Hallelujah I'm a Bum
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The legendary Al Jolson is the self-proclaimed "Mayor of Central Park" in this "stylized, sophisticated and lyrical" (Pauline Kael) comic operetta Â one of the most decidedly different and delightful musicals ever made! A unique attempt to expand the boundaries of the format, Hallelujah I'm a Bum! captures Jolson at his charismatic best and "reveals more than any of his other surviving films just why [he] was so great a star" (The London Times)!Bumper (Jolson) is the happiest hobo in New York. He's just fallen head-over-heels in love with the beautiful young amnesiac (Madge Evans) he's rescued from a park lake. But when he discovers her true identity, the "Mayor of Central Park" suddenly finds himself competing for her affections with a rich playboyÂ...the Mayor of New York (Frank Morgan, The Wizard of Oz)!
Al Jolson says, "You ain't seen nothin' yet," but this isn't The Jazz Singer. Jolson found one of his better movie roles in Hallelujah, I'm a Bum!, a curious 1933 artifact of the early-sound, pre-Code era, a movie replete with music, political comment, and occasionally risqué humor. Jolie plays "the mayor of Central Park," a happy hobo who cleans up after he meets an amnesiac beauty. Alas, the workaday world isn't what it's cracked up to be, as his leisure-minded pals knew all along. Although never quite clicking into classic status, the movie is borne aloft on the Rodgers and Hart score (which includes "You Are Too Beautiful" and much rhyming dialogue) and director Lewis Milestone's fluid tracking shots of hoboes marching and singing through Central Park. That's Harry Langdon, former silent clown, as the Communist tramp warning about the impending revolution as he picks up garbage--a measure of this film's true oddness. --Robert HortonSee all Editorial Reviews
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The film itself comes from a 19th century folk song that was popular during the depression. Al Jolson himself recorded it in 1928 after his spectacular 1927 “The Jazz Singer”. This film was the 7th Jolson film and he continued sporadically until 1945, but with the exception of his first film, the rest are pretty poor, although “Hallelujah I’m a Bum” is probably the best of the bunch.
The film is a musical of sorts, with a script from Ben Hecht, music from Alfred Newman, a score by Rogers and Hart, and directed by Lewis Milestone.
The prodigious Hecht (1894-1964) worked on more than 150 screenplays, was nominated 7 times, and won twice (“Underworld” in 1927 and “The Scoundrel” in 1935). Other notable films he worked on include “Scarface” (1932), “Stagecoach” (1939), “Gunga Din” (1939) and “Notorious” (1946). Hecht was referred to as the “Shakespeare of the movies.”
Director Lewis Milestone (1895-1980) made more than 50 films, was nominated three times and won twice (“Two Arabian Knights” in 1927, “All Quiet on the Western Front” in 1930). Among his many films are such diverse projects as “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1962), “Ocean’s Eleven” (1960), “Pork Chop Hill” (1959), “The North Star” (1943), and “Of Mice and Men” (1939). Milestone was an excellent director but not known for comedies, much less musical comedies, although he worked with Bing Crosby and Ethel Merman in “Anything Goes” (1936).
Richard Rodgers (1902-79) and Lorenz Hart () are legends and dominated Broadway in the 20s and 30s. Their songs from this period included “My Funny Valentine”, “Blue Moon”, “The Lady is a Tramp”, “Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered”. In films they worked with George M. Cohan, Bing Crosby, and W.C.Fields.
In addition to Jolson, we have Frank Morgan, Chester Conklin, and Harry Langdon.
Frank Morgan (1890-1949) plays the Mayor of New York. Morgan will forever be remembered as the “Wizard of Oz” (1939) but this was only 1 of nearly 100 film performances between 1916 and 1950, including Oscar nominations for “The Affairs of Cellini” (1934) and “Tortilla Flat” (1942). Morgan is very good in this film and it’s one of his best (apart from Oz).
Harry Langdon (1884-1944) plays one of Jolson’s friends. Langdon was a big star in the early silent era working with Frank Capra and the Mack Sennett studio. He and Capra left Sennett and had great success, but then Langdon fired Capra and never had another hit. By this film he was already relegated to minor roles.
Look for funny man Chester Conklin (1886-1971). The mustacheoed Conklin, of course, was one of the original Keystone Cops, and considered by many to be one of the pioneers of silent film comedy.
Despite the enormous talent, the film doesn’t hold up. The naïve class distinctions and politics are clearly off center and the music is forgettable. Still, the performances by Morgan and Jolson are worth the price of admission.
The story has two plots going simultaneously.First off is Jolson's part as the unofficial mayor of Central Park.He is,to use the vernacular of the times,a bum,and along with all his other Central Park "citizens",proud of it.When Jolie isn't singing sweet of his idyllic life,he is greeting the mayor in front of his apartment building everyday to open his car door for him.It seems he saved the mayors life a while back and the mayor has been forever grateful.
The second plot is with the mayor,who has an on and off again relationship going with pretty Madge Evans.He caught her with another man but forgave her and took her back.When he gives her a substantial amount of money and she loses the purse it was in,he assumes she has again been seeing someone else.They part.Despondent she tries to commit suicide by drowning herself in the park, but Jolie is there to save her.When she comes to she has lost her memory.Jolie falls in love and actually gets a job,courtesy of the mayor,in order to put a roof over their heads.
Meanwhile the mayor has searched high and low and cannot find his sweetheart.He grows increasingly anxious and turns to drinking to try and forget about her.One evening Conklin(a park carriage driver)drops by Jolies apartment with the mayor in his carriage,drunk.Jolie accompanies the mayor home and it is there the mayor pours out his feelings to Jolie,who in turn finally sees who it is the mayor is so hurt over.Jolie,of course,does the right thing and takes the mayor over to his place and the two have a tearful reunion,with Evans instantly regaining her memory on seeing him again.Jolie returns to the park and his idyllic life.
The film has its stops and starts throughout.Sometimes the musical numbers compliment the action,other times they can hinder the plot development by slowing things down unnecessarily.This was the first full fledged effort to do much of a film in rhythmic musical numbers and complimentary dialogue.It had been done before but only in little bits.All through it shines Jolson's singing abilities,not to mention his acting ones too.Langdons performance is remarkable considering the vituperative remarks leveled at him after his 20s downfall.It shows he still had alot to offer,in the proper roles,and probably one reason Stan Laurel still considered him good enough to use as a consultant from time to time.The opening credits has this as a Joseph Schenck presents film.We all recall Schenck and his selling out of Keatons contract to MGM,which pretty much put his career on a slow boat to China.Watch for Harold Goodwin,Keaton's friend and co star in many of his pre MGM and MGM films and beyond,as Madge's boyfriend the mayor originally discovered her with.The music was composed and written by the legendary duo of Rodgers and Hart.It is an uneven but pretty good score.Jolie gets his best out of it with his number to his Central Park friends in "Why do you need Money?"(the Jolie of old suddenly bursts forth with strong emotion)and later singing to Madge with "You are too beautiful".Watch for Frank Morgan espousing"There's no place like home",ala Judy Garland about 5-6 years later in the Wizard of Oz.Remember that Frank was the Wizard of Oz!Lastly,when you think about it,there are few of these stars with the major exceptions of Morgan and Evans,that weren't considered "past it",at this time.
Technically speaking the film is in its full frame a/r and is a pretty good print.However it does need a good remastering and cleaning up in picture and sound.The only extra is the films trailer.
All in all an early 30s curiosity right out of the dark depression.The musical numbers and patter are done rhythmically and can be good or less,depending on the number.Frank Morgan is always a treat to watch and Jolie does a great job in the starring role.He is ably supported and folks still find that Landon's performance was excellently done,not the washed up has been he was touted to have been at that point.It's not an OSCAR calibre film by any measure,but just a nice piece of escapism for the 30s audiences who needed it so badly.3-3 1/2 stars.