|Directed by||Lloyd Bacon
Dolores del Río
|Music by||Harry Warren (music)
Al Dubin (lyrics)
|Edited by||George Amy|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
It starred Al Jolson, Kay Francis, Dolores del Río, Ricardo Cortez, Dick Powell, Guy Kibbee, Ruth Donnelly, Hugh Herbert, Louise Fazenda, Fifi D'Orsay, Merna Kennedy, Henry O'Neill, Robert Barrat, Henry Kolker, and Spencer Charters in the main roles. For its time, Wonder Bar was considered risqué, barely passing the censors at the Hays Office. The title is a pun on "wunderbar," which is German for "wonderful."
Wonder Bar is set in a Parisian nightclub, with the stars playing the ‘regulars’ at the club. The movie revolves around two main story points, a romance and a more serious conflict with death, and several minor plots. All of the stories are enlivened from time to time by extravagant musical numbers. The more serious story revolves around Captain Von Ferring (Robert Barrat), a German military officer. Ferring has gambled on the stock market and lost, now broke after dozens of failed investments, he is at the Wonder Bar to try and pull a one night stand before killing himself the following day. Al Wonder (Al Jolson) knows about Ferring's plan.
Meanwhile, an elaborate romance is unfolding. The bar's central attraction is the Latin lounge dancing group led by Inez (Dolores del Río). Al Wonder has a secret attraction to Inez, who has a burning passion for Harry (Ricardo Cortez). However, Harry is two-timing her with Liane (Kay Francis), who is married to the famous French banker Renaud (Henry Kolker). The story comes to a climax when Inez finds out that Harry and Liane plan to run away together and head to the United States. Inez, in a haze of jealousy, kills Harry.
Subplots are much lighter in nature. They involve several drunken routines by two businessmen (Hugh Herbert and an uncredited Hobart Cavanaugh) and Al Wonder's various narrations as emcee of the floor show and manager of the club.
Music and controversy
The various scenes of Wonder Bar are permeated by musical numbers which were designed and directed by Busby Berkeley. The music was first written for the Broadway stage by Geza Herczeg, Karl Farkas, and Robert Katscher, and was adapted for the big screen by Earl Baldwin. Most of the musical numbers were typically 1930s; big-band led by an entertaining band director (Al), with lavish costumes packed with showgirls (the trailers promised ‘over 250 of the world's most beautiful women’).
Two scenes stand above the rest. One was the blackface minstrel show finale, "Goin’ to Heaven on a Mule" (featuring Jolson and Hal Le Roy), full of racial stereotypes. The other involved a handsome man asking a dancing couple if he could cut in. The female partner, expecting his attention, agrees, only to see him dance with her male partner. Jolson then flaps his wrist and says, "Boys will be boys! Woo!" This scene almost caused the Production Code to reject the film, and was featured in the opening scenes of the documentary film The Celluloid Closet (1996).