Wonder Bar (1934)





Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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This off-beat but elaborate Warner Brother's musical contains scenes (one Busby Berkeley number in particular "Goin' to Heaven on a Mule," featuring Al Jolson in blackface and horrendous racial stereotypes) that may be offensive to many viewers. The tale is set within the beautiful Paris night club, the "Wonder Bar" and features many complex plots and subplots, most of which simply provide excuses for new musical numbers.
Drama , Musical & Performing Arts , Romance
Directed By:
Written By:
Warner Home Video


Dave O'Brien
as Chorus Boy
Dick Powell
as Tommy
Al Jolson
as Al Wonder
Merna Kennedy
as Claire
Kay Francis
as Liane Renaud
Henry O'Neill
as Richards
Dennis O'Keefe
as Man at Bar
Louise Fazenda
as Pansy Pratt
Jane Darwell
as Baroness
Ruth Donnelly
as Ella Simpson
Henry Kolker
as Mr. Renaud
George Irving
as Broker
Gino Corrado
as Waiter
Hugh Herbert
as Corey Pratt
Guy Kibbee
as Henry Simpson
Pauline Garon
as Operator
Bud Jamison
as Bartender
Harry Woods
as Detective
William Stack
as Businessman
Edward Keane
as Captain
Grace Hayle
as Fat Dowager
Rolfe Sedan
as Waiter
Eddie Kane
as Frank
Emile Chautard
as Concierge
Billy Anderson
as Call Boy
Robert Graves
as Police Officer
Paul Power
as Chester
Hal Le Roy
as Himself
Robert H. Barrat
as Capt. von Ferring
Alfred P. James
as Night Watchman
John Marlowe
as Young Man
Mia Ichioka
as GeeGee
Rosalie Roy
as Chorus Girl
Gene Perry
as Gendarme
Lottie Williams
as Wardrobe Woman
Dick Good
as Page Boy
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Critic Reviews for Wonder Bar

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Audience Reviews for Wonder Bar

Eccentric, sometimes amazing, early Thirties confection This 1934 pre-code film had the makings of a 1930s classic: starring Al Jolson at his most energetic -- his number Vive La France, filmed live rather than synched to a sound track, gives perhaps more vividly than anything on film what he must have been like on stage -- the staff is completed by a panoply of Thirties film yeomen and yeowomen: Kay Francis, Dolores Del Rio, Ricardo Cortez, Dick Powell, and Guy Kibbee; the songs are mostly by Warren and Dubin, the production numbers by Busby Berekely. The story has something to do with Jolson's Paris caberet the Wonder Bar ("Wunderbar" -- geddit?) as a setting for an interlocking set of frustrated lovers. And yet the whole somehow doesn't gel together. Part of the problem is that the film uneasily combines a light musical with a murder mystery, giving the effect of two movies intercut with each other. And the running stock jokes and routines, obviously recycled from the vaudeville tradition, almost give the impression of a third film, a burlesque, thrown randomly into the pot. The Berkeley production numbers, while interesting, aren't as spectacular as in his masterpieces 42nd Street or Gold Diggers of 1933, Powell looks such a callow youth that he verges on parodizing his male ingenue persona, and Del Rio's habit of expressing every emotion by looking wistfully into the distance, even if she is in a small dressing room where there is no distance to look into, gets tedious after the eighth time she does it. A high point, though, is Jolson (who was born in Lithuania when it was part of Czarist Russia) singing a soulful rendition of Ochi Tchornya (Dark Eyes) in Russian. The film's reputation for shock value -- some have suggested it was one of the reasons the Motion Picture Code was implemented shortly after -- will generally seem overstated today: there are frequent double entendres, some specific references to adultery and homesexuality, a murderess who gets away with it, and an outrageous Gaucho whip dance which seems too campy for anyone to get very upset about. The really shocking sequence today, though, as anyone who has read other reviews will know, is the extended blackface production number "Going to Heaven on a Mule," which wanders through about every racial stereotype about African-Americans you can think of. I suppose it has a social value as a startling reminder of just how acceptable such racism was in America until relatively recent times. It's hard to know what rating to give this movie. As entertainment, parts of it are a lot of fun to watch, and though fairly tame by present standards, it serves as an example of what pushing the envelope was like in 1934. The 1930s women's fashions are luscious. I'd say those heavily into Thirties films, Al Jolson, Busby Berkeley, or the social history of popular cinema will find it worth watching, if they can steel themselves to sit through "Mule." Others probably will want to pass. I saw it on the Warner's Archive DVD, which seemed a satisfactory transfer of a not too bad print.

Jon Corelis
Jon Corelis

All-star cast (including Al Jolson, Dolores Del Rio, Kay Francis & Dick Powell) and two Busby Berkeley production numbers (the beautiful "Don't Say Goodnight" and the offensive "Goin' to Heaven on a Mule") incorporated into a slick but empty "Grand Hotel"-like plot.

Michael Troudt
Michael Troudt

Must be seen to be believed. One of the strangest films I've ever witnessed. But tread carefully: there's some TRULY offensive material here (mostly having to do with the portrayal of blacks). Still, it's an interesting window into what was once considered acceptable entertainment. The plot is a tertiary concern; the film's raison d'etre is its musical numbers, as well as some surprisingly bawdy comedy. Released just before the Hays Code would begin to become more strictly enforced, you get the sense while watching that the filmmakers were trying to break every taboo they could while there was still time. Have a look, but YOU'VE BEEN WARNED!

Steve Joseph
Steve Joseph

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