MGM’s 1951 movie adaptation of the Broadway musical Show Boat was actually the third cinematic incarnation of Edna Ferber’s novel, the first being a partially silent version in 1929, later followed by a full sound version in 1936 starring Irene Dunne and Allan Jones as Magnolia and Ravenal, with famed torch singer Helen Morgan as Julie and the incomparable Paul Robeson singing “Ol’ Man River” in what for many is one of the highpoints of the American movie musical.
This week’s question: What’s your favorite performance of Paul Robeson on screen?
As for host Richard Peña: “The films of Paul Robeson. Even though he’s at best a supporting player in the 1936 version, I can still remember how it seemed the whole world stopped when he intoned the first words of ‘Ol’ Man River’ . . . My favorites would be a British film, The Proud Valley, with Robeson as a coal miner, and a very interesting avant-garde work, Borderline, shot in Switzerland by an impressive group of avant-garde artists including the poet H.D. Both are available on DVD.”