Classic Cinema #42 Hallelujah I’m A Bum (1933) – By Jason S. Lockard

My name is Jason S. Lockard and I love classic cinema and they don’t come more classic than our star of the month Al Jolson!

Al Jolson was born Asa Yoelson on May 26, 1886 in the Jewish village of Srednik near Kaunas in Lithuania. He was the youngest of Rabbi Moses Reuben and Naomi Yoelson’s five children. In 1894, Moses Yoelson moved his family to New York to secure a better. Tragedy struck the family when wife and mother, Naomi, died in later that year. Asa was in a state of withdrawal for seven months after his beloved mother’s death.

In 1895 Asa and his brother Hirsch were introduced to show business by entertainer Al Reeves and by 1897 the brothers were singing for coins on local street corners, using the names "Al" and "Harry". In spring of 1902, he accepted a job with Walter L. Main’s Circus. Although originally hired as an usher, Jolson was given a position as a singer during the circus’s Indian Medicine Side Show segment. By the end of the year, however, the circus had folded and Jolson was again out of work.

Al Jolson went on to perform in burlesque shows and even moved to vaudeville forming a team with his brother "Harry". While performing in a Brooklyn theater in 1904, Al decided on a new approach and began wearing blackface makeup. The conversion to blackface boosted his career, and he began wearing blackface in all of his shows.

Al Jolson’s unique singing style would make him a star he would go on to make many #1 records star on many radio programs and headline many films probably most notably 1927’s The Jazz Singer, but just a short 6 years later he would star in our Classic Cinema feature for the month Hallelujah, I’m a Bum.

The film follows Bumper (Jolson), a popular New York tramp, who rescues the mayor’s girlfriend June Marcher who has amnesia and is attempting suicide. After rescuing her Bumper falls for the beautiful woman and vows to make something of himself so he can marry her and live happily ever after!

Will Bumper have that happy little life? Will June regain her memory? Will the mayor find her? All these questions are answered in this little romantic musical comedy!

While the controversial "blackface" that Jolson wore made many feel he was racist; nothing could be farther from the truth. Jolson promoted the play by black playwright Garland Anderson, he brought an all-black dance team from San Francisco that he tried to feature in his Broadway show; he demanded equal treatment for Cab Calloway, with whom he performed a number of duets in his movie The Singing Kid. Al Jolson was the only white man allowed into an all black nightclub in Harlem.

In his heyday, he was called "The World’s Greatest Entertainer". In the 1930s, he was America’s most famous and highest-paid entertainer. On October 23, 1950 while playing cards in his suite at the St. Francis Hotel at 335 Powell Street in San Francisco, Jolson collapsed and died of a massive heart attack. His last words were said to be "Boys, I’m going.". He was 64.

I highly suggest you go out and find some of these Al Jolson films they bring you back to a simpler time and it’s a great escape from the hustle of everyday life. So until next time this is Jason Lockard reminding you if you want to see a good film check out a classic!

Moral Rating: Nothing offensive.
Audience: All Audiences
Genre: Musical comedy
Length: 82 Minutes
Our Rating: A