|Index||4 reviews in total|
THE SINGING KID (Warner Brothers, 1936), directed by William Keighley,
with choreography by Bobby Connelly, became Al Jolson's final lead in a
musical film, and the movie debut of Beverly Roberts. Although cast as
Al Jackson, Al Jackson is definitely Al Jolson. As Jackson, or Jolson,
or whatever, Al Jackson is America's favorite stage and radio star
living in a New York City penthouse. While good-natured with a heart of
gold, he is irresponsible with women, forgetful, selfish and forever
breaking promises, this time to his fiancée, Dana Lawrence (Claire
Dodd). In turn, Dana is a gold digger who not only takes advantage of
Al's trusting nature, but is carrying on with his business manager, Bob
Carey (Lyle Talbot). Eventually she calls off her engagement and goes
away with Bob, leaving Al with a half-a-million dollar debt with the
Internal Revenue for five years of back taxes, compliments of Mr.
Carey. After he clears himself with the government, Al has further
troubles when, after taking a few drinks, goes on stage and is unable
to finish his song, "Here's Looking at You," due to he slowly losing
his voice. Deciding to quit show business, Al and his cronies,
Davenport Rogers (Edward Everett Horton) and Joe Eddy (Allen Jenkins),
head for Indian Lakes, Maine, and rent a cottage in the country for a
rest cure. While there, Al encounters his landlady, Ruth Haines
(Beverly Roberts), and her precious little orphaned niece, Sybil (Sybil
Jason), who add some happiness to his empty life.
The title, THE SINGING KID is something of a misnomer, making the viewer wonder whether the "Kid" in question is either Jolson, who sings plenty but being too old to be playing a kid, or Sybil Jason, a talented seven-year-old actress who sings only one song. The movie itself, is a showcase for Jolson, but the highlight is Sybil Jason, who appears rather late (45 minutes) into the story. While on screen, she manages to delight, especially when reading a bedtime story to "Uncle Al" instead of the other way around, or a little musical number by the lake in which little Sybil plays doctor to patient Al. This plays cute rather than corny. Jolson usually plays well on screen with children, and the chemistry between him and Jason are most rewarding. Unlike Jolson's previous efforts, this film focuses more on comedy, but when dramatic moments set in, the sentiment doesn't come off as thick. The movie itself hints several times on trying to bring Jolson's entertainment style up to date, having the Mammy singer surrounded by the swing band of Cab Calloway along with swing music. On and all, times are changing but many prefer to remember the Jolson of old. It's almost like trying to place 1940s crooner Bing Crosby in a coming of age 1960s rock-and-roll musical surrounded by long-haired, jive talk hippies.
For THE SINGING KID, age has caught up with Al Jolson, who physically looks a bit heavier with his hair thinning. Beverly Roberts, who was possibly in her 20s, not only looks a bit older than her true age, but talks a little like actress Frances Farmer. Roberts even gets to have a couple of kissing scenes with Jolson.
The musical program includes: Montage Opening: "Mammy," "Swanee," "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody," "California, Here I Come," "April Showers," "About a Quarter to Nine," and "Sonny Boy." Following the montage of old songs, the story begins with new tunes by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg: "I Love to Sing-A" (sung by Jolson and Cab Calloway); "My How This Country's Changed" (sung by the wild and wacky The Yacht Club Boys); "Keep That Hi-De-Ho in Your Soul" (written and sung by Calloway); "Who's the Swingin'est Man in Town?" "Save Me, Sister" (sung by minstrels, with Jolson and Winifred Shaw in black-face); "Here's Looking at You" (incomplete); "You're the Cure for What Ails Me" (sung by Jolson and Sybil Jason); "I Love to Sing-A vs. Mammy Songs" (with Jolson and in which The Yacht Club Boys try to show Al that it's 1936 and that Mammy songs are passé); "You're the Cure for What Ails Me" (reprise by Calloway); and "I Love to Sing-A."
Also in the cast are Frank Mitchell and Jack Durant, a comedy team who rely mostly on violent gags, but are no threat to The Three Stooges; Hattie McDaniel in an unbilled bit; and Jonathan Hale, the future Mr. Dithers in the "Blondie" movie series, playing Doctor Fulton.
THE SINGING KID has its share of songs, but there is hardly any dancing involved. While this may not be the very best of the Jolson musicals, it does come across as entertaining. It can be seen from time to time on cable's Turner Classic Movies. For the record, Al Jolson would return to films playing supporting roles in two 20th Century-Fox musicals in 1939, along with a third, a cameo appearance. But the Jolson legend doesn't end there. (***)
Busby Berkeley actually directed at least one section of this film even though he wasn't credited. I have seen a photograph of Berkeley directing Al Jolson and Sybil Jason as they sing "You're the Cure for What Ails Me" on a lakeside dock, as well as home movies shot by composer Harold Arlen showing Berkeley clowning around at that location with Jolson, lyricist EY Harburg and others. According to Harold Arlen biographer Ed Jablonski, Berkeley choreographed the "I Love to Sing-a" reprise in which Jolson and ensemble begin in a radio station, continue through the outer offices, down an elevator, through a lobby and out into a busy street conversing in rhyme all the way. This number seems to me a foreshadowing of the "Munchkinland" sequence in THE WIZARD OF OZ three years later, wherein Judy Garland strolls through the village to the music and lyrics of the same songwriting team (Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg) with choreography by SINGING KID's credited choreographer, Bobby Connolly; maybe Connolly was inspired by Berkeley's work here. It is to Jolson's credit that he even agreed to perform in the "I Love to Sing-a" reprise because it's all about how dated and irrelevant his "Mammy" singing was. So at least he had a sense of humor.
This was the last of eight films that Jolson did for Warner Brothers
between 1927 and 1936. Not many people have seen this one, but it is
rather addictive with a great parody of Jolson as Jolson.
Jolson plays likable if irresponsible stage and radio star Al Jackson. He's given to trusting the people in his life to handle things for him just a little to much as he runs on overdrive from performance to performance. This gets him in trouble later in the film. Jackson lives at the top of a tall penthouse where he gives his most jubilant performance of "I Wanna Singa" along with Cab Calloway who happens to be practicing on an adjacent rooftop. Just in case you didn't know, that famous song comes from this movie, not the cute little cartoon with the singing Owl in it as most people think. Cab Calloway appears in several numbers with Jolson in this film.
One of the best scenes/numbers in the movie has Jolson rehearsing his radio show, starting out with "I Wanna Singa" and then segueing into "Mammy". At this point The Yacht Club Boys, playing representatives of the sponsor, tunefully interrupt and tell Jolson why he's out of date and can't sing his traditional Mammy songs on their show.
Being Jolson's leading lady didn't really help the film careers of the actresses involved (I'm excluding Mrs. Jolson here, AKA Ruby Keeler). Beverly Roberts - who plays the love interest here - is no exception. She worked for Warner Bros. in 1936 and 1937 and then went back to stage work. Lending strong support here is the ever-confused Edward Everett Hornton as the befuddled gentleman's gentleman to Jolson's character.
Definitely worth it for all Jolson fans. If you don't like Jolson I don't recommend it, as Jolson's films are usually all Jolson all the time, although this one has Jolson interacting with the rest of the cast a little more than his other films usually did.
The man who gave movies its voice, not only speaking but singing voice
wound up his career at Warner Brothers with The Singing Kid. Although
he did not intend to be so, this was Al Jolson's last film with Warner
Brothers and also his last starring film as well.
In The Singing Kid, Al Jolson plays Al Jackson an entertainer who was not unlike the real Al Jolson in some respects. He's rather free with his money, Jolson was legendary for that, especially since he trusts his lawyer and business manager Lyle Talbot who is stealing from him and two timing him with Claire Dodd who usually played bad girls over at Warner Brothers in the Thirties.
When things go bad for Jolson and he loses his money, his girl, and his voice, he takes a long vacation at a cabin in Maine with two of his retainers Edward Everett Horton and Allen Jenkins. In real life Jolson had many of those, not unlike Frank Sinatra. He meets and falls for Beverly Roberts who has a real cute niece she has custody of, Sybil Jason. Jolson together with Jason have some Sonny girl moments on the screen hearkening back to The Singing Fool with Davey Lee.
Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg wrote the score which also interpolated some Jolson standards. Nothing memorable from the official composers and they must have felt like the songwriters from many of Jolson's Broadway shows who always had Al interpolate his own material in the show.
Cab Calloway and his orchestra appeared and Calloway did a typical Cab Calloway number in the film. It must have been really strange on that set with the entertainer who made his mark first in minstrel shows in blackface and who wouldn't leave it and one of the best entertainers who happened to be black around. Jolson does about half of his songs in blackface and half au natural.
As a grown woman Sybil Jason said she had fond memories of Jolson who threw her a birthday party on the set and gave her a bicycle.
The Singing Kid is a must for Jolson fans, but I doubt that too many other people would really be interested in it.
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