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MGM Studios DVD presents
Hallelujah, I'm a Bum! (1933)

"You got the grass, you got the trees, what do you want with money?"
- Bumper (Al Jolson)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: February 04, 2002

Stars: Al Jolson, Madge Evans, Frank Morgan, Harry Langdon
Other Stars: Chester Conklin, Dorothea Wolbert, Edgar Connor, Tyler Brooke, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart
Director: Lewis Milestone

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild innuendo)
Run Time: 01h:22m:43s
Release Date: February 05, 2002
UPC: 027616873002
Genre: musical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BD+C+ C-

DVD Review

Even though he's barely remembered today, Al Jolson was one of the biggest box office attractions of them all during the late 1920s and early 1930s. His charisma and charm are on prominent display in this odd little musical from the heights of the Depression, devoted primarily to the notion of being happy with your lot in life. Bumper (Jolson) is the hobo Mayor of Central Park, while his good friend Hastings (Frank Morgan) is Mayor of New York City. Hastings is in love with June Marcher (Madge Evans), whom he has caught with another man. A misunderstanding leads to their breakup and a suicidal June jumps off a bridge. Bumper rescues her, but she now has amnesia. Despite his avowed faithfulness to the bum lifestyle, Bumper falls in love to the point of getting a job for his angel. But can he make a girl from the other side of the tracks happy? Jolson's gap-toothed smile and infectious laugh carry the day here; even the crankiest soul can hardly help enjoying himself in this whimsical production. The songs, by Rodgers and Hart, are clever and tuneful, most notably the title song. It's certainly odd to see Frank Morgan as something other than the Wizard of Oz—and even odder to see him here saying the line that would wrap up that classic film six years later: "There's no place like home." Also notable is silent comic Harry Langdon as the communist garbage collector who is Bumper's comic foil. Indeed, most of the bum characters are brought off well, assuredly making the audiences at the height of the Great Depression feel a bit better about their own lots. The one weak link is Madge Evans, who doesn't bring much to the role of June, although she's suitably endearing in her amnesiac state. Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front, among other classics) provides sparkling direction and brisk pacing here. Particularly commendable is a montage sequence depicting the greed that overcomes the bums as they learn that Bumper has found a thousand-dollar bill (an astonishing amount of money in 1933). Rapid cutting and dutch angles in this short sequence remind one of Eisenstein, which is certainly an odd juxtaposition in a sentimental work like this one. Weirdly, the stuntperson who handles the jump off the bridge for Madge Evans can be plainly seen swimming away after the jump, even though the film cuts to Evans unconscious in the water! Apparently made just before the entrance of the Production Code, there's some mild innuendo, silhouetted nudity and implied swearing, but nothing too objectionable for modern audiences is present here.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The source print is in fairly good condition; although there are speckles and occasional scratches, it looks quite good overall, with decent detail. Certainly in contrast to the trailer, it looks fabulous. However, there are problems with the transfer. Whenever the camera moves, or the action moves, there is severe combing visible to the point of being quite irritating. This may not be so noticeable on small televisions, but it was a definite problem on larger equipment. One can hardly get too worked up about MGM's presentation, since one would hardly expect this picture to be high on their list, but just a little more care would have made this a disc I could recommend quite highly.

Image Transfer Grade: D+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The sound, as is par for the course in early 1930s' films, tends to be a shade crackly and noisy. The music tends to be lacking in bass, and Jolson's voice is occasionally shrill. In a few spots, the volume becomes quite low and almost sounds as if it's patched in from another source altogether. But I'd expect this is as good as it's likely to sound without a major restoration. It's certainly acceptable for what it is.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The only notable extra is a theatrical trailer. However, considering how precious few original trailers survive from the early 1930s, this is definitely welcome. It's interesting to see that they were still hitting Jolson's epochal appearance in The Jazz Singer as a selling point for the picture, as well as the notion that Hallelujah, I'm a Bum! is allegedly the first movie presented in rhythmic dialogue. English, French and Spanish subtitles are provided, and the English subtitles are particularly welcome on a disc like this, where the sound quality is sometimes marginal. Thank you, MGM, for reinstituting English subtitles!

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

A pleasant and heartwarming little musical, with some catchy tunes, unfortunately given a less than optimal transfer. There's a rare trailer, but that's about it for extras.


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