The film is one of the MGM musicals that lapsed into the public domain on their 28th anniversary, due to MGM failing to renew its copyright.
Robert Walker as Jerome Kern
June Allyson as Herself/Jane in Leave It to Jane
Lucille Bremer as Sally Hessler
Judy Garland as Marilyn Miller
Kathryn Grayson as Magnolia Hawks in Show Boat/Herself
Van Heflin as James I. Hessler
Lena Horne as Julie LaVerne in Show Boat/Herself
Dorothy Patrick as Eva Kern
Van Johnson as bandleader in Elite Club
Tony Martin as Gaylord Ravenal in Show Boat/Himself
Dinah Shore as Herself
Frank Sinatra as Himself
Gower Champion as Specialty dancer in Roberta
Cyd Charisse as Specialty dancer in Roberta
Angela Lansbury as London specialty
Ray McDonald as Dance Specialty in Oh, Boy! and Leave It to Jane
Virginia O'Brien as Ellie Mae in Show Boat/Herself
Joan Wells as Young Sally Hessler
Harry Hayden as Charles Frohman
Paul Langton as Oscar Hammerstein II
Paul Maxey as Victor Herbert
Cast notesEsther Williams makes a cameo appearance
Sally Forrest and Mary Hatcher make appearances as "chorus girls".
Kathryn Grayson reprised the role of Magnolia Hawks in MGM's film adaptation of Show Boat, released in 1951.
The working title for the film was "As the Clouds Roll By". Gene Kelly was originally intended to play Kern, with Gloria deHaven, Jacqueline White, Imogene Carpenter, a stage actress, and Jeanette MacDonald in major parts. None appeared in the film.
The first 15 minutes of the film consist of a condensed adaptation of Act I of Show Boat, with the order of some of the songs shifted - "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" is sung after "Life upon the Wicked Stage", and "Ol' Man River" was used as an Act I Finale, dissimilar to the show. "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" as sung by Lena Horne was filmed, like many of her other musical numbers in MGM films, so that it could be easily eliminated by sensitive Southern distributors.
When the film started production in the fall of 1945, Judy Garland was signed as Broadway singer-dancer Marilyn Miller, having just returned to California after a long New York honeymoon with her new husband, director Vincente Minnelli. Soon after, Kern returned to New York towards the end of October and died in November 1945.
During the six months that it took to shoot the film, producer Arthur Freed had to come up with one director after another. Lemuel Ayers, a set designer, was originally scheduled to make his directorial debut on the film, but was replaced by Busby Berkeley late in August 1945. Meanwhile, Minnelli – who, it was rumored at the time, would be taking over the direction of the film – was shooting Garland's sequences even before the beginning of principal photography, as she was pregnant and expected to give birth in March 1946; her shooting was completed on November 8, 1945. By the time full shooting began in the middle of December, Berkeley had been replaced by Henry Koster, who was also replaced after a short period by Richard Whorf. Whorf ended up receiving the onscreen directorial credit. There was a break in production from some time in January 1946 to the middle of March of that year.
The film includes two versions of "Ol' Man River" - the first sung by Caleb Peterson and an African-American chorus as part of the Show Boat medley, and the second, a "crooner version" by Frank Sinatra, featured as the grand finale.
Barbette consulted on the creation of the film's circus sequence.
Surviving Judy Garland song outtake
A video of an excised musical number survives from this film, although part of the soundtrack has been lost. Judy Garland, as Marilyn Miller, sings "D'Ya Love Me?" to two clowns in a circus setting, representing a scene from the Broadway musical Sunny.
The film was one of the first motion pictures to have a soundtrack album released concurrent with it arriving in theaters. The soundtrack was produced by MGM Records. It originally contained four 78-rpm records featuring various artists and songs from thegilm and front-cover artwork by Lennie Hayton. Later the album was released on LP.
No official authorized version has yet been released on CD, but several unauthorized versions have (Rhino Entertainment currently owns the rights to issue an authorized CD of the soundtrack, under license from Turner Entertainment; in the past, MCA Records and Sony Music Entertainment held such rights). This is due to MGM allowing the film to fall into public domain.
Bosley Crowther, reviewing the film for The New York Times, wrote:
"Why did Metro...have to cook up a thoroughly phoney yarn about the struggles of a chirpy young composer to carry the lovely songs of Jerry Kern? And why did it have to do it in such a hackneyed and sentimental way as to grate on the sensibilities of even the most affectionately disposed?"
Variety began its review with a similar sentiment: "Why quibble about the story?"
The film earned $4,748,000 in the US and Canada box office and $1,976,000 elsewhere, but because of its high cost the profit was only $732,000.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2006: AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals – Nominated
The film is one of several MGM musicals – another being Royal Wedding – that lapsed into public domain on their 28th anniversary due to failure to renew the copyright registration. As such, it is one of the most widely circulated MGM musicals on home video. Warner Home Video gave it its first fully restored DVD release on April 25, 2006.