Irene, an ingenue once again...
It seems I have to expand the last post, according to a newly published interview, Miss Dunne did indeed love her version of “Show Boat.” Obviously she had the chance to rewatch this film after she spoke with John Kobal and changed her opinion of it.
The author, film and TV critic James Bawden, talked to Irene several times in the 70s, starting with a visit at her home in 1974 and some telephone conversations as follow- ups. In 1977, this amounted to the article “A Visit With Irene Dunne” for “American Classic Screen” . Apparently Bawden did not use all of his material and compiled the highlights of his talks with Irene to the aforementioned interview. Here is the part about “Show Boat”:
BAWDEN: You´ve said “Show Boat” (1936) was one of your favorite films.
DUNNE: Well, I had played Magnolia for years in New York and on tour. The 1929 (first movie) version was terrible. They used a “new” score. “Junior” Laemmle, who was running Universal by then, had to make (her version, the first remake) by the end of the 1936 or lose the rights, so we worked day and night on it. Yes, I do accept that I was at least 10 years too old by then, but movie magic made me an ingenue once again. Our version (1936) had Paul Robeson and Helen Morgan from the original. But when they told me that Jimmy Whale was to direct, I initially balked. He had done “Frankenstein.” It was sheer, exhausting fun making it, but the cost overrun tremendous. Junior just fell in love with the material and couldn´t stop pouring money into it and , while very popular, just couldn´t make back its costs. Junior lost control of the studio because of it. Only little Deanna Durbin saved the studio from completely folding. (Later) MGM got the rights and suppressed our version and announced (a new version) as a (Jeanette) MacDonald - (Nelson) Eddy vehicle, which wouldn´t have worked. (MGM ultimately remade “Show Boat” in 1952 with Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel.)
A couple of years ago they found a … print (of her 1936 version) and made a new negative and showed it at a festival and it really does hold up. It´s one I´m very proud of.
Irene mentioned that she really liked only sixteen of her 41 films, never exactly naming the titles, which keeps us still busy trying to figure out all her likes and dislikes. Of course we know about most of the films, and I personally found her disfavors always comprehensible but “Show Boat” was the exception to the rule. So it´s good to know that Miss Dunne was deservedly proud of this one.
Credit where credit is due!