The Cotton Blossom, owned by the Hawks family, is a renowned showboat in the American deep south. Julie Laverne (Ava Gardner) and her husband are the stars of the show.
After an informer notifies the local police that Julie is actually half-black and married to a white man, they are forced to leave the boat and Magnolia Hawks (Kathryn Grayson), daughter of Captain Andy Hawks, becomes the new star attraction.
Magnolia falls in love with gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel) and the pair marry without approval and leave the Cotton Blossom for a whirlwind honeymoon.
Gaylord soon gambles away their fortune and leaves Magnolia, not knowing that she is pregnant.
Now penniless and pregnant, Magnolia is left to fend for herself and make a new start.
Captain Andy Hawks
Joe E. Brown
Ellie May Shipley