Saturday, November 21, 2009

If you like Al Jolson

Al Jolson does a good job in The Jazz Singer, but he didn't seem to keep his singing style up to date, making his later movies a bit more difficult to watch. If you enjoy him, however, you can watch one of his rarer movies, Hallelujah, I'm a Bum!, tomorrow morning at 8:30 AM ET on TCM.

Jolson plays Bumper, the nominal head of New York's bums, who goes south every winter and surprisingly is on speaking terms with the Mayor (Frank Morgan). Back in New York, Bumper lives in Central Park with the rest of the bums, while the Mayor is carrying on a relationship with June (Madge Evans) that seems to be on-again, off-again. During one of the off-again periods, the Mayor gives June $1,000 (a pretty nice sum for 1933), although she loses the purse in which she put it. Meanwhile, she's despondent about his breaking off the relatoinship with her, so she tries to jump in the river. However, instead of killing herself, she gets saved by Bumper while also developing a case of amnesia during the attempt. You can probably guess what happens next: Bumper falls in love with June, tries to make good, only to find that she's the Mayor's girlfriend, and he's decided he wants the relationship to be on again.

Hallelujah, I'm a Bum! is a movie that wanders around a bit, going between high society and the bums, although not doing it nearly as well as My Man Godfrey. It doesn't help that these bums seem to be proud of the "freedom" they have, having dropped out of society like members of a 60s hippie commune. Bumper splits the $1,000 evenly with them, but when he tries to make good by getting a real job so he can support June, they don't seem to like it. The worst thing about the bum scenes, though, is the fact that the screenwriters decided to experiment by having most of their dialogue being in rhyming couplets, which very quickly becomes irritating.

Ultimately, Hallelujah, I'm a Bum! is interesting as an experiment, and for its songs by Rodgers and Hart. Unless you're a fan of Al Jolson, though, it's not so well-executed as an actual story.

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