The restored version of the 1930 musical The King of Jazz premiered at New York’s Museum of Modern Art on May 13, and opened the museum’s series “Universal Pictures: Restorations and Rediscoveries, 1928-1837.”
King of Jazz, which was elevated to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in 2013, was refurbished thanks to a major commitment from Universal, the Library of Congress and the Vitaphone Project. The latter institution supplied pristine soundtrack discs.
The musical represents one of the earliest “talkies,” and was made three years after the success of the Al Jolson starring feature The Jazz Singer. Produced by studio head Junior Laemmle, King of Jazz cost around $2 million to make, and was originally intended as a push to establish Universal as a first-rank film studio, along with the other pricey production, the war feature All Quiet on the Western Front.
Directed by John Murray in technicolor, the film is built around popular bandleader of the time, Paul Whiteman, featured along with his orchestra. It includes a centerpiece sequence in which they perform George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Bing Crosby is also present in the film’s cast. The crooner appears in the movie as part of the Rhythm Boys trio.
King of Jazz’s disappointing returns at the box office forced Universal to withdraw the film, which was subsequently re-cut and re-released a number of times throughout the decade. The May 13 screening at MoMA marked the first time the film was shown in its full length since the 1930s. A second screening will take place at the Museum June 14.