Cast & Crew
Hoboes Bumper and Acorn are enjoying their annual holiday in Florida when they meet fellow vacationer John Hastings. John is the mayor of New York City and an old friend of Bumper, who is known as the mayor of Central Park because he is the convivial leader of the bums. The vacationers return to New York, and while Bumper happily greets his pals, including the politically-minded street cleaner Egghead, John prepares to reunite with his sweetheart, June Marcher. John had quarreled with June when he saw her giving her old boyfriend Len money to help him begin a new life. John had misunderstood the situation, but June convinced him that it was innocent. After John lays the cornerstone of a new school, he goes to the Central Park Casino, where he lunches everyday, and tips Bumper as he opens John's car door. While Bumper, Egghead and Acorn lunch among the trash cans out back, John meets June. John slips a $1,000 bill into June's purse as a reconciliation gift, but his gesture goes awry when her handbag is accidently put in Egghead's rubbish barrel. Later that night, John refuses to believe that June lost her purse and accuses her of giving the money to Len. June's tearful pleading that she is innocent and that Len has left town is useless. The next morning, Bumper finds June's purse with the money in it and gets her address from a postcard, but when he arrives at her apartment, he discovers that she has moved away. John receives a goodbye note from June and, after rushing to her apartment, finds that Bumper has the purse but that June is gone. A distraught John gives Bumper the money to divide among his friends and begins to search for June. Later that night, Bumper is walking in the park and sees June try to commit suicide by jumping into the river. He rescues her and hides her from a policeman, but the shock has given her amnesia. Not remembering who she is or what she was running from, June falls in love with her rescuer, who calls her "Angel." Determined to give June the best of everything, Bumper takes June to stay with his carriage driver friend Sunday and his wife, and takes a bank job arranged by John. After his first day of work, Bumper visits June but is called away by Sunday, who needs help getting the drunken mayor home. When they reach John's apartment, he talks about the wonderful girl he lost and shows her photograph to Bumper. The heartbroken Bumper recognizes his Angel and realizes that she belongs with John. Bumper then takes John to see June, and at the sight of him she regains her memory and faints. When she awakes, she cannot remember how she got to the Sundays' apartment or who Bumper is. As John comforts June, Bumper sadly leaves, but when he returns to the park, he realizes he is in his rightful place as Acorn and Egghead welcome him home.
S. N. Behrman
W. Duncan Mansfield
V. L. Mcfadden
Joseph M. Schenck
Hallelujah I'm a Bum
Jolson and United Artists studio head Joseph Schenck had struck an agreement for Jolson to star in three pictures for UA with a $500,000-per-film salary. (That's almost $8 million in 2009 dollars.) The first was to be an adaptation of a Ben Hecht story called The New Yorker, about a Central Park hobo named Bumper who is the "mayor" of all the hobos. He is friends with John Hastings, the actual mayor of New York City. When Bumper rescues Angel, a woman with amnesia, he falls in love with her and gets a real job, only to then find that she is Hastings' girlfriend. (The film's original composer, Irving Caesar, claimed that Hecht's tale was based on a French story called Life Is Beautiful.)
Production on Hallelujah, I'm a Bum began in June 1932 with Jolson as Bumper, Madge Evans as Angel, Roland Young as Hastings, and Harry D'Arrast in the director's chair. D'Arrast lasted two hours. He left after creative differences with Jolson on the morning of the first shooting day, and the production shut down. After a two-week pause, director Chester Erskin took over. Schenck had actually wanted Lewis Milestone to come aboard, but Milestone was busy with another movie. Once it started up again, filming continued through August, and in October the film was previewed under the title Happy Go Lucky. The screening was a disaster. Schenck ordered a page-one rewrite of the entire script and started from scratch. He was now able to bring in Lewis Milestone, and he also threw out the Irving Caesar songs and hired Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart to craft new ones. When Roland Young balked at repeating his performance, Schenck replaced him with Frank Morgan, whose outstanding portrayal of Hastings would draw universal critical praise.
The Rodgers and Hart score provided the most dramatic change to the movie. The songwriters not only penned several new songs including the lovely ballad "You Are Too Beautiful," but they wrote sections of rhythmic, rhyming dialogue - much as they had for their recent pictures Love Me Tonight (1932) and The Phantom President (1932). This is where much of the film's innovative effect lies.
The new version was shot in November 1932. The title was changed a few more times (including to Heart of New York) before settling on Hallelujah, I'm a Bum. Even after the film was entirely reshot, Schenck was not satisfied and wanted Jolson to do some further re-shoots. But Jolson refused, and on Feb. 8, 1933, the picture finally opened in New York City. Most of the reviews were poor. Jolson's triumphant return after a prolonged absence from the screen was not to be. As biographer Herbert Goldman has written: "Had Bum succeeded, it would have been a Jolson comeback. Instead, it proved to be the biggest nail in his professional coffin. Hollywood producers no longer considered him a star of the first magnitude."
Indeed, Joseph Schenck decided not to make the two other films called for in his Jolson contract, even though he was still obligated to pay Jolson a huge salary for each one. Schenck figured he'd lose more and maybe even go bankrupt if he produced the films.
The New York Times was one publication that went against the grain and gave Hallelujah a glowing review. "It is Mr. Jolson's best film," wrote critic Mordaunt Hall, "a combination of fun, melody and romance, with a dash of satire, all of which make for an ingratiating entertainment." Hall went on to praise Jolson for not stealing the thunder in every scene (as per usual) but instead allowing his fellow actors to shine, especially Frank Morgan.
Distinguished film historian William K. Everson later echoed this assessment, describing Hallelujah, I'm a Bum as "one of the loveliest and most original of all the musicals of the 1930s... In the dramatic scenes, there's a poignancy which Jolson never achieved in other films where he never forgot he was a showman first and an actor second... [His] ego pops through on occasion, but never has he done any better acting than he does in the touching drunk scene with Morgan where he realizes that he has lost his 'Angel.'"
When the movie was reissued in the 1940s to take advantage of a resurgence of interest in Jolson (thanks to the two biopics of him, The Jolson Story  and Jolson Sings Again ), it was cut by a reel and re-titled Heart of New York, one of its previous working titles. When it was released in England, the title was changed to Hallelujah, I'm a Tramp, since "bum" in England is slang for "rear end."
Rodgers and Hart have cameos in the movie as a photographer and a bank teller.
Producer: Joseph M. Schenck
Director: Lewis Milestone
Screenplay: S.N. Behrman; Ben Hecht (story)
Cinematography: Lucien Andriot
Art Direction: Richard Day
Music: Alfred Newman (uncredited)
Film Editing: W. Duncan Mansfield
Cast: Al Jolson (Bumper), Madge Evans (June Marcher), Frank Morgan (Mayor John Hastings), Harry Langdon (Egghead), Chester Conklin (Sunday), Edgar Connor (Acorn), Tyler Brooke (Mayor's Secretary), Louise Carver (Ma Sunday), Dorothea Wolbert (Apple Mary), Tammany Young (Frank the Jockey)
by Jeremy Arnold
Herbert G. Goldman, Jolson: The Legend Comes to Life
Michael Freedland, Jolson
Hallelujah I'm a Bum
Although the onscreen credits did not have a comma in the film's title, both contemporary and modern sources refer to it as Hallelujah, I'm a Bum. The film's working titles were The New Yorker, Happy Go Lucky and The Optimist. In 1941, it was re-issued as The Heart of New York, which had also been a working title, in a re-edited version that ran for 68 min. In Britain, where the word "bum" is slang for the posterior, the title of the film was changed to Hallelujah, I'm a Tramp, and the title song was changed accordingly. Although Tammany Young's character is listed as "Frank the Jockey" in the onscreen credits, contemporary sources refer to him as "Orlando." Young's spoken name within the film could not be determined.
According to a May 4, 1932 Film Daily news item, Harry d'Abbadie D'Arrast was to direct the film under the supervision of Lewis Milestone. According to modern sources, D'Arrast left the picture after one day of shooting because of disagreements with Al Jolson. The Film Daily news item also noted that Irving Caesar would provide the music and dialogue, but his contribution to the completed film has not been confirmed. According to Hollywood Reporter news items and production charts, Chester Erskin took over direction of the picture, under the supervision of Milestone. Production charts list Charles Lederer as co-adaptor with S. N. Behrman, but the extent of Lederer's contribution to the finished picture, if any, has not been confirmed. According to an October 8, 1932 Hollywood Reporter news item, Joseph M. Schenck was displeased with the picture's reception at a preview and ordered that the script be rewritten. Hollywood Reporter and Film Daily news items in November 1932 indicate that Frank Morgan, who played "Mayor John Hastings," replaced Roland Young, who was forced to bow out of the picture due to illness, and that the picture was largely reshot in November (although modern sources state that filming on the new version began in Oct). The inclusion in the finished film of any scenes directed by Erskin has not been confirmed. Contemporary news items noted that exteriors were shot on location in New York, and include the following actors in the cast, although their participation in the completed film has not been confirmed: Bodil Rosing, Heinie Conklin, Vince Barnett, Sidney Skolsky and Gino Corrado. A March 12, 1933 New York Times article reported that Schenck originally wanted Ruby Keeler, who was married to Jolson at the time, for the female lead, but she decided that it would not be "a good idea" to make her film debut in her husband's picture.
Hallelujah I'm a Bum is well-known for its "rhythmic dialogue," in which the characters speak rhymed lines in a sing-song manner. Over half of the dialogue is done in a normal style, however, contrary to assertions of the pressbook (and some modern sources), which proclaimed that the picture was "the first film ever made entirely in rhythmic dialogue." Some of the rhythmic dialogue sequences, written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, were: "I Gotta Get Back to New York," "My Pal Bumper," "Laying the Cornerstone," "Bumper Found a Grand" and "Kangaroo Court." Modern sources note the similarity between "Mayor John Hastings" and Jimmy Walker, the controversial mayor of New York City, who was famous for his love of casinos and nightlife. Modern sources also state that Rodgers appears in the film as a photographer and Hart as a bank teller, and include Harold Goodwin and Burr McIntosh in the cast. Hallelujah I'm a Bum was to be the first of three films done by Jolson for United Artists, however, the other two were not made. Modern sources note that the picture cost $1.25 million to produce and that it failed to recoup its production costs at the box office. This was the first film in which Jolson appeared since the 1930 Warner Bros. picture Big Boy (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.0388).