Show Boat (1936)

I am conflicted about liking this film. I have taken great exception to The Philadelphia Story because of its sexism and yet I manage to accept the racist attitudes of this film as being a product of its time and carry on regardless.

I know why – it’s because I’m not black. So when Irene Dunne makes a silly face and does a funny dance, that’s what I see. Except she’s imitating black people doing a shuffle dance which once, I’m pretty sure had a different, offensive, name. And when she appears on stage wearing blackface, I accept that by acknowledging that that sort of thing used to be on our TV screens up until the late 70s.

Andy wondered if the racist elements were why the film wasn’t on DVD which seems plausible because otherwise it is a great film.

Oh dear, what a weaselly word “otherwise” is.

In the film’s defence, it does tackle miscegenation which was daring and missing from the 1929 version.


On a different note, I came across a fantastic fan site devoted to Dunne which is a treasure trove of material about her. Kudos to the site owner, she has done an awesome job. Maybe I’ll stumble across the equivalent for Claudette Colbert or Jean Arthur one day.

3 thoughts on “Show Boat (1936)

  1. I was blown away the first time I saw Irene Dunne perform the shuffle dance during “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man Of Mine.” It seemed amazingly modern, energetic and sexual for 1936. I really loved it and viewed it more as a tribute to black performing art than some sort of racial parody. I’d love to know more about the background of that type of dance and what it was called. There’s nothing on the internet about it that I could find. The black face segment is, of course, a different story, but the entire film is really a damning indictment of the pain and sorrow inflicted on good people of all races by vicious racial prejudice. I don’t think there’s any reason to feel “conflicted” about enjoying this film any more than one should feel “conflicted” about thinking “Huckleberry Finn” is a great novel.

  2. Blackface was an important device historically as it was a common way for black culture, music, and dance to gain exposure with white audiences. Of course it did this in a terrible manner, but nonetheless, it was an agent of black culture. It’s OK to be grateful we no longer practice this performance art, our values have evolved since these times, but it did have positive impact, however little. Modern American culture is heavily influenced by black subculture, and this is an early form of this phenomenon. Still, hard to watch…

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