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  King of Jazz Happy Feet
Year: 1930
Director: John Murray Anderson
Stars: Paul Whiteman, John Boles, Bing Crosby, Harry Barris, Al Rinker, Charles Irwin, Al Norman, Marion Stattler, Don Rose, Walter Brennan, Slim Summerville, Laura La Plante, Glenn Tryon, Otis Harlan, William Kent, Frank Leslie, Jeanie Lang, Jack Fulton
Genre: Comedy, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Mr Charles Irwin is delighted to introduce to you the scrapbook of the King of Jazz himself, Mr Paul Whiteman. But first, as we turn the pages we find the reason he got into the music by way of an animation that saw him venture to "Darkest Africa", where he was hunting big game. He attempted to shoot a lion, but the animal had other ideas and chased him across the plains, though there was a brighter side as the jazz he found there transformed his life. Now he can present his band, which he handily carries around in a travelling case - they hop out and the show can begin.

King of Jazz, eh? We'll be the judge of that! Although Whiteman - who was indeed a white man - cannot really lay claim to that title nowadays, and there are those who would query his use of the term at the time, he was a popular bandleader of his day, although this film intended to showcase him and his music wasn't much of a success on its release. If it is recalled today then that is because it featured none other than Bing Crosby in his film debut, here appearing with the Rhythm Boys.

You could say that as the screen musical had not been quite perfected in 1930, certainly not as far as the stage musical had, then performing the songs as a revue was the best method to go with, as happens here. Couple that with early Technicolor, which used red and blue, and this adds to the artificiality of the production. There is no story at all in this, merely a series of numbers broken up with some seriously dated sketches that couldn't have been especially hilarious at the time. That said, there is one good pre-Production Code joke involving pre-marital sex, but one laugh does not a knee-slapping gagfest make.

Better to concentrate on the tunes, which include some toe-tappers, and the dancing, which can be quite alarmingly energetic: see the "Ragamuffin Romeo" song, which has one woman flung about like a ragdoll. The film constitutes a neat amalgamation of the entertainment of the day, the kind of thing you would see if you went to a theatre to watch a show, although whether you would be lucky enough to hear Crosby (here impossibly fresh-faced) sing on your night out was a different matter, hence this production.

It's not all novelty acts as the centrepiece of the movie is a staging of George Gershwin's then-fairly new "Rhapsody in Blue" (though not with the man himself at the piano). Interestingly, like the Walter Lantz cartoon which opens the film, a link is made between the jazz music and Africa, as if the two were inseparable in the public's mind, so before the Rhapsody gets underway there's a couple of minutes of an all-in-black dancer, complete with huge headress, jumping around on a huge drum, pounding out "voodoo" rhythms as they're referred to. As for the Rhapsody itself, accompanying the classic strains there is a huge piano containing the band, and a chorus line marching about in time, which is more palatable for today's attitudes. If King of Jazz is a time capsule, it's a valuable one, an insight into the spectaculars of the era, where sound film was in its infancy.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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