Show Boat (1951) (NTSC)

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Released 1-Apr-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Musical Theatrical Trailer-4:07
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1951
Running Time 107:53
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,4 Directed By George Sidney
Warner Home Video
Starring Kathryn Grayson
Ava Gardner
Howard Keel
Joe E Brown
Marge Champion
Gower Champion
Robert Sterling
Agnes Moorehead
Lief Erickson
William Warfield
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Jerome Kern

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

This is a classic musical, with some songs that are still familiar today (Ol' Man River, of course, but also Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man, After the Ball, and even Make Believe). That's good. It's a Howard Keel / Kathryn Grayson musical, and that's even better.

But it also makes reference to one of the darker parts of US history. I was unaware of the laws that existed in the slave states (prior to the US civil war) that made apartheid look respectable that a human being was considered "black" if any part of their heritage was "black", and marriage between a "black" human being and a "white" one was a crime called miscegenation, and subject to serious punishment.

The rest of the musical is rather more light-hearted, fortunately. The show boat of the title is the Cotton Blossom, a paddle steamer plying the Mississippi River, carrying a cast of performers from one town to the next, and putting on a show at each in turn. This show boat is run by Captain Andy Hawks (Joe E Brown), who plays cornet and conducts. His show is based around a leading man, Steve Baker (Robert Sterling), a leading lady, Julie LaVerne (Ava Gardner), and a dance pair, Ellie and Frank (Marge and Gower Champion). Captain Hawks' wife, Parthy (Agnes Moorehead, yes, Samantha's mother Endora in Bewitched) doesn't seem to like performers much, she doesn't want her daughter, Magnolia (Kathryn Grayson) getting involved in show business.

Due to circumstances, Captain Hawks loses his leading man and leading lady, and needs replacements in a hurry. Gaylord Ravendel (Howard Keel), who is really a gambler down on his luck, was already asking for a job, so he's a natural choice, and Magnolia can fill in, at least until they get to New Orleans, right? Naturally, this results in Gaylord and Magnolia falling in love, which Parthy does not approve of, so they leave the boat. Gaylord's gambling supports them well to begin with, but...

This musical offers a decent blend of drama and music. I actually prefer Kiss Me Kate, but that's because I like more froth and bubble in my musicals, and less drama. As dramatic musicals go, this is excellent.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


NOTE: This disc is an NTSC transfer. If your display cannot handle NTSC, don't torture yourself any further.

This DVD is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and is therefore not 16x9 enhanced. The original aspect ratio was 1.37:1 (the famous Academy ratio), but I'd defy you to tell the difference between that and this.

This film is over 50 years old, so we can't expect a perfect picture. Unfortunately, this is a long long way from perfect.

The image is quite soft, especially in long shots close-ups appear rather sharper, but still not sharp. Shadow detail is variable, but mostly fairly poor. There's no low-level noise. There is considerable grain evident at times, especially during the departure scene from about 38:29 on, when Ol' Man River is being sung. The drifting mist doesn't help, but the grain is really strong, turning the film image around 39:39 into something that looks like a close-up of an oil painting.

Colour is a bit inconsistent, as happened sometimes on older Technicolor films. There are some very bright and vivid colours in the stage costumes, and long-shots in particular show some colour-bleed or minor over-saturation.

This transfer shows a plethora of film artefacts, mostly of the fleck, spot, cut, and fluff varieties, but in a wide range of sizes and shapes. Not one of them is particularly exceptionable, but their very profusion makes them rather wearing. Add in the reel change marks (indicating that the transfer came from a display print), and it's already in poor shape. And then there's another nasty artefact, which takes the form of a blue lighting effect over a lot of the left side of frame from time to time, such as from 35:50 to 36:27, for example, or around 66:20.

There is little or no aliasing (mainly because the image is soft), no moire, no shimmer, and no MPEG artefacts.

There are subtitles in English, French, and Spanish, plus English for the Hearing Impaired. I watched the English subtitles, and they are fairly accurate, well-timed, and easy to read, and they include the lyrics, which I like.

The disc is single-sided, single layered. No layer change, which is nice.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


The soundtrack is provided in English or Spanish, both in Dolby Digital 1.0 at 192kbps. I only listened to the English.

The dialogue is easy enough to understand, even with the variety of American accents. There are no special audio sync problems; all the songs are lip-synced, but they are done rather well. Heck, Ava Gardner's singing voice was replaced by Anne Warren, but you'd not spot it.

Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II a pair of big guns in the musical world. Jerome Kern's music and Oscar Hammerstein's lyrics truly classic stuff.

A Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack is unambiguous it's straight mono, and will only use your centre channel speaker no surrounds, and no sub.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



The menu is static and silent.

Theatrical Trailer (4:07)

The trailer is a slightly darker transfer than the movie, but it is soft and grainy, too.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The Region 1 disc is reported to be exactly the same, which hardly qualifies as a surprise, given that the R4 is an NTSC disc. The only difference of which I am aware, apart from the region code, is that the R1 is in a snapper case, while we get an Amaray I'll take the Amaray, thanks.


A good dramatic musical, given a fairly poor transfer to DVD, even for a 50 year old film.

The video quality is poor.

The audio quality is good.

The extra is minimalist.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Thursday, April 24, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Anthony Clarke
Jeff K's Australian DVD Info Site - Roger L

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