Jolson did two movies in 1930 : Mammy and Big Boy. Both reveal him as an exciting singer but also a limited, extremely sentimental actor. His screen persona had been established by his first two films and Warner Brothers seemed reluctant to deviate from the formula.

 

Of course without a live audience Jolson was handicapped on film but the best directors appeared to be afraid of him, anyway he never really got the best material in the medium. 

45 year old Al's desire to hear a real audience applaud again was satisfied when he returned to Broadway in The Wonder Bar on 17th March 1931.

 

At the same time he was hoping for a new start to his film career and better movies at United Artists. He signed a contract with Joseph Schenck for three films but sadly only one was made.

The movie was Hallelujah I'm a Bum! (1933) probably the most adventurous Jolson film of them all. Al's acting was much better here and the director was Lewis Milestone fresh from All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). The dialogue was in rhyming couplets and for a Depression movie it surprisingly didn't have a happy ending with the hero not getting the girl.

 

Unfortunately the big experiment became the big flop. The movie was crippled by high costs because of countless problems behind the scenes.

 

There was the reshooting because of a key actor's availability (Roland Young as the Mayor of New York was replaced by Frank Morgan) and a ditching of the original score.

Just as Jolson's career was in decline, his wifes was on the rise. Al acting as his wife's business manager secured for her the role of the ingenue in 42nd Street (1933) the first in a series of Busby Berkeley backstage musicals which were all hits. "I'll be known as Mr Ruby Keeler next" quipped Al.

 

Jolson wasn't jealous of his wife's success but was frustrated that Hollywood now didn't seem to think he could carry a film on his own. When he returned to Warners for a screen version of Wonder Bar (1934) he was just one of a galaxy of star names including Dick Powell,Dolores Del Rio, Ricardo Cortez and Kay Francis.

 

It was Jack Warner who suggested that Al and Ruby should co-star in Go Into Your Dance (1935). The idea of a series of Jolson-Keeler pictures didn't appeal to Al even though the movie was probably his best starring vehicle.