Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hallelujah, I'm a Bum!

Hallelujah, I'm a Bum!, 1933
Dir: Lewis Milestone

Ugh, another musical? Are you serious? Yeah, yeah. I know. But I have to push on. So another sleeper sensation that only a few cinephile critics know about? Uh, well, this is an Al Jolson vehicle, sans blackface, that is, I'm sorry to say, not very funny. Jolson as an entertainer was not a comedian, and that might be where I can't see eye to eye with this. You can romanticize hobos all you want, but if you're just singing about how sweet it is to be homeless in Central Park, I might not give a shit.

Jolson plays a popular hobo named Bumper, who happens to be good buddies with the Mayor of New York (Frank Morgan), which of course makes no sense. The two plots of Bumper being a jolly good bum and the Mayor's relationship problems meet when Bumper saves a woman (Madge Evans) from killing herself and then falls in love with her. She has some sudden traumatic amnesia from throwing herself off a bridge and can't remember that she got dumped by the Mayor because he thought she was fooling around. I smell conflict!!

There are a bunch of really heavy-handed leftist remarks in this that are pretty pointless, which makes me wonder why they are in there at all. I mean, when Bumper decides to work all the other hobos get pissed and put him on "trial." You can't be a working hobo, duh. Labor blows! Another thing that will pop out at the modern audience is the character of Acorn, who pals around with Bumper, played by Edgar Connor. He is kind of a real life blackface character, always smiling, always doing the "shitty" work. I'm not sure what statement is being made, good or bad, but Jolson was known for his black rights activism. It just seems like the wrong kind of ambiguity if you ask me. This does not have the cool stuff that Love Me Tonight (1933) had, and instead of being funny, it's just corny as hell. The ending is actually pretty interesting, but I'm (usually) just no song-and-dance man.

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