This movie shows the idealized career of the singer Al Jolson, a little Jewish boy who goes against the will of his father in order to be in showbiz. He becomes a star, falls in love with a... See full summary »
Alfred E. Green
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Because "bum" in British slang is a vulgar term for the human rear end, the British Board of Film Censors refused to pass the film unless the title was changed. So the British release was called "Hallelujah, I'm a Tramp," a change which required re-recording and reshooting the opening number. See more »
A cameraman's arm is reflected in the partially opened window of the Mayor's limousine when the Mayor meets Bumper at the casino. See more »
HALLELUJAH I'M A BUM (United Artists, 1933), directed by Lewis Milestone, with music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and starring Al Jolson in his only film for United Artists, is a musical oddity at best that reportedly had failed at the box office when released in theaters, and later went through reissues under different film titles ("Heart of New York") and shorter prints. I first came across this particular movie once on a local TV channel (WTAF, Channel 29, in Philadelpha) in April 1978 titled "Hallelujah, I'm a TRAMP," in which the version I saw was not only choppy but obviously re-dubbed during the song numbers. Fortunately, MGM/UA home video and later DVD copy that's currently available is restored to its full 84 minutes with the picture and sound so clear that it gives the impression that the movie itself was made only a few years ago. So my review will be taken from the basis of that.
Bumper (Al Jolson), a drifting hobo with Acorn (Edgar Connor), his tag-along black companion, return to New York City from Florida. Bumper is close friends with the New York Mayor, John Hastings (Frank Morgan), who pleasures in giving Bumper some money whenever its needed for him. Bumper and his hobo pals sleep on park benches in Central Park while Hastings has problems of his own with his mistress, June Marcher (Madge Evans), whom he believes is being unfaithful with another man named Len. However, after patching things up again while dining together, John gives her a $1,000 bill to put in her purse. However, June misplaces the purse with the money, and when John learns of it, he jumps to his own conclusions in believing she gave Len the money. After a quarrel, John walks out on her. But in reality, the purse got mixed up with the dishes by a waiter and tossed in the trash outside. Bumper and Acorn find the purse and Bumper decides to return it to the rightful owner, the owner being June. By then, June has already left her luxurious apartment disillusioned, with the intentions of not returning. Before leaving, she leaves a note for John. After coming to June's apartment, Hastings finds Bumper waiting there with the purse and explains how he got it. John realizes that June has told the truth and feels foolish. By then, June has headed for Central Park where, later that night, decides to plunge from a bridge to the river below and drown herself. The drifter Bumper sees this and rescues her. Trying to find out who she is, Bumper soon learns the girl has amnesia, and decides to look after her and call her "Angel." He falls desperately in love with "Angel," much to the dismay of his hobo pals, and decides to go to work in a bank to obtain enough money to keep her in an apartment and support her. When he learns who June really is, he is faced with the decision of returning her to Mayor Hastings or to keep silent and keep her all to himself.
The plot as it is somewhat echoes Charlie Chaplin's 1931 silent CITY LIGHTS in which Charlie plays a tramp who befriends a blind girl and goes to work to support her. Here, Jolson's Bumper befriends a girl with amnesia (with both girls being beautiful blondes). Something somewhat new at the time of its release is the rhyming dialogue with songs that accompanied HALLELUJAH I'M A BUM, an experiment that failed to click, although experimented earlier in two Maurice Chevalier 1932 Paramount musicals, ONE HOUR WITH YOU and LOVE ME TONIGHT, the latter scored by Rodgers and Hart. The Jolson version is a new experience for viewers that should be ranked as one of his most atypical film roles. There are no "Mammy" songs and no "blackface" performances either, both which have become traditional and commonplace in a Jolson movie. The Rodgers and Hart rhyming songs/dialogue includes: "Bumper, Bumper," "I Gotta Get Back to New York," "My Pal Bumper," "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum" (two different versions); "Laying the Cornerstone" (a restored segment featuring Frank Morgan and school kids); "Dear June," "Bumper Found a Grand," "What Do You Want With Money?" "Kangaroo Court," "I'd Do It Again" and the best song of all, "You Are Too Beautiful," which is underscored during the film's tender moments. Only the "Kangaroo Court" segment comes off as the only slow point to the story.
HALLELUJAH I'M A BUM (which premiered October 8, 2009, on Turner Classic Movies) also presents Frank Morgan in a rare performance as a serious romantic leading man; Madge Evans as his charming girlfriend who adds beauty to her role; and two former silent screen comedians in speaking parts, Harry Langdon as Egghead; and Chester Conklin as Sunday, adding some humor to the story. The best comedy bit is Louise Carver as Sunday's wife, a no-nonsense landlady who enjoys evicting her tenants for even being minutes late with the rent. Jolson's facial expression after he meets and sees her "charming face" is priceless. The movie is highly recommended, unless a viewer has problems sitting through a movie with mostly rhyming dialogue and no dance numbers. So that there will be no misunderstanding, the storyline does include moments of natural dialogue. (***1/2)
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