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Harry and Inez are a dance team at the Wonder Bar. Inez loves Harry, but he is in love with Liane, the wife of a wealthy business man. Al Wonder and the conductor/singer Tommy are in love with Inez. When Inez finds out, that Harry wants to leave Paris and is going to the USA with Liane she kills him. Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <email@example.com>
Al Jolson insisted on singing the opening number Vive la France live on set, as he claimed it would be impossible to do the song justice if was filmed miming to playback, in order to deliver it with the excitement and verve that only he could bring to it. Even though this presented considerable technical problems, Warner Brothers agreed (that's the real studio orchestra actually on set playing the house band of the Wonder Bar) and this is one of the very last musical numbers to be performed live on camera. See more »
[rolls eyes as two men dance off together]
Boys will be boys, woooo!
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The opening credits appear as the respective actors enter the nightclub through a revolving door. See more »
This is a helluva time, riotous precode stuffperverse entertainment according to some. The Code was invented for just such a film, though thankfully not in time for it, to rob us of pleasures that someone thought would destroy the common fabric if indulged too often.
It's the Depression, though the film takes place in Paris so as not to offend. The film is by the 42nd Street/Footlight Parade team, so a show about a show being staged. The entire film is one long night of song and revelry in Al Jolson's Wonder Bar.
It would be far fetched to claim this as intentionally analogous to the times. In a way, however, it can be said to parse out from and abstractin the dreamlike way of Hollywooda certain kind of Depression-era experience.
What has happened from the perspective of the commonfolk in the audience, is that whimsical gods have decided to throw a crank in the gears of the world, snapping order and mechanismanything goes for a while. In stark reality, this means bread lines and hobo trains.
Here are some of the situations that develop in the story: adultery, theft and all sorts of deceit and secret drama, what amounts to owner- sanctioned prostitution both male and female, a homosexual couple freely dance together, a man who all through the film insinuates suicide and no one bothers to stop him.. and get this, murder goes unpunished and doesn't even weigh on anybody's conscience.
Instead of being made to feel horror and desperation at this snapping of order, we have a grand time. The focus is on us being entertained. This is of course not uncommon for musicals of the time, in fact it is the very engine of itthe show must go on. Here, however, we have Gold Diggers of 33 grinded out through the dionysian wringer.
How about the actual show? Busby Berkeley is here, and that means gaudiness, scope and sensual razzmatazz. I so love the man, at least in those brief years when inspiration was still fresh. There are two numbers here, the first as you expect it; fresh women, body-particles which contrary to shapeless reality, up on the stage form abstracterotic order, vaginal molecules that swirl and shudder and blossom fruits in our imagination.
Now you would expect, as was the norm in the 'backstage' mode, the big number to somehow address the situations, a kind of visual situation of situations. It's why I think this mode matters and have been surveying it, quite apart from the pleasures of frill and song.
Here's where it gets really interesting.
The last number once more has Jolson in blackface and was deemed so vile this one, it was excised by censors from future prints. Now Jolson has been scheming all through the film, as the proprietor, to win the affections of his star, not unkindly mind you, but it leads to some nasty turns. Jolson's characterwho would be feeling pangs of guilt in normal realityin his disguise as humble godfearing tom, goes to heaven on a mule; he is mirthfully greeted there by angels in blackface, kids playing banjo, a chorus of happy souls swirling in the clouds.
God, this is great. Jolson as the great manipulator is reprieved from wrongdoing, two layers here: in his mind and imagination, as having conceived the show, secondly in the public mind, in the show being shared for the enjoyment of an audience both in and out of the film, and in its dazzle of course eclipsing in lasting impression the events of the plot.
You think I'm reading too much? Keep in mind I am always observing dynamics, not deciphering intent.
You will notice that the number is linked and flows out from a previous number ('Gaucho'), where reality seeps into the dance in the form of violent passion and the audience applauds, sanctifying the amoral mechanics of illusion. Dolores del Rio as the voluptuous object of desire looks ravishing, everything happens for her eyes. Imagine: she ends in the arms of meek, boring pretty-boy Dick Powell.
Anything goesa musical Mabuse of sorts, but the manipulator of cinematic illusion walks away instead of as in Fritz Lang's film, succumbing to madness and police. We applaud, blessing his powers of seduction over reason.
Something to meditate upon.
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