SHOW BOAT, from 1936, is a film that divides. It has not been best served by time or by trend. But Edna Ferber’s work and the James Whale version (also include in this the 1929 silent version) deserves a wider audience and a wider review of its content. For inside it is a political animal, one that stands tall and strong in an age of Black Lives Matters, as a potent reminder of where we were and of course, how far we have come.

Adapted from a stage play, the story follows the SHOW BOAT on its way from the late 1880s to the late 1920s. Magnolia Hawks (Irene Dunne) grows up aboard her family’s show boat, the Cotton Blossom. It travels putting on shows on the Mississippi. She meets Gaylord Ravenal (Allan Jones), and falls in love. But their lives and that of those aboard are just starting along old man river and the flow of time.

Now I will say that the film can be a slog. No disrespect. Outside of the wonderfully staged ‘Ol’ Man River’ or the clever passage of time sequences, it is heavy. But the reason to own the blu ray is not to be solely found there. First and foremost is the 4K restoration that (coming from studio stock) we expected to be good. It is. It has not a blemish nor has it a lack of tone or depth of field. The soft standard definition is gone and instead we have room and we have range. It is a great thing and one that lifts the sequences I mentioned above.

Now the best extra is Shana L. Redmond Recognising Race in “Show Boat,”. An academic study on one hand and a 29 minute odyssey along the film in the gaze of black people. It layers and dissolves the film and gets to a really pertinent place. One that race analysis should be more attuned to. Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist (1979) introduces and honours the great, hulking talent of a man. Robeson was a masterful blend of talent and intelligence. The piece gets that in droves.

• New, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
• 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

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