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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

(aka "Edna Ferber's Show Boat" or "Showboat")

 

directed by James Whale
USA 1936

 

Edna Ferber's classic tale of life and love among a theatrical troupe on a Mississippi riverboat has received many dramatic treatments since its birth over eighty years ago. But none is more satisfying than this 1936 production, widely accepted as the best and most faithful of three screen versions of the Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II musical. A splendid, indeed definitive cast features Irene Dunne as the lovely Magnolia, fated to fall for Allan Jones' dashing riverboat gambler, Gaylord Ravenal. It is their turbulent romance and Magnolia's growth from a shy guileless girl to a mature star of the stage that form the core of the story. In her last film appearance, Helen Morgan will break your heart as the tragic Julie, with her songs "Bill" and "Can’t Help Lovin' That Man." And there is perhaps no more memorable performance in musical history than Paul Robeson's moving rendition of "Ol' Man River."

***

Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s immortal musical adaptation of Edna Ferber’s sprawling novel receives its most faithful and enduring cinematic treatment under the elegant direction of James Whale. A rich portrait of changing American entertainment traditions and race relations, Show Boat spans five decades and three generations as it follows the fortunes of the stagestruck Magnolia (Irene Dunne), an aspiring actor whose journey takes her from her family’s humble floating playhouse in the 1880s South to the bright footlights of the 1930s North. The cast of show-business legends includes Helen Morgan, Hattie McDaniel, Charles Winninger, and the great Paul Robeson, whose iconic, soul-shaking rendition of “Ol’ Man River” is one of the crowning glories of the American stage and screen.

Posters

Theatrical Release: May 14th, 1936 (New York City, NY)

Reviews                                                                                                       More Reviews                                                                                       DVD Reviews

 

Comparison:

Warner Archive - Region 0 - NTSC vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

Big thanks to Gregory Meshman for the Review!

Box Cover

  

Distribution Warner Archive - Region 0 - NTSC Criterion Spine #1021 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray
Runtime 1:53:20       1:53:54.994 
Video 1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 7.95 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

1.37:1 1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 48,965,048,274 bytes

Feature: 31,179,909,120 bytes

Video Bitrate: 32.25 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate:

Bitrate Blu-ray:

Audio English (Dolby Digital mono)

LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
Commentary:

Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps

Subtitles None English, None
Features Release Information:
Studio: Warner Home Video

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:
None

DVD Release Date: February 25th, 2014
Keep Case

Chapters 44

 

Release Information:
Studio:
Criterion

 

1.37:1 1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 48,965,048,274 bytes

Feature: 31,179,909,120 bytes

Video Bitrate: 32.25 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Edition Details:

• Audio commentary from 1989 featuring American-musical historian Miles Kreuger
• New interview with James Whale biographer James Curtis (20:11)
• Recognizing Race in “Show Boat,” a new interview program featuring professor and author Shana L. Redmond (26:36)
• Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist (1979), an Academy Award–winning short documentary by Saul J. Turell, newly restored (29:27)
• Four performances from the sound prologue of the 1929 film version of Show Boat, including songs from original Broadway cast members Helen Morgan, Jules Bledsoe, and Tess Gardella (16:12), plus twenty minutes of silent excerpts from the film, with audio commentary by Kreuger (20:12)
• Two radio adaptations of Show Boat, featuring stage and screen cast members Morgan, Allan Jones, and Charles Winninger; producer Orson Welles; and novelist Edna Ferber (58:39 / 59:07)
• PLUS: An essay by critic Gary Giddins


Blu-ray Release Date:
March 31st, 2020
Transparent Blu-ray Case

Chapters 25

 

 

Comments:

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

ADDITION: Criterion Blu-ray (March 2020): Criterion have transferred James Whale's 1936 Show Boat to Blu-ray. It is from a "New, restored 4K digital transfer". As compared to Warner Archive's bare-bones DVD from 2014, the 1080P shows more information, notably on the side and top edges. Unlike the DVD this starts with the Universal logo (small plane circling the globe). The HD presentation is a significant improvement with better attributes in all video transfer areas including detail, contrast and grain texture support. The BD image is brighter. It looks impressive and consistent considering its, almost, 85-year age.

On their Blu-ray, Criterion use a linear PCM mono track (24-bit) in the original English language. It is a strong advancement in the audio with, of course, the film being filled with the music of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II notably including Ol' Man River sung in voiceover by Paul Robeson and the first reprise hummed by workers on the levee - as well as Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man, Why Do I Love You?, Gallivantin' Around and much more, sounding reasonably consistent with some appreciated depth. Criterion offer optional English subtitles for dialogue and song lyrics (see samples below) on their Region 'A' Blu-ray.

The Criterion Blu-ray has an audio commentary from 1989 (Criterion LaserDisc) featuring American-musical historian Miles Kreuger who tells us that many of the Broadway production participants were involved in this, the 2nd of 3, film adaptations of Show Boat. He discusses James Whale's career and many of the cast and crew. There are gaps and he, occasionally, narrates but this commentary is generally very informative and pleasing to listen to. There is a new 20-minute interview with James Whale biographer James Curtis (James Whale: A New World Of Gods And Monsters). It is, predictably, very informative and titled Remembering James Whale - recorded by Criterion in 2020. Recognizing Race in “Show Boat,” is a new 27-minute interview program featuring professor and author Shana L. Redmond (Everything Man: The Form and Function of Paul Robeson.) She discusses the enduring significance of the 1927 musical Show Boat and how, by extension, the 1936 film version delivers a complicated picture of racial identity, popular entertainment, and iconic performances. Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist runs 1/2 hour and is from 1979. It is an Academy Award–winning short documentary directed by Saul J. Turell and narrated by Sidney Poitier, it celebrates the life of Paul Robeson, tracing his career through his activism and his politically charged performances of his signature song, "01' Man River." Criterion include four performances from the sound prologue of the 1929 film version of Show Boat, including songs from original Broadway cast members Helen Morgan, Jules Bledsoe, and Tess Gardella (16-minutes), plus twenty minutes of silent excerpts from the film, with audio commentary by Kreuger. When Show Boat was first adapted for the screen in 1929 by Universal Pictures and directed by Harry A. Pollard, it was originally a silent film. With the advent of talkies, the film was released to theaters wired for sound with a newly shot sound prologue featuring five musical numbers, plus additional sound recordings interspersed throughout the film. Presented here are the four existing performances from the prologue, featuring Tess Gardella as Queenie singing "C'mon Folks" and "Hey, Feller!", Helen Morgan as Julie singing "Bill," and Jules Bledsoe as Joe singing "01' Man River," as well as twenty minutes of silent excerpts from the movie, with commentary by American-musical-theater historian Miles Kreuger. There are also two radio adaptations of Show Boat (The Campbell Playhouse and The Radio Hall of Fame). The first, produced and narrated by Orson Welles, aired on The Campbell Playhouse on March 31,1939. It stars the original stage and 1936 film performer Helen Morgan as Julie, and Show Boat author Edna Ferber in the role of Parthenia Hawks. The second was recorded for The Radio Hall of Fame and aired on December 31,1944. That cast features the 1936 film performer Allan Jones as Gaylord Ravenal and original stage and '36 film performer Charles Winninger as Cap'n Andy Hawks and narrator. The package contains a liner notes booklet with an essay by critic Gary Giddins (author of Faces In The Crowd: Musicians, Writers, Actors, And Filmmakers).

Show Boat shows James Whale's flexibility in virtuoso filmmaking equal parts effective film and musical. It's still considered the very best version of Show Boat and this Blu-ray will bring it to many generations who would never otherwise had seen it. This stacked Criterion package gets our absolute highest recommendation! One of the best packages I've seen this year. 

Gary Tooze

ON THE DVD (2014): Since around 2006, a Blu-ray collection of 3 Show Boat film versions (1929, 1936 and 1951) to commemorate Broadway show's 80th anniversary has been rumored around the internet, but 2007 came and gone and no collection was released. Even more disappointing, 1929 and 1936 films were still missing on digital media despite extensive restorations of the films. Finally, in 2014 Warner Archive released 1936 version on dual-layered DVD. It's worth noting that the initial pressing was replicated and made our list of best DVD releases of the year 2014.

Often eclipsed by Technicolor MGM remake of 1951, 1936 Universal production is more faithful to the source musical and overall is a better film. This is James Whale's only musical, but the innovative direction and staging of musical numbers makes us wish he made another attempt in this genre. Irene Dunne is charming and believable as a ingenue in the beginning of the film and as a seasoned star of stage in the end. Helen Morgan is heartbreaking in her last film role - one wishes for a revisionist musical of her character's story. Hattie McDaniel and Paul Robeson portray typical for the times African-American stereotypes and the film features cringe-worthy blackface musical number by Irene Dunne, but Paul Robeson's Ol' Man River rendition is definitive.

Like said earlier, Show Boat went through restoration and the film looks excellent on this progressive DVD. It is missing Universal opening logo and starts off immediately with the credits. The damage on the print is minimal and grain is healthy. The disc is dual-layered allowing to max-out on the bitrate and while it's not high-definition, there is no compression or any other issues with the encode. The mono audio is fine throughout, with no distortion or damage. There are no extras on the disc, but Warner Archive Podcast issued a CBS Lux Radio Theatre adaptation from June 24th, 1940 on February 27th, 2014 featuring 3 of the film's original stars - Irene Dunne, Allan Jones and Charles Winninger that is worth seeking out. The film gets 44 chapters making access to the musical numbers very easy and the whole package is highly recommended for any classic movie fan.

  - Gregory Meshman

 


Warner - Region 0 - NTSC

 

Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray


CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

Subtitle Sample - Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

 

 

Song Lyric Subtitle Sample - Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

 

 


1) Warner - Region 0 - NTSC  TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


1) Warner - Region 0 - NTSC  TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


1) Warner - Region 0 - NTSC  TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


1) Warner - Region 0 - NTSC  TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


1) Warner - Region 0 - NTSC  TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


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2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


1) Warner - Region 0 - NTSC  TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


1) Warner - Region 0 - NTSC  TOP

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1) Warner - Region 0 - NTSC  TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

More Blu-ray Captures

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Box Cover

  

Distribution Warner Archive - Region 0 - NTSC Criterion Spine #1021 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray


 


 

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