Wonder Bar

Wonder Bar

Director: Lloyd Bacon

Cast: Kay Francis, Dick Powell, Al Jolson

     
 

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Based on Al Jolson's 1931 Broadway hit, Wonder Bar transposes the "Grand Hotel" formula to a lavish nightclub in Paris' Montmartre district. Presiding over the evening's entertainment is manager-emcee Al Wonder (Jolson), who after greeting his guests in a multitude of languages (a la Joel Grey in Cabaret) introduces a steady stream of top variety acts.See more details below

Overview

Based on Al Jolson's 1931 Broadway hit, Wonder Bar transposes the "Grand Hotel" formula to a lavish nightclub in Paris' Montmartre district. Presiding over the evening's entertainment is manager-emcee Al Wonder (Jolson), who after greeting his guests in a multitude of languages (a la Joel Grey in Cabaret) introduces a steady stream of top variety acts. The star attraction of the Wonder Bar floor show is the Latin dance team of Inez (Dolores Del Rio) and Harry (Ricardo Cortez). Al worships Inez from afar, but she is hopelessly in love with Harry, a no-good louse who is carrying on with Liane (Kay Francis), the wife of prominent banker Renaud (Henry Kolker). Meanwhile, German military officer Captain Von Ferring (Robert H. Barrat), who has lost his fortune to bad investments, enjoys one last fling at the Wonder Bar before committing suicide. The two main subplots converge when Inez stabs Harry out of pique, whereupon the ever-loyal Al deposits Harry's body in Von Ferring's car, knowing full well that Von Ferring intends to drive himself off a steep hill to his death. Never letting Inez find out that she killed Harry, Al stands stoically aside as she finds true happiness with composer Tommy (Dick Powell). Lest this all sound heavily somberly serious, it should be noted that Wonder Bar is chock full of laughs, from both Jolson (who runs through quite a repertoire of tried-and-true routines) and the drunken antics of "tired business men" Hugh Herbert and Hobart Cavanaugh. The musical numbers staged by Busby Berkeley range from sedate to incredible, with the bizarrely racist 10-minute "Goin' to Heaven on a Mule" (truly a jaw-dropping experience) falling into the latter category. The film's most outrageous moment, however, is an uninhibited chunk of homosexual humor on the dance floor ("Boys will be boys!," crows Jolson) which just barely squeaked past the Hollywood censors!

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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Craig Butler
Wonder Bar is one of the strangest of Hollywood's early musicals. A backstager, Wonder Bar is much less concerned with getting a show on than with cataloguing the sexual desires of its ensemble cast -- sometimes with humor, sometimes with drama. There's a refreshing frankness and even a lurid quality to much of the goings-on, surprising for the era, which gives the film a distinctive tone. Busby Berkeley has a grand time with the "Don't Say Good Night" sequence, which grows from a duet between Dolores Del Rio and Ricardo Cortez to a group number involved white clad and black masked revelers moving betwixt shifting white columns, leading up to a climax involving mirrors that is quite breathtaking. Unfortunately, Berkeley is also at least partially responsible for the notorious "Goin' to Heaven on a Mule" number, considered by many as the most offensive sequence in musical film history. Another of Jolson's blackface routines, it features practically every possible racial stereotype, including a giant watermelon upon which Hal LeRoy performs his taps. Much more interesting (and better) is the masochistic tango danced by Del Rio and Cortez, a powerful number with a whipping sequence that is truly disturbing. Aside from the "Mule" number, Jolson is good here, fitting into the ensemble surprisingly well while still retaining his bravado, and Del Rio and Cortez are a fascinating couple. Bacon's direction is solid, with some inventive editing and camera angles. In spite of "Mule," Wonder Bar is an absorbing musical melodrama with some exceptional sequences.

Product Details

Release Date:
07/21/2009
UPC:
0883316182147
Original Release:
1934
Rating:
NR
Source:
Warner Archives
Presentation:
[B&W, Full Frame]
Time:
1:24:00
Sales rank:
32,646

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Kay Francis Liane Renaud
Dick Powell Tommy
Jolson Al Wonder
Dolores Del Rio Inez
Ricardo Cortez Harry
Hal Le Roy Himself
Guy Kibbee Henry Simpson
Ruth Donnelly Ella Simpson
Hugh Herbert Corey Pratt
Louise Fazenda Pansy Pratt
Fifi D'Orsay Mitzi
Robert H. Barrat Capt. von Ferring
Henry Kolker Mr. Renaud
Demetrius Alexis Actor
Billy Anderson Call Boy
Hobart Cavanaugh Drunk
Spencer Charters Pete
Emile Chautard Concierge
Clay Clement Actor
Gino Corrado Waiter
Michael Dalmatoff Count
Jane Darwell Baroness
Gordon de Main Actor
William "Wild Bill" Elliott Norman
Pauline Garon Operator
William Granger Actor
Robert Graves Police Officer
Grace Hayle Fat Dowager
Amo Ingraham Actor
George S. Irving Broker
Alfred P. James Night Watchman
Bud Jamison Bartender
Eddie Kane Frank
Edward Keane Captain
Merna Kennedy Claire
John Marlowe Young Man
Alphonse Martell Doorman
Dave "Tex" O'Brien Chorus Boy
Dennis O'Keefe Man at Bar
Henry O'Neill Richards
Paul Power Chester
Rosalie Roy Chorus Girl
Rolfe Sedan Waiter
Kathryn Sergava Ilka
William Stack Businessman
Renee Whitney Actor
Harry Woods Detective
Mia Ichioka GeeGee

Technical Credits
Lloyd Bacon Director
George J. Amy Editor
Earl W. Baldwin Screenwriter
Busby Berkeley Choreography
Alexis Dubin Songwriter
Leo F. Forbstein Musical Direction/Supervision
Robert Lord Producer
Jack Okey Art Director
Orry-Kelly Costumes/Costume Designer
Sol Polito Cinematographer
Harry Warren Songwriter

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