Early Technicolor Musical

Dancing Pirate is an early song-and-dance musical in full Technicolor from Pioneer Pictures. The 1936 film starring Charles Collins, Frank Morgan (The Wizard of Oz), and Steffi Duna is good, clean fun from the era. A box office disappointment, Dancing Pirate helped sink the emerging studio. Nominated for an Academy Award in Dance Direction, the movie’s biggest claim to fame today may be future star Rita Hayworth appearing in the background as an unaccredited dancer.

Songs by esteemed songwriting duo Rodgers and Hart include numbers such as “When You’re Dancing the Waltz” and “Are You My Love?” Lighthearted, comical, and romantic, the vigorous musical emulates Broadway. Leading man Charles Collins didn’t have much of a film career as the stage was more his home. Dancing Pirate isn’t a swashbuckling classic but the rousing story and capable performers make it highly watchable for those tuned into the rhythms of early screen musicals.

Dancing Pirate is definitely a product of its time and rather tame entertainment

Kidnapped by pirates, a suave Boston dance teacher (Charles Collins) escapes his captors only to find himself in hot water. A town mistakenly believes he’s a pirate himself and its bumbling mayor (Frank Morgan) demands his immediate hanging. The mayor’s daughter (Steffi Duna) postpones the dashing teacher’s execution by demanding he first teach her the new dance craze sweeping Europe in the 1820s – the Waltz. The story zigs and zags from there with a little more drama.

Dancing Pirate didn’t really do anything at the box office and its critical reception was underwhelming. Collins is serviceable as the male lead in a kind of generic Fred Astaire way, but he wasn’t a star made for the silver screen. Frank Morgan provides an affable performance as comic relief.

Shot in the new three-color Technicolor process, audiences were still getting used to the idea of seeing color films in 1936. The new filmmaking method wasn’t a huge draw initially and it took Hollywood a couple more years to produce a huge Technicolor success, The Adventures of Robin Hood.

A fairly conventional musical, Dancing Pirate is definitely a product of its time and rather tame entertainment. However, there’s something undeniably enjoyable about its goofy premise.

Video

The Film Detective label issues one of the earliest Technicolor films in surprisingly great quality with a few caveats. This is fine work, some of their best efforts yet, salvaging possibly the only existing 35MM film elements from legendary collector Wade Williams in a fresh 4K scan. It’s not flawless video by any stretch but eminently watchable given Dancing Pirate’s rarity in this condition.

The 1936 musical was only available for decades in damaged black-and-white prints. Originally filmed in three-strip Technicolor by Pioneer Pictures, we get a well-saturated and sharp 1.37:1 presentation given the movie’s age. No, the elements are not in perfect condition.

The extant print has serviceable clarity and definition, revealing minor registration errors and a few abnormalities due to wear. Colors are perky and more vibrant than expected. Black levels are fairly nice and inky outside of a few problematic scenes. The decent contrast is largely stable and consistent.

The AVC encode is completely transparent, smoothly capturing the unfiltered texture and grain structure. Dancing Pirate runs 78 minutes on a BD-25 with fine parameters.

You can’t ask for much more than a highly transparent, unfiltered 4K scan of an early Technicolor film like this disc. The 1080p video looks better than expected and boasts rather nice picture quality all things considered.

Audio

The film’s mono soundtrack arrives in sufficient 2.0 DTS-HD MA, given the audio’s age. Both the songs and accompanying orchestral score have their sonic limitations. The highs are mildly attenuated and louder peaks produce distortion. It’s a brassy, strained sound with underlying hiss and thin bass. Dialogue is adequately reproduced without issue.

Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles play in a white font.

Extras

The Film Detective has become a reliable purveyor of rescuing obscure and vintage films, bringing many films to Blu-ray for the first and likely only time. Dancing Pirate is released in a standard Blu-ray case in black with a full-color booklet. Author Jennifer Churchill provides a lengthy new essay on the musical. The disc is coded as region free.

Audio Commentary – Author Jennifer Churchill is no stranger to commentaries, having done several for The Film Detective like The Fabulous Dorseys. It’s a pleasant, relaxed commentary, well-informed without coming off rehearsed or scripted. She becomes a bit obsessed looking for Rita Hayworth. A highly recommended listen for film fans.

Glorious Pioneers: The Birth of Technicolor Featurette (08:57 in HD) – A brief and engaging look at the early days of Technicolor, discussing the transition from 2-color to 3-color technology. An interview with author and historian David Pierce.

Ambushed By Mediocrity: Remembering Dancing Pirate Featurette (08:13 I HD) – Film producer Michael Schlesinger takes a negative approach to the musical, covering its poor critical reception upon release and underwhelming box office. A wee bit too negative in my book.

Still Gallery (04:52 in HD)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided for review by the label. This has not affected DoBlu’s editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page.

Dancing Pirate
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Movie

Newly restored to its original color, one of the earliest Technicolor musicals with songs by Rodgers and Hart features Oscar-nominated dancing and lively fun from the 1930s.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 49 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: