'Mammy' did have at least three things going for it.
There is the presence of Al Jolson, a great entertainer with a terrific voice. It has music penned by one of the greatest song-writers of all time Irving Berlin. And it was directed by Michael Curtiz, who directed favourites such as 'Casablanca', 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' and 'White Christmas'.
It is interesting to watch now, and is certainly not a bad film. However it is very easy to see why people will have, and have had, issues with it. Things work very well, but there are parts that have aged badly and make modern viewers cringe while still somewhat appreciating what the film tries to do.
Best things about it are Jolson and especially Berlin's music. Jolson is restrained but still electrifying, he also sounds great and puts his all into the songs. While not among his best ever song scores, the songs are still terrific, with a lot of energy and emotion, clever lyrics and they are gorgeously melodious too so Berlin's talent as a composer/song-writer is more than evident here. Most of the musical numbers are well staged, Jolson's musical scenes work very well and while the minstrel scenes don't work on the whole "Yes I Have No Bananas" is quite fun.
With that being said, the supporting cast are also competent, with an entertaining Lowell Sherman, Hobart Bosworth and a restrained, dignified and sympathetic Louise Dresser coming out on top. Lois Moran has a thankless and underwritten role but brings some charm to it. 'Mammy' still looks good, with lovely 2 strip Technicolor in two scenes and the black and white for the rest of the film looking remarkably crisp. Much of the film has a good deal of energy, and there are a few amusing parts.
Other things don't come off so well. Some of the story is silly and drags in spots, while the mother and son relationship sees Jolson and Dresser behave in a way that is much more suited to a pair of lovers than mother and son and it just doesn't feel right and most of the comedy falls flat because of being overly corny, very of the time and flat in timing.
As for the minstrel scenes, they were acceptable back in 1930 but while historically interesting somewhat they don't hold up very well now. They do go on too long, are not for the easily offended and how most of them are written and staged will make a lot of people cringe and reach for the fast forward button (personally was tempted). Curtiz's direction is not as inspired as in the best of his films and like his heart wasn't completely in it.
Concluding this review, an interesting film that is worth watching for Jolson's performance and Berlin's music but it's a wildly uneven film where some parts just don't hold up very well. 6/10 Bethany Cox
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