HALLELUJAH, I’M A BUM (1933) – Singing a song of socialism

The following is my first of two entries in The Unemployment Blogathon, being hosted at this blog from Oct. 4 – 6, 2019. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on a wide range of movies that relate to the subject of getting a job!

Hallelujah, I’m a Bum is surely the strangest movie musical I’ve ever seen. As with a lot of movies intended as Big Statements, at first it seems to have a lot on its mind, but it eventually surrenders to the hoariest of movie tropes.

If nothing else, the movie offers a novel twist on U.S. society as it was affected by the Great Depression. Al Jolson, the box-office smash of his time, plays Bumper, the unofficial “mayor of Central Park.” Bumper has seemingly hundreds of followers — park layabouts who are happy to follow Bumper’s philosophy of not looking for employment that isn’t available anyway. The only naysayer in the Central Park group is a socialist street sweeper named Egghead (Harry Langdon), who is the constant butt of the bums’ jokes simply for wanting to work so hard.

(Bumper also has a sidekick, a cheery black man named Acorn [Edgar Connor]. In modern terms, Acorn seems like a glaring stereotype. But if you know anything about Al Jolson’s filmography, you can be grateful that Jolson didn’t ask to play the part of Acorn himself.)

Rounding out the starring quartet is the actual mayor of New York City, John Hastings. (He is played by Frank Morgan, later to gain film immortality in the titular role of The Wizard of Oz — and this movie, which came out six years earlier, has a surprising reference to the later film.) At first, it seems surprising that Hastings is so willing to make friends with Bumper instead of arresting him, but the duo turn out to be in synch with each other’s roguish personalities.

It is at this point that the movie is at its most intriguing, turning upside down the popular Depression attitude of “We shall overcome.” What if the entire country had decided to embrace its inevitable poverty rather than fight it? And the movie is helped along in its offbeat viewpoint with its musical dialogue — “talk-singing” songs composed by the legendary Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.

Sadly, it is also at this point that the movie resigns itself to conventional movie plotting, when it introduces us to Hastings’ girlfriend June. As played by Madge Evans, she is lovely and charming — so much so that we quickly get tired of Hastings’ wild accusations, backed up by no evidence, that June is cheating on him.

(SPOILER PARAGRAPH ALERT) Suddenly, a movie that had bubbled over with originality quickly succumbs to the most naked of plot contrivances (AMNESIA!!), as well as what the late film critic Roger Ebert deemed “The Idiot Plot,” wherein the characters’ misunderstandings could be resolved instantly if one or the other of them didn’t behave like total idiots. And when Bumper ends up falling for June, the Great Depression suddenly seems like the least of this movie’s catastrophes.

All of the movie’s performances are quite wonderful. (Jolson, in particular, scores points just by underplaying like never before.) It’s just a pity that the movie’s makers (including top-notch screenwriters Ben Hecht and S.N. Behrman) didn’t have either the courage or the stamina to steer their unique scenario all the way to the end.

(If you liked this blogathon entry, click here to read my second entry discussing the 1974 TV-movie Thursday’s Game.)



Just a gentle reminder that our blog’s The Unemployment Blogathon will begin five days from now. There’s still plenty of time for you to sign up and find out how to enter the ‘thon with your blog entry about any movie with an unemployment-related theme. Click on the banner above for more information!

Also, three weeks after The Unemployment Blogathon has ended, we will be hosting The Honeymooners Blogathon — and again, there is still plenty of time to enter the ‘thon and write about your favorite aspect of this classic TV series. Click on the above banner for entry information.


Moviemakers know that getting and keeping a job is always on everyone’s mind, as countless movies dating back to the beginning of film have looked at this subject. Let’s look at the wide variety of angles from which this topic has been explored, as we present


What We’re Looking For

Your blogathon entry should be about a movie whose main plot, or at least a prominent subplot, concerns unemployment for one or more of the main characters. Please do not write about a character who is simply unemployed for his own sake.

(For example, Charlie Chaplin started out many of his movies with his Tramp character not having a job — but that in itself was not always the focus of his movies. For this blogathon, if you write about Chaplin, we’d prefer you write about one of his movies where his seeking employment furthered the plot, as in City Lights or Modern Times.)

That said, if the movie concerns not having, getting, or keeping a job, you can choose from any genre, from comedy or drama to musical or animated film. Also, no duplicate entries, please. The listing (below) of blogathon entries will be continually updated; check it to be sure your intended entry isn’t already taken.


  1. In the “Comments” section at the bottom of this blog, please leave your name, the URL of your blog, and the movie you are choosing to blog about. Below are banners you can use to promote your blog entry. Please choose a banner, display it on your blog, and link it back to this blog.
  2. The blogathon will take place from Fri., Oct. 4, through Sun., Oct. 6, 2019. When the opening date of the blogathon arrives, leave a comment here with a link to your post, and I will display it in the list of entries (which I will continually update to the beginning of the ‘thon, so keep checking back!).
  3. I will not be assigning particular dates to any blog posts. As long as you get your entry in by the end of the day on Oct. 6, I will be satisfied. (That said, the sooner the better!)

Again, be sure to leave a comment below and grab our banner, and have fun with your blog entry! Here’s the line-up so far:

Movie Movie Blog Blog II – Hallelujah I’m a Bum (1933)

The Midnite Drive-In – Falling Down (1993)

The Stop Button – Mondays in the Sun (2002)

Outspoken and Freckled – That Touch of Mink (1962)

Caftan Woman – Gold Diggers of 1933

Movierob – Lost in America (1985), Capitalism: A Love Story (2009), and Everything Must Go (2010)

A Shroud of Thoughts – Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Moon in Gemini – Bridesmaids (2011)

Taking Up Room – The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Pure Entertainment Preservation Society – All This, and Heaven Too and The Shop Around the Corner (both 1940)