THE KING OF JAZZ (Universal, 1930), directed by John Murray Anderson, is the fourth and final of Hollywood's all star musical revues during the 1929-30 season, and ranks the most impressive of the four, outdoing MGM's THE Hollywood REVUE OF 1929 (1929); Warners THE SHOW OF SHOWS (1929) and PARAMOUNT ON PARADE (1930). Filmed in early two-strip Technicolor, it is fortunate to have survived after all these years with color footage intact since most color footage used during the early sound films, mostly musicals, are either lost or exist today solely in black and white. The titled character goes to band-leader, Paul Whiteman, in his feature movie debut, but THE KING OF JAZZ is remembered today only as the motion picture debut of Bing Crosby, who, in reality, mainly appears as part of the Rhythm Boys in a couple of musical skits.
Virtually plot less, the revue opens with Crosby's off-screen vocalizing of "Music Hath Charms" during the opening credits. This is followed by Charles Irwin standing in as master of ceremonies. After introducing himself, he goes on to tell and show how Paul Whiteman became crown "The King of Jazz." A cartoon segment follows (compliments of Walter Lantz, the creator of Woody Woodpecker), which shows Whiteman himself hunting in darkest Africa being chased by a lion. After a merry chase, Whiteman sooths the savage beast by playing music with his violin to the tune, "Music Hath Charms". After an elephant squirts water through its trunk on a monkey up a tree, the angry monkey throws a coconut towards the elephant, which, in turn, hits Whiteman instead. The bump on his head thus forms into a crown. Then comes the introduction of th Paul Whiteman Band, who present themselves by playing individual tunes with their instruments. Production numbers and comedy skits follow. The most striking numbers are: "The Bridal Veil" which ends with costumed brides carrying the biggest veil ever made which covers the entire flight of stairs; the ten minute spectacle of Whiteman conducting his orchestra to George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," and the "Happy Feet" number, sung by The Sisters "G", which has chorus girls descending onto a large-scale miniature of New York City, highlighted by the eccentric rubber-legged dancing of Al Norman which should be seen to be believed!
Other songs presented include: "The Lord Delivered Daniel" (sung by the cartoonish Paul Whiteman) "Mississippi Mud" and "So the Bluebirds and the Blackbirds Got Together" (both sung by The Rhythm Boys: Bing Crosby, Harry Barris and Al Rinker); "It Happened in Monterey" (sung by John Boles); "Oh, How I Would Like to Own a Fish Store" (sung by Jack White); "A Bench in the Park" (sung by Glenn Tryon and Laura LaPlante, The Brox Sisters and the Rhythm Boys); "Ragamuffin Romeo" (sung by Jeanie Lang); "I Like to Do Things for You" (sung by Jeanie Lang to Paul Whiteman; Grace Hayes and William Kent; danced by Tommy Atkins Sextette with Nell O'Day); "Has Anyone Here Seen Nellie?" (sung by Churchill Ross, John Arledge, Frank Leslie and Walter Brennan with his wriggling ear); "The Song of the Dawn" (sung by John Boles); and the finale, "The Melting Pot Medley." Brief comedy skits include THE DAILY MEOW with Laura LaPlante, Jeanie Lang, Merna Kennedy, Grace Hayes and Kathryn Crawford; IN CONFERENCE with Glenn Tryon, Laura LaPlante and Merna Kennedy; SPRING TIME with Slim Summerville, Yola d'Avril and Walter Brennan; ALL NOISY ON THE EASTERN FRONT with Yola d'Avril, Slim Summerville, Walter Brennan, others; FOREVER MORE with William Kent as the drunk, and Walter Brennan as the butler; the risqué, A MEETING WITH FATHER with Slim Summerville meeting his future father-in-law (Otis Harlan) and how he feels about her (wait for the punchline and wonder how that got past the censors); and much more. There's also Joe Venito playing his wild violin to the tune, "Pop Goes the Weasal."
Unseen in many years, THE KING OF JAZZ was presented on television during the early years of cable TV circa 1984, and later that year distributed on video cassette, compliments of MCA/Universal with its excellent clear copy which makes it worth purchasing and having as a part of a movie lover's collection. For a while, THE KING OF JAZZ did enjoy frequent revivals on American Movie Classics in the early 1990s.
The biggest surprise about this revue is that it was released by Universal, the studio not known for lavish musicals, yet, coming out with the best of its kind. Aside from lavishness, it's quite advanced, especially with its camera techniques which remains impressive even today. The comedy skits might seem out of date, but are just a reminder as to what vaudeville was like and the humor that made its audiences chuckle way back when. Even similar comedy skits of long ago are still being used today, especially by stand-up comics or on current TV sit-coms which try to make old material fresh and original. One final note: the special effects. Although not a first in early sound cinema, the early portion of the film where Paul Whiteman introduces his orchestra by opening his suitcase, from which many tiny musicians emerge in front of the life-size face of Whiteman as he watches from behind, then growing to normal size, is quite impressive, considering the time frame this was made. Remember, this wasn't done by computers as it would be today.
THE KING OF JAZZ has many bonuses to impress a first-time viewer. The production gets better with each passing comedy skit and musical numbers. Like its predecessors, it predates the bygone era of TV's variety shows. And for die-hard Bing Crosby fans, even if the famous crooner doesn't have enough footage to call this movie his own, there's enough entertainment here by others to go around.(***)
King of Jazz
Animation / Comedy / Music / Musical
King of Jazz
Animation / Comedy / Music / Musical
This revue presents its numbers around the orchestra leader Paul Whiteman, besides that it shows in it's final number that the European popular music are the roots of American popular music, called Jazz.
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