Criterion Press Release: Show Boat (Blu-ray)

3 Stars
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Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s immortal musical adaptation of Edna Ferber’s sprawling novel receives its most faithful and enduring cinematic adaptation under the elegant direction of James Whale. A rich portrait of changing American entertainment traditions and race relations, Show Boat spans four decades and three generations as it follows the fortunes of the stage-struck Magnolia (Irene Dunne), an aspiring actor whose journey takes her from her family’s humble floating playhouse in the 1880s South to the height of fame in 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.

FILM INFO

  • James Whale
  • United States
  • 1936
  • 113 minutes
  • Black & White
  • 1.37:1
  • English
  • Spine #1021SPECIAL FEATURES
    • New, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
    • Audio commentary from 1989 featuring American-musical historian Miles Kreuger
    • New interview with James Whale biographer James Curtis
    • Recognizing Race in “Show Boat,” a new interview program featuring professor and author Shana L. Redmond
    • Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist (1979), an Academy Award–winning short documentary by Saul J. Turell, newly restored
    • Two performances from the sound prologue of the 1929 film version of Show Boat,plus twenty minutes of silent excerpts from the film, with audio commentary by Kreuger
    • Two radio adaptations of Show Boat, featuring stage and screen cast members Allan Jones, Helen Morgan, and Charles Winninger; actor Orson Welles; and novelist Edna Ferber
    • PLUS: An essay by critic Gary Giddins

    New cover design by Raphael Geroni

    March 31, 2020

Published by

Kevin Collins

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36 Comments

  1. Thank you for supporting HTF when you preorder using the link below. If you are using an adblocker you will not see link. As an Amazon Associate HTF earns from qualifying purchases

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  2. As much as I dislike the MGM version, I agree that this is a missed opportunity to release all 3 versions. The LD is still indispensable for the plethora of extras and for the inclusion of the other versions.
    I still remember the glorious day, 27 December 1977, the 50th anniversary of the Broadway premiere of Show Boat, when MoMA showed all three film versions in stunning 35mm prints.

  3. Jack P

    The MGM LD set had the entire 1929 film (minus it's sound for most sections). It looks like Criterion is just porting over the shorter parts of the 1929 film they originally presented on LD.

    Yes, its my understanding that the 1929 version survives complete. I also believe the sound discs that were missing when the laser disc was made have since been found, but i could be wrong.

    My heart sank a little when I saw the 1929 version wasn't being included as an extra in its complete form. I'm afraid that was the only way it was going to get a commercial release.

  4. Yay! Now I'm up to four must-have releases going into next year! I'll admit, like others, I am disappointed it's not a box set of all three films (although I would prefer they also threw in Till The Clouds Roll By), but we only really knew about this film (and, for all we know, they're not popular enough and/or too expensive to restore to release in a box set). Certainly one of my most anticipated releases for 2020, and March can't get here soon enough!

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  6. Filmgazer

    I'm so glad Criterion has decided to port over the outstanding 1989 commentary track by Miles Kreuger that was on the Laserdisc.

    Absolutely. He is the go-to authority on all things Show Boat. His book on the three film versions (and other incarnations of the story/musical) is a classic.

  7. For those, like me, who are disappointed that the set does not include all three versions of "Showboat", TCM will be showing all three , 1929, 1936, and 1951 beginning at 8:30 AM on Monday December 30.
    This is part of their December series of showing films and their remakes .

    8:30 AM
    SHOW BOAT ( 1929)

    First screen version of the classic musical about romance among the musical performers on a Mississippi showboat.

    Dir: Harry Pollard Cast: Otis Harlan , Helen Morgan , Jules Bledsoe .

    BW- 118 mins,

    10:30 AM
    SHOW BOAT ( 1936)

    Riverboat entertainers find love, laughs and hardships as they sail along "Old Man River."

    Dir: James Whale Cast: Irene Dunne , Allan Jones , Charles Winninger .

    BW- 114 mins, CC,

    12:30 PM
    SHOW BOAT ( 1951)

    Riverboat entertainers find love, laughs and hardships as they sail along "Old Man River."

    Dir: George Sidney Cast: Kathryn Grayson , Ava Gardner , Howard Keel .

    C- 108 mins, CC,

  8. There's lots I enjoy in this 1936 version of Show Boat. But I find Irene Dunn, who I enjoy in lots of other things, very forced and painful in this. I find Kathryn Grayson, who I dislike in lots of things, much more appealing in the 1951 version. So it goes.
    Of course the 1936 version is indispensable for the nobility of the great Paul Robeson. But I wish we were getting both versions.

  9. This is thrilling news. This version is outstanding. Paul Robeson is electric in his performance in this. Just watch his eyes. And Helen Morgan is playing herself in many ways and it makes it bittersweet to watch. Unfortunately, it was her last film and she would drink herself to death within five years.

  10. There’s a wonderful book which goes into great detail on the differences between the three movies and the original stage version. It’s called “Show Boat” by Miles Kreuger (University Press 1977). See if you can track it down on the internet. Whatever you have to pay you won’t be sorry.
    For those who want to see the stage version with the complete Jerome Kern score, the San Francisco Opera Blu-ray is a must.

  11. They showed the 1929 version on TCM a few days ago. The overture was the sound recording of various stars from the Broadway show singing but the visuals has been lost. The feature has all the visuals intact as far as I can tell, but most of the talking portions have been lost and replaced with subtitles below. There are a few talking portions of the actors doing their stage melodrama on the showboat and another brief scene on deck. Most of the original synced music is intact. Not really a great film. It will be interesting to see what Criterion does with what they have. The 1936 version is the real gem.

  12. warnerbro

    They showed the 1929 version on TCM a few days ago. The overture was the sound recording of various stars from the Broadway show singing but the visuals has been lost. The feature has all the visuals intact as far as I can tell, but most of the talking portions have been lost and replaced with subtitles below. There are a few talking portions of the actors doing their stage melodrama on the showboat and another brief scene on deck. Most of the original synced music is intact. Not really a great film. It will be interesting to see what Criterion does with what they have. The 1936 version is the real gem.

    The hardest part of the ‘29 TCM showing to watch was Magnolia singing “Can’t Help Loving That Man” with no audio

  13. warnerbro

    They showed the 1929 version on TCM a few days ago. The overture was the sound recording of various stars from the Broadway show singing but the visuals has been lost. The feature has all the visuals intact as far as I can tell, but most of the talking portions have been lost and replaced with subtitles below. There are a few talking portions of the actors doing their stage melodrama on the showboat and another brief scene on deck. Most of the original synced music is intact. Not really a great film. It will be interesting to see what Criterion does with what they have. The 1936 version is the real gem.

    A fair assessment. I consider the 1929 film to be a good, handsomely produced silent era melodrama but not a masterpiece. I'm also curious as to what Criterion will be doing with the excerpts. Do we even know if the excerpts will even be in HD? It's possible that we might be getting an upconversion of the SD master that plays occasionally on TCM. I imagine the prologue material will be HD, but who knows about the movie. Still, we get both versions of Holiday, but we only get twenty minutes of the silent Show Boat? Disappointing. I'm not expecting miracles, but I would have been pleased with an "as is" presentation even if it only is an SD upconversion. To be fair to Criterion, perhaps WB for whatever reason wouldn't sign off on licensing the entire feature. That would be sort of amusing if that's the case. WB: Yeah, we don't mind licensing "Mildred Pierce," "Now Voyager," "The Magnificent Ambersons," "The Cameraman," "Cat People," the 1936 "Show Boat," and other gems from our library, but we absolutely won't license the 1929 "Show Boat." 😉

    As for what TCM occasionally airs, my understanding is that that version is outdated because a few more sound discs have been recovered in the last twenty years, but we still don't have the entire soundtrack. I hope WAC will eventually offer an updated edition of the film even if it's only a DVD-r release. That may bring up another scenario – the reconstruction of the film would have been too much of an undertaking for a supplement for Criterion.

    Kvetching aside, the 1936 film is the true gem, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again in HD. I have a standing pre-order with Amazon.

  14. The credits also say Steppin Fetchit played Joe? I must've blinked and missed his performance. I'm glad to hear more sound discs have been recovered. And I wonder if Criterion doesn't give us a restoration with this release, will it ever happen.

  15. Here's a little info from The Vitaphone Project regarding the rediscovered sound discs for the 1929 version (this post is from 2005!):

    The 1929 version of SHOWBOAT was partially reconstructed with most, but not all, of the soundtrack discs for a 1990's laserdisc set. Several reels had no surviving sound, and excerpts from existing discs were used to fill in the gap. Among the missing were discs for reels 9 and 11. Both were found this summer and are now held by the Project. We will make them available to Warner Home Video when they assemble their planned 2007 DVD set of all three versions of SHOWBOAT (1929, 1936 and 1951) to commemorate the Broadway show's 80th anniversary. The newly discovered discs include dialogue, music and singing throughout, so are a significant find.

  16. warnerbro

    Did Warner Bros. ever release the 1929 version with the new discs? That was over ten years ago and the version TCM showed didn't have it.

    They did not. That 2007 box set never materialized and 1936 went straight to Warner Archive.

  17. I'd really like to know why the full 1929 version isn't included. I wonder if it was Criterion's decision or WB's. As it stands, I'm hoping the 1929 version shows up in the Warner Archive sometime with the previously missing sound discs restored.

  18. ahollis

    I am disappointed that this this Criterion release is not the complete Show Boat set with all three versions. We have been promised the set from WB for many years.

    Yes, that would be nirvana. It looks like I won't live to see such a set on Blu-ray. I'll have to content myself with the laserdisc box.

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