You can't help comparing this musical (from a play that opened in Vienna and was based in that city) to GRAND HOTEL because of the number of characters, plots, and subplots. It didn't make it on Broadway when Jolson played it on the roof of the 44th Street Theater, but the screen version
fared better. Jolson is the owner of and singer in his own nightspot. His star attraction is Del Rio and both he and band singer Powell are in love with her, but she is moon-eyed over Cortez, her partner in dancing. Tourist Kibbee is married to Donnelly and his pal Herbert is wed to Fazenda. That
doesn't stop these aging butter-and-egg men from flirting with D'Orsay and Kennedy, two of the hostesses at the "Wonder Bar." (Kennedy was married, in real life, to the movie's choreographer, Berkeley.) At the same time Jolson and Powell are competing for Del Rio, her amour, Cortez, is the
favorite of wealthy socialite Francis, who is also married. One of the secondary stories includes Barrat as a suicidal soldier who is in deep financial trouble and having a final fling before doing himself in. With that much story, it's amazing there was any room for songs and production numbers,
but there they are, and plenty of them. Most of the Harry Warren-Al Dubin songs are only serviceable but push the several plots along. One terribly tasteless production sequence has Jolson in his standard blackface singing "I'm Going to Heaven on a Mule," which takes him into a scene filled with
hundreds of small black children. On his visit to Heaven, he finds that all the angels look like "Uncle Tom." An oddity is that Francis' character is named "Liane Renaud" and, in later years, that was close to the real name of famed French chanteuse Line Renaud, who had a very successful career in
Las Vegas. Dancer Hal LeRoy makes his film debut and taps his way into the audience's hearts. The lapse in taste in the all-black number was almost overcome in the "Don't Say Goodnight" section as Berkeley made use of his infinity of mirrors filled with handsome young men and gorgeous young women.
Although set in Paris, the film could have taken place anywhere, and will probably eventually be taken up by some smart Broadway producer for a musical in years to come. Jolson's contract called for him to have a percentage of the gross receipts and he added to his overflowing coffers with the
money that flowed in.
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- Review: You can't help comparing this musical (from a play that opened in Vienna and was based in that city) to GRAND HOTEL because of the number of characters, plots, and subplots. It didn't make it on Broadway when Jolson played it on the roof of the 44th Street… (more)