Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Wonder Bar

Warners musical from 1934.  Story: a night in the life of a Paris nightclub.

-Viewing date: 1/7/2013 (Sovereign premiere)
-One of a long line (forming behind 42nd Street) of behind-the-scenes-of-the-show musicals that Warners was cranking out in the Thirties.
-Busby Berkeley's are, with the exception of one (see below), spectacular and impossible.  Apparently, the Wonder Bar was built inside an old warehouse.
-A great cast, although Al Jolson is a bit of a tough sell to modern audiences. 
-Hugh Herbert and Guy Kibbee do their drunk characters and Louise Fazenda has fun as Herbert's wife.
-Dolores del Rio plays the dancer Inez a bit over-the-top at times.  I love the bit where she opens her dressing room door and just stands and poses for no one other than the audience.
-One of the two prostitutes who Herbert and Kibbee spend the whole movie flirting with is played by Merna Kennedy.  Kennedy's first movie was The Circus, where she played the female lead opposite Charlie Chaplin.  Sadly, that was the highlight of her short career.  Shortly after Wonder Bar she married Busby Berkeley, divorcing him after only one year.  In 1944 she died of a heart attack at the age of 36.
-The movie takes cynicism to a new level.  When one of the club's longtime patrons decides to commit suicide at the end of the night, not only does Jolson's Wonder not stop him, he takes advantage of it in order to cover up a crime. 
-The movie is infamous for a couple of scenes.  The first is the oft-repeated shot of Jolson's reaction to seeing two men dancing together ("Boys will be boys!").  The second is the musical number "Goin' to Heaven on a Mule".  Minstral bits were not uncommon at the time, especially if Jolson was in the cast, but this might be the be-all-end-all of minstrallity.  No stereotype is left untouched by the end of the number.  Pork chop tree?  Check.  Black-faced women coming out of giant watermelons? Check.  And on and on.  To be a little bit fair to Jolson, he does poke fun at his own heritage on a couple of occasions, including a Jewish gag dropped into the minstral act.  To add insult to injury, the production of the number comes off as a bit shoddy and, well, the song isn't very good either. 

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