly did for a 44-yr-old Judy Garland on her tv show, wearing a modern day dress.

Posted: May 31st, 2008, 1:17 pm
by charliechaplinfan
I could imagine that it could partly work for Judy, she has a soulful or sorrowful quality that would work with the song. When Frank sang it his voice was too young and too pure and didn't look like he'd done a hard days physical work in his life. There was no suffering there when Frank sings as a young man.

I'm not sure the lyrics 'tote that barge etc' can work for either of them.

Posted: June 4th, 2008, 12:28 pm
by benwhowell
Judy's cover totally worked for me...as a symbolic manifestation.
She did tote quite a few emotional barges...

Posted: June 4th, 2008, 1:39 pm
by charliechaplinfan
I love how we all get something different out of the same song sung by different performers :)

Posted: June 4th, 2008, 7:14 pm
by OScott
The 1951 version was re-released to theatres in the early 60's. Musicals were at a dearth at that time, so I was thrilled to get to see it. I thought Keel and Grayson, in delicious technicolor, made a handsome pair. In 1969, when I was in college, San Francisco's Palace of Legion of Honor revived the 1936 version for an Irene Dunne tribute. Irene went up on stage afterwards, gracious and lovely, to thank a rather spectacular crowd! A champagne cocktail-hour followed, with Irene, dressed in an elegant black velvet gown, signing autographs, while conversing with young and old. I talked with her briefly, commenting on the cross-section of people (everything from tuxedos to hippies in love-beads) in attendance. She agreed it was a pleasant surprise. I do prefer the 1936 version. Irene had played Magnolia on tour in 1929 -- it was this role that had Hollywood beckoning. For me, however, it is Paul Robeson's "Old Man River" that is the highlight. He and Hattie have it all over the 'white folks.' Next would have to be Helen Morgan tearing your heart out with every sob-infested note. I also have to take my hat off to Charlie Winninger. James Whale at the stern of this production was a god-send.

Posted: June 4th, 2008, 10:06 pm
by drednm
well a word must be said also for the wonderful Helen Westley, the crusty character actress who was just about perfect as Parthy in the 1936 version.

Posted: June 4th, 2008, 10:45 pm
by OScott
Kudos to Helen Westley by all means. She definitely epitomized and "preserved" the ornery old bitty who could melt into a puddle of love at the right moment. If you get a chance -- see her in Splendor(1935). Westley is quite frightening as the mother who encourages her daughter-in-law to have an affair (with a prominent and wealthy family cousin) to further her own son's career. I am amazed this film was ever released at all ... I'm not sure if it has been on TCM.

I wanted to add-- that when Irene Dunne did her blackface "Gallivantin' Around," there was a collective cringe in the audience when I saw the film. Myrna Loy always appologized for playing a blackface spy in one of her silent films, but I don't recall Dunne ever expressing any regrets for doing this number.

Posted: June 5th, 2008, 5:35 pm
by drednm
I've seen SPLENDOR and Westley is good in that one too with Miriam Hopkins and .... Joel McCrea?

Posted: June 10th, 2008, 8:27 pm
by myrnaloyisdope
I wanted to add-- that when Irene Dunne did her blackface "Gallivantin' Around," there was a collective cringe in the audience when I saw the film. Myrna Loy always appologized for playing a blackface spy in one of her silent films, but I don't recall Dunne ever expressing any regrets for doing this number.
To be fair, Myrna did do about a billion parts in yellowface, and I've never heard her comment on those, and while yellowface isn't viewed quite so negatively as blackface it still is a product of Hollywood's racism. So while yes it's cool that Myrna expressed regret about blackface, I don't see her performing in yellowface as being much better.