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Mammy - 1930

In the year 2010, the 80th anniversary of Mammy, the Irving Berlin written minstrel musical starring Al Jolson, was reached. This is a summary of the film, with several clips of video from the movie for you to enjoy.

Al Jolson as Al Fuller in Mammy Warner Brothers has selected for their newest screen musical, the man who first brought the spoken voice to the screen, -- Al Jolson. Mammy, directed by Michael Curtiz, is a refreshing departure from what Mr. Jolson has done on the screen before. Jolson is cast as Al Fuller, in a characteristic role of the "End Man" in the Meadows Merry Minstrel troupe.

The story opens with the minstrel troupe parading down the main street in the pouring rain. Al doesn't waste any time as he sings the theme song of the film, lrving Berlin's "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy."

Although the Meadow's Merry Minstrel troupe is a big hit, we find out quickly that Mr. Meadows, played by Hobart Bosworth, is a very poor business man and the company is in very deep financial trouble. During one matinee performance, the local sheriff, played by Jack Curtis, is spotted sitting in the front row.

Mr. Meadows is in a panic. "What are we going to do? That sheriff will close down our show. If only we could make it to the next town," cries Mr. Meadows.

"Oh no he won't chief," says Al. "I'll stall him while you get the props and yourselves out of town."

Al meets with the sherrif
Click here to see and hear this routine!
Al goes out front to meet with the sheriff.

"Where's the manager? Are you the manager?" asks the sheriff.

Al begins to stutter, in one of the classic scenes of the film, 'nnnnnnn ...o, I'mmmmm not"

"Well, where is he; I've got to see him; its important."

"Wwwwwwwwhy?"

"Well, it took me all week to get up enough nerve to audition for him! "

"You mean you want a job with the show?" Al sighs with relief. "Yes! "

"What can you do sheriff?"

"I can sing a little," he offers. Then in a very deep basso voice the sheriff sings "Asleep In The Deep."
Newspaper ad for Mammy
Thanks to Don Tamblyn for this classic advertisement

"That's just great sheriff," Al says with a smile while making a crooked face behind the sheriff's back.

"Say sheriff, do you have any money?"

"Got a little, about $600.00."

"I'm sorry sheriff that you only have $600.00. Talent like your's is only wasted being a performer, you should be a part owner."

"Is it possible I could buy an interest in the show?"

"I was only kidding, $600.00, that would only pay my salary (for about a year)" said Al from the corner of his mouth.

"I was just thinking. If I could really get into show business, I'd sell the farm."

"How much could you get for it?"

"About $6,000. Is that enough?"

"Sheriff," Al wisecracks, "did anyone ever tell you that you resemble Lou Dockstader?"

In perfect storybook fashion the sheriff sells his farm and becomes Mr. Meadows' partner and from that moment on, the show begins earning a good profit.

Lovely Lois Moran plays Mr. Meadows' daughter Nora, the love interest in the film. In order to make the plot more interesting, there is the inevitable love triangle. Nora is madly in love with Westy, the interlocutor of the Minstrel Show, played by Lowell Sherman. Westy is in love with anyone wearing a skirt. And to make things really complicated, Al adores Nora, and Westy is Al's best pal.

One night as Al is walking past Nora's door, he hears her sobbing her heart out. Al walks in, "What's the matter kid?" he asks to comfort her.

"I...I...saw Westy with another woman, Al."

"Look honey, she don't mean a thing to Westy. You're the only girl he really cares about," Al lies. Even though Al loves Nora desperately, he tries to dispel her fears about Westy.

As Al prepares to leave, he hears Westy and Hank Smith, better known as Tambo, the other "End Man," (played by Mitchell Lewis), talking in the adjoining room. Al cocks the door open with his foot and begins to speak his soliloquy. "Nora! I've loved you since the first day I came with the show. Nora I love you madly, just say the word and you'll make me the happiest man in the world."

"Hey Westy, get a load of your pal," says Tambo.

"Why Al, you sound like a songwriter," says Westy as he and Tambo walk in. My little pal. Why did you keep this a secret? I think we should tell everyone. Hey everybody, Al and Nora are getting married! Play the wedding march! "

"Oh but Westy, I can explain," Nora cries out.

"Well, I guess I made a botch of everything...I kinda thought things would work out differently, but I guess they didn't. I wanted to make Westy jealous so that you and he would be happy together."

"That's the trouble with you Al...always butting in where you're not wanted! Why can't you mind your own business and keep out of other people's affairs. You know I love him...now you spoiled everything.

"Why Nora...I...only wanted to help."

"Get out! I never want to see you again! Get out!"

Looking At You
Click to see and hear this number!
Al returns to the stage, where he rehearses a number for the show, a number that has a meaning just for his own heart, "Looking At You."

Things are really looking bad for Al. Westy is angry with him and Nora refuses to speak to him. Al Fuller does what any hero would do in this situation. He gets drunk!

To complicate matters, Al also gets in a card game with Tambo. Tambo is fast with a deck of cards, too fast as a matter of fact.

Westy walks by Hank's room and sees that Al is drunk. "Come with me Al. I'm going to put you to bed."

"But Westy, I'm giving a party," slurs Al.

"Come on Al, you're going to bed!"

Westy leads Al back to his room. "How much did you lose, Al?"

"I lost everything and I don't care!"

"What's the matter with you? Have you gone nuts? What is going on between you and Nora? Are you in love with her?"

"Yes...I'm in love with Nora. I've always loved her! I thought you were my pal, so I didn't try. But Westy, I've come to one conclusion. You're not a square shooter. You don't care how much you hurt that kid. That gag we pulled today was just a laugh. I told Nora to make you jealous. But did you get jealous? Oh no, you're such a big thick head. You say, play the wedding march! I'll never understand women Westy. Nora is crazy about you."

When Al falls asleep, Westy calls up Hank Smith. "Hank! You better get over here right away. If you don't, I'll run you out of this troupe tonight!"

"Say what's this about you driving me out of town?" asks Hank.

"Look, I've always known that you were a ham and a lousy comic, but I never knew you were a crook! Look at these cards. They're readers. How you better give Al his money back or else!"

Hank is anything but pleased but he gives Al his money back. Hank vows revenge.

The next morning Hank replaces the blank bullets that Al uses in a shooting gag in the minstrel show with live ammunition. Suddenly the prop man walks in.

"Hello Hank. I didn't expect to see you here," said Props, the company prop man played by Ray Cooke.

"Why...I came here to send out a suit of clothes to be cleaned."

"I'll send them out for you Hank."

"Will you Props? That's great! Try to have them back in time for the matinee."

Westy and Al Jolson takes full command in the next scene. The minstrels are all on the stage in full costume.

After Al sings, "The Night Boat to Albany," he joins the other minstrels and the Interlocutor, Westy. "Why Westy, I ain't never seen you look so bad!" Al says.

"We'll discuss it after the show," Westy replies.

"Maybe we'll discuss it after the show, but, I'm goin' to talk: about it right here and now!", says Al.

"Well Al, I didn't want to say anything but...it's my Mother. She's over ninety now and she needs $500.00 or she'll lose the farm. Things have been rough on her ever since my sister Nelly ran away with that traveling man. It nearly broke her poor old heart, Al." "Oh, Oh," moans Al. "Al, if you could see your way clear to loan us the $500.00 it would make our home a happy one again."

"Oh, Oh," again weeps Al.

Suddenly Al draws a pistol from under his coat and fires it directly at Westy. Westy falls to the stage. "I couldn't help it folks, but he was breaking my heart!" Al then walks over to help Westy up.

"OK, pal, get up; Come on Westy ole pal, on your feet." Westy lies there motionless.

"Say folks, when I shoot 'em', they stay shot!"

Al motions to the stage manager that something is wrong with Westy. "Get a dancing act out here quick! Westy is hurt or somethin' -- he can't get up."

When Hank Smith replaced the blank cartridges with live ammunition, he knew that Westy would be shot when he and Al did the "shooting gag." Hank has his revenge. He has injured Westy and nobody even suspects Hank.

The police and everyone else suspect Al. Al tries to convince the police that he is innocent, but no one believes him. Finally, Al convinces them to take him to the hospital to have Westy exonerate him. "Just ask Westy. He'll tell ya I didn't do it."

At the hospital Al sees Hank lying in the bed next to Westy. "What's he doing here?"

"I needed some blood and he gave it to me." Westy replies. It was apparent to Al that Westy had lost faith in him too.

"Damn clever these Chinese," Al remorses.

As the police lead Al from the hospital, Nora walks up to Al. I know you didn't do it Al," she says, "you're not that kind of man."

"Everything is all right Nora. I asked Westy if he thought I did it. Westy said, not you pal, I know you didn't do it. You see, Westy cleared me. These policemen are just a mere formality. I'll be back in a couple of days."

On the way back to the city jail, there is an accident. The patrol wagon turns over and Al escapes. He flees the city and hops a freight train. There Al meets a drifter named Slats, played by Tully Marshall. Together they plan to head for Mexico, but, first Al must stop and see his "Mammy."

Al sings To My Mammy
Click here to see and hear this number!
It's nightfall when Al reaches his Mother's house. He cautiously walks up to the door and slips inside. "Mother, Mother," cries a very tired and forlorn Al Fuller.

Al tells his Mother portrayed by Louise Dresser, that he must go away for three years, "Look Mother, I know three years is a long time but when I come back, I'll be successful. I'm going to sing in Europe for all the Kings and Queens." Al softly croons, "To My Mammy."

Al hears the train whistle off in the distance, "Look Mama, I know I haven't always been as good a boy as I should have been, but, but...oh Mama!" (Strains of "My Mammy" softly underscore the dialog)

"Is anything wrong son?"

"No Mama. But I got to go, my manager is waiting for me down at the station. And after all Mama. I'm a trouper!"

"If anyone ever says anything against you. Make them prove it! Always remember to face the music. Keep your head up. Good things always come from looking up!"

Al's head slumps. "Ho, no darlin' that's one of your baby trick always keep your head up," Al's Mother whispers.

Al and his Mother embrace for one final time. "I gotta go Mama."

Al leaves the comforting arms of his Mother to return to the harsh reality of his day of reckoning with the law. He runs through the fields for the freight yards.

"Come on Al," calls Slats, "you're just in time. That's our freight train pulling out now!"

"Slats, I ain't going to Mexico," Al replies, "I'm going back and give myself up."

"You want to go to the bighouse!" exclaims Slats.

"Maybe I will, maybe I won't. After all. I'm innocent of the rap," Al explains. "I figured this one thing out. From now on, when anyone says anything against me. I'm going to make them prove it!"

Al rushes to another train and hops into the under carriage of a boxcar, later the train slows to a stop and a tired, unshaven and very dusty Al Fuller crawls from the boxcar.

"Hey you," yells a freight yard brakeman, "where do you think you're going?"

"I don't know. I'm a stranger in town myself," Al jokes.

"Oh yeah, well we'll make you feel right at home. We're going to introduce you to the Mayor!"

Just then another train pulls out from beside them. Nora, Westy and all the Meadows Minstrels are standing on the other platform trying to unload their luggage and props.

"Al! Al! Why its Al," says Nora very jubilantly. "Al, we've beer looking all over for you."

"Yeah, a lot of people have been looking for me."

"Dad, Westy, Boys, come here, its Al." Everyone is happy to see Al again!

"What's this all about?" Al is confused.

"Dad, he doesn't know?"

"You mean you don't know?"

"Know? Know what," demands Al.

"You don't know that Hank Smith Is doing time for shooting Westy?"

"Hello, Al," says Westy, "You going on tonight?"

Closing Parade
Click to see and hear this number!
"Sure! "

"You know the gags?"

"Yeah, all but one."

"Which one?"

"The shooting gag!"

The final scene of Mammy shows Al Fuller singing his heart out in a minstrel parade down Main Street USA. When Al sings, "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy," you believe every word he says!


This material adapted from The Jolson Journal No. 55 - Spring, 1981, by Nat S. Folger

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This listing and material Copyright © 1995-2014 Marc I. Leavey, M.D. Baltimore, Maryland
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