New This Week
Show Boat first appeared as a best-selling novel by Edna Ferber (Giant) in 1926. It was adapted into a legendary musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, which opened on Broadway in late 1927. It has been made into a film three times, in 1929, 1936, and 1951.
Fans have been anticipating a Blu-ray package of all three films for years, but that hasn’t happened. Criterion, however, has released a Blu-ray Special Edition featuring a 4K restoration of the 1936 film with audio commentary by musical theatre historian Miles Kreuger from 1989, a new interview with director James Whale’s biographer James Curtis, a new program on the treatment of race in the film and the 1979 Oscar winning documentary short, Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist, narrated by Sidney Poitier. Also included is a four-song prologue to the 1929 film and twenty minutes of silent excerpts from the film as well as two radio adaptations.
James Whale was chosen to direct the film by producer Carl Laemmle Jr. because of his ability to open up films as diverse as 1931’s Waterloo Bridge and Frankenstein, but the principal cast, all of whom had appeared in various productions of the show, were skeptical, thinking of him as a director of horror films even though he had only made four: Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man, and The Bride of Frankenstein. They were also dismayed by Whale’s intention to make the film from the ground up, not simply repeat what worked on stage. They needn’t have worried. Whale’s vision proved masterful with Irene Dunne from the touring company as Magnolia, Allan Jones from the Canadian production as Ravenal, Charles Winninger and Helen Morgan from the original Broadway production as Captain Andy and Julie respectively, Paul Robeson from the London production as Joe, and Hattie McDaniel from the Los Angeles production as Queenie, all used to perfection. Helen Westley was a last-minute replacement for Edna May Oliver, Broadway’s original Parthy.