Wonderful, Experimental Musical
Robert M. Fells | Centreville, VA USA | 08/12/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This film is from a wonderful but short-lived era in Hollywood during 1932-33 when the studios encouraged experimentation with the musical genre. The first musical films of the early talkie era, circa 1928-31, tended to be stage-bound, static and boring. For a time, theaters even advertised that certain films having musical-sounding titles were in fact not musicals because people were avoiding them! In 1932, director Rouben Mamoulian at Paramount made LOVE ME TONIGHT - and why hasn't THAT film ever come out on video? - and Lewis Milestone at United Artists made BUM. Ironically, both films had scores written by Rogers and Hart. Filming of the Mamoulian project, starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, seems to have gone smoothly enough. But BUM seemed to be a jinxed film from the start. Roland Young originally played the mayor but became sick or otherwise unavailable so his many scenes had to be refilmed with Frank Morgan in the role.Evidently, BUM was completed in 1932, but preview audience reactions were so bad, major refilming was needed. It sounds like a nightmare. When the second version was finally released in 1933, it was a commercial failure and UA and Al Jolson agreed to drop plans for two more films.None of these problems are apparent watching the film today. The film is fresh and inventive and for once Jolson has plenty of elbow room to sing his heart out. Even his acting, a weak point in all Jolson films, is quite good here. Jolson complained that Milestone made him repeat scenes endlessly but the director seems to have been getting the self-consciousness out of Jolson's acting style. It worked! BUM is the only film Jolson made where he does not appear in blackface, making it the only "politically correct" film of his career and the only one shown these days in public places (I notice that BUM is also the only Jolson film on dvd so far).That said, this film is probably not for all tastes. As much as I admire this film, I don't understand why they couldn't have picked a better plot. Americans were too alarmed by the Depression in 1933 to find much amusement in a fanciful tale of life as a bum in NYC's Central Park. Despite its excellence, no wonder it flopped.Highly recommended for anybody who wants to see how inventive filmmaking can be. Good picture and sound quality but we obviously aren't dealing with the original 35 mm camera negative!"
Rodgers & Hart And Al Jolson Shine In This Early Hollywood M
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 12/07/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart had just scored a critical and popular success with 1932's Love Me Tonight. They used their new leverage with their next film, Hallelujah I'm A Bum, to push further their idea of rhyming dialogue and more integrated songs. The movie starred Al Jolson and was a poignant tale of a happy-go-lucky bum who falls for a woman he rescues from a lake who has amnesia, only to lose her to a good friend of his who had been her lover. Despite the film's many charms, it was just too unusual and probably too bittersweet. It didn't do well at the box office. As a result, Rodgers and Hart were consigned to the fate of all the other Broadway songwriters who had come to Hollywood when the Depression cut the legs off much of the Broadway theater; they were given piecemeal assignments with the songs altered, cut, changed or dropped at the whim of the producers. Within a year and a half the pair had fled Hollywood, returned to Broadway and created a stunning series of hit musicals until the partnership finally came apart in 1943.
Bumper (Al Jolson) is a cheerful, resourceful bum, the leader of the Central Park lay-abouts. He has his standards, too. His friends call him the Mayor of Central Park, and among those friends is Mayor Hastings, the real mayor of New York City. Hastings keeps a mistress, June Marsden (Madge Evans), whom through a mistaken series of events he believes is being unfaithful. She tries to explain, he says he no longer wants to see her, and so she wanders to Central Park, jumps off the bridge into the lake and is rescued by Bumper. She has amnesia. Bumper falls for her, and falls hard. He even gets a job at a bank so he can take care of her. But Hastings realizes how much he loves June and how wrong he was about her. Bumper finds out the girl he calls Angel is really June Marsden, and honorably he brings her back together with Hastings. June recovers her memory, but now she sees Bumper only as this funny, harmless bum. The last we see of Bumper he has given up his coat and tie and returned to Central Park. He's leaning back on a bench and staring at the sky. Some how, we know, his innate cheerfulness and sense of what's right will pull him through.
Probably a third of the movie is made up of lengthy set pieces involving stretches of rhymed dialogue half sung, half spoken. Rodgers and Hart wrote several songs, but they are so much a part of the characters and the plot that only two can stand alone. One, You Are Too Beautiful, became a hit. The other, I've Got To Get Back to New York, became a standard among supper club saloon singers like Bobby Short.
Al Jolson does a first-rate job as Bumper. He had such an outsized personality that you can see how he could easily dominate a theater. In movies, you can also see how he could just be too much. Here, he's playing a nice guy, a little shy at times but basically a confident, fair-minded man with a sense of what's right. Jolson isn't exactly subdued, but you wind up liking his character. He's the point of the movie, and he makes the movie work. Frank Morgan does a fine job as the mayor, tired of his duties, a charming man, not realizing he loves June until it's almost too late. Madge Evans doesn't have a lot to work with, but she looks great and works well with both Jolson and Morgan. One of the standouts in the cast is Harry Langdon as Egghead, who picks up trash in the park. He's an innocent Red, a naive socialist, a friend of Bumper's most of the time. Langdon was one of the great silent comics of the Twenties until success went to his head. By the time the talkies came in Langdon was doing bit parts. Nothing came of his prominent role in Hallelujah, but you can see why he was big in his prime. He has a child-like face and a confused expression, he's a little helpless, he stumbles about some, and he is a master of small bits of business. Also on hand is Chester Conklin, once one of the Keystone Kops and a great silent movie clown, as a driver of a horse-drawn park carriage who has as forbidding a wife as you can imagine.
The movie is dated but is still great fun. If you're interested in the development of Hollywood musicals, or Rogers and Hart, or Al Jolson, or just movies that tried being unconventional, you might enjoy watching and owning this one. The DVD presentation is very good considering the age of the film. There are no extras.
We'll let Bumper have the last words:
Rockefeller's busy giving dough away;
Chevrolet is busy making cars;
Hobo, you keep busy when they throw away
Slightly used cigars.
Hobo, you've no time to shirk.
You're busy keeping far away from work.
The weather's getting fine.
The coffee tastes like wine.
You happy hobo, sing,
"Hallelujah, I'm a bum again!"
Why work away for wealth
When you can travel for your health?
It' s spring, you hobo, sing,
"Hallelujah, I'm a bum again!"
Your home is always near;
The moon's your chandelier;
Your ceiling is the sky,
Way up high.
The road is your estate,
The earth your little dinner plate;
It's spring, you hobo, sing,
"Hallelujah, I'm a bum again!""
Great Movie, Bad Audio Transfer
Alan A. Pereira | superior, co United States | 02/14/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This musical gem demonstrates why Al Jolson was called the greatest entertainer of all time. He's brilliant as singer, comic, and dramatic actor.Director Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front) also makes this one of the most purely cinematic musicals of the 30s. From the rapid-fire cuts to the virtuoso camera angles and tracking shots, Hallelujah I'm a Bum is a feast for the eyes. The DVD transfer does full justice to the film's visual qualities with an excellent picture quality.But given that 3/4 of the movie consists of Rodgers and Hart's wonderful score, it's a pity that MGA/UA has over-processed the sound on the DVD. Apparently in an effort to reduce any hint of tape hiss, the soundtrack has gone through a noise reduction process that removes the high frequencies and results in a deadened, distorted sound compared to the earlier VHS and laserdisc releases. Hart's great rhyming couplets just don't sound the same!If you have the excellent laserdisc edition of Hallelujah I'm A Bum, you can skip the DVD release. If you have the VHS edition and are looking for better picture AND sound quality, you'll get only one of those ingredients here."
Of interest for a number of reasons
Jmark2001 | Florida | 09/17/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This unusual film is a must for several groups of fans: Musical lovers will need to own this because it is a "lost" musical written by Rodgers and Hart (Thats Dick and Lorenz in a cameo as the photographers in the cornerstone scene), Harry Langdon fans (I am one) will love this because it is his best sound role (those who thought that he was a spent force by the '30's will be very pleased and very surprised by his relaxed and absolute command of his role and spoken/sung lines. He was very good here. Why didn't Hollywood use him more?), Jolson fans will need this because he was at his best here. It is not a great movie but it IS an unusual find and well worth a viewing. Includes the theatrical trailer."