Showboat

showboat1951_poster“Old Man River”, “Bill”, Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man“,  I’d heard the songs before, but hadn’t seen the movie. So it’s this week’s old movie. Set in the late 19th century, Showboat tells the story of Magnolia, a young girl, whose parents own a showboat, a river boat that goes up and down the Mississippi performing for people on the river banks. (It seems like a cool idea I’d like to see revived.) The stars of the show are Julie and her husband Steve. When a jealous, no good man discovers Julie doesn’t want anything to do with him, he tells the police Julie’s secret, that she’s half Black. Since interracial marriages were illegal, the police force Julie and Steve off the boat.

Since the show must go on, young Magnolia (Nolia) and Gaylord Ravenal, a talented, dashing singer are tapped to fill in. They’re a hit and fall instantly in love. Nolia’s parents are skeptical about Gaylord for their daughter. He certainly not stable, but Nolia ignores them and marries her true love. They leave the showboat and head to Chicago where Gaylord, who is a big gambler makes a fortune and soon loses it all. Ashamed and broke, Gaylord deserts Nolia leaving her with enough money to go back to her parents. He’s unaware that she’s pregnant. Julie also hits the skids and winds up drinking too much on a regular basis while getting by singing at a nightclub in Chicago. Steve has left her and she’s never gotten over it. When Nolia comes to the club to audition, Julie catches a glimpse of her and secretly acts to give her a break. While there’s plenty of coincidence, the songs and the emotion carry the show and make it satisfying.

SPOILER

I do think that the ending is one written for an earlier era. When Gaylord eventually returns after about 5 years’ absence, Magnolia immediately takes him back and the band strikes up a happy tune. Nowadays we’re more cautious. I tend to think more proof is needed before taking a gambling husband back. In the interim, Gaylord had continued to gamble. There’s no suggestion that he can sustain real change, which wouldn’t make Nolia or her daughter’s life much better.

Still that’s a minor flaw. All in all, Showboat’s wonderful songs still make it a good musical centered on interesting themes.

Downton Abbey, Season 4 Begins

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Mary with a rare smile in episode 1

I’ve seen the first two episodes of Downton Abbey and thought I’d weigh in with my thoughts and opinions. First it’s just so nice to see these characters again after a ten month break. I was eager to see what Julian Fellows would do with them, what everyone would be wearing, how Mary would cope with Matthew gone and what year we’d be in for season 4.

I was surprised and oddly disappointed that O’Brien’s gone. Of course, another villain can always pop up, but O’Brien hit the right note of despicability. Her relationship with Thomas also made her more of a danger. So now we have Edna, which annoyed me. I so wanted Cora to listen to Mrs. Hughes. Actually, I couldn’t believe she didn’t put more trust in Mrs. Hughes’ wisdom of giving Edna a good reference to work elsewhere. No wonder Cora wound up with O’Brien to begin with. She probably disregarded a servant in the past. Cora, I’m sure you’ll regret this.

The first episode seemed rather poorly structured. It didn’t make sense to bring in a troublesome nanny just to get rid of her so quickly. Why is it that getting a new nanny for two children isn’t a major concern at Downton when getting a new lady’s maid was? I can accept that Cora needs a maid as we’ve been shown that in that era it was crucial, but it seems the nanny would really be needed too. Today childcare is the one area where we still need extra paid help.

I thought Mary’s grief made sense. She would be deeply saddened by Matthew’s death and in time people would want to push her out of it. I think a culture signifying mourning through clothes’ color and defined mourning periods is wise. It cues people to be more respectful or patient with someone and while imperfect since grief will vary from person to person it does provide a norm, which helps loved one’s more or less know when it’s time to try to encourage someone to move on. Both Carson and the Dowager’s prompting were well done, though I’ve heard experts say a butler would never have addressed Mary as Carson did.

The question of inheritance was a big matter. No one knew of a will or any document that gave Mary any power over Downton. It looked like Lord Grantham would manage his portion and his grandson George’s, which doesn’t bode well since he has such a poor track record with money. The idea that as a lawyer whose life has been radically changed due to inheritance didn’t have a will was implausible (though Fellows does eventually address this). Luckily, due to some deux ex machina magic, a letter from Matthew expressing his desire that Mary inherit does arise. Perfect! Now Papa will have to listen to Mary, whose ideas differ. There’s sure to be some conflict and tension from this arrangement.

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The house party

The second episode shown in America revolved around a guest party at Downton where a famous Australian opera singer was invited to perform. Even the kitchen servants got to listen. The times they are a’ changing!

Throughout the three day party Tom Branson was very ill at ease with his clothes and making small talk. Violet gave him the occasional tip, but I wish others had done more. Edith, rather than focusing on how your father is ignoring your sweetheart, why not include Tom in a conversation. Both men are of lower social status and they’d probably have plenty to discuss. I’m sure Tom feels out of place, but everyone has his problems and this one isn’t that bad.  Edna’s the only one giving Tom much attention, which makes me nervous. I see her as an opportunist and big trouble. I do hope Tom’s character develops beyond the “fish out of water” character. Give him something to achieve. Show him as a remarkable father.

Edith’s beau did save the day by winning back poker money all the upper crust lost. Lord Grantham lost an unspecified amount, but it seemed hefty. The poor man has no luck or skill with money it seems.

A childhood neighbor came to the party and seems like a candidate for Mary’s heart. He is engaged, but that just adds some conflict to the drama. I’d be surprised if she found someone immediately after mourning Matthew, that seems way too convenient and life’s rarely like that. Also, while he’s handsome, he lacks that je ne sais quoi required of a suitor for Mary.

The biggest event of the party revolved around Anna. One of the guests’ servants was very jovial with her and Bates tut-tutted about the impropriety. Bates just took a disliking to this man. Rightly so, it seems because during the concert, when Anna stepped out for a drink, this miscreant followed her and raped her. It was a shocking scene well presented in that viewers could see how it played out and how no one was downstairs to possibly help. Yet the scenes weren’t graphic. Viewers know what happened to poor Anna, without explicit scenes, which is good since young girls do watch Downton.

I wish Anna didn’t feel she had to hide this crime fearing that Bates would kill the man and wind up in jail again. Anna, there is the option of having him arrested. I would have liked to see how such a crime would have been handled.