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Film / King of Jazz

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King of Jazz is a 1930 film directed by John Murray Anderson, starring Paul Whiteman and his orchestra.

Whiteman, who called himself "king of jazz" despite being as white as his name, was a famous American bandleader—the first famous bandleader, in fact (and thus, being also one of the first "stars" of American popular music). King of Jazz was initially conceived as a Paul Whiteman Biopic, but that idea was abandoned. Instead, the film is simply a revue, a collection of musical numbers performed by Whiteman and his band, with short comic sketch sequences between the songs. The film took advantage of a lavish budget, with huge sets, lots of dancers, and innovative graphic effects. It was also shot in two-strip Technicolor, making it one of the earliest sound features made entirely in color, a trend that began in 1929. The film however is one of a few of them that have survived completely. Most early color talkies are now lost/incomplete or surviving as made-for-TV black-and-white duplicates.

The film includes an opening cartoon by Bill Nolan and Walter Lantz, which was the first-ever cartoon made in the Technicolor process. Bing Crosby made his film debut as one of "The Rhythm Boys", a vocal trio also consisting of composer/pianist Harry Barris and Al Rinker. Popular vocalists John Boles and Nell O'Day were featured singing as well, while actress Laura La Plante appears in some of the sketches. The Roxyettes/Rockettes appear in some dance sequences.

Compare The Hollywood Revue of 1929, a similar plotless revue movie.


  • Busby Berkeley Number: Lavish ornate musical numbers with many dancers and singers, elaborate sets, even a brief overhead shot of dancers in a geometric pattern in the manner that Berkeley would soon make famous.
  • The Cameo: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit can be seen briefly in the opening cartoon.
  • Closet Shuffle: One of the sketch comedy bits involves a quite promiscuous French peasant woman who keeps having soldiers show up at her cottage and ask if she's been true to them. She has to hide three successive soldiers in closets—and then a general shows up.
  • Cranial Eruption: How Whiteman gets “crowned” King of Jazz in the cartoon. A monkey hits him over the head with a coconut, giving him a crown-shaped lump.
  • Darkest Africa: The opening cartoon depicts Whiteman on a safari in "darkest Africa".
  • Everything Is an Instrument: One act features "trick trombonist" Wilbur Hall playing "Stars and Stripes Forever" with a bicycle pump.
  • Grand Finale: The final number features hordes of foreigners walking into a melting pot, eventually becoming jazz-loving Americans. At the end, Whiteman and his orchestra (while rather largenote , it did not feature all its members) appear, all dressed in golden suits.
  • Great White Hunter: Whiteman in the cartoon.
  • Imagine Spot: One musical number features Harry Barris playing a piano and singing next to a portrait of a pretty woman (La Plante) in a frilly white dress. The film then cuts to said woman as a live actress, and an ornate musical number kicks off. The number then ends by going back to the man alone at his piano next to the painting.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: Paul Whiteman introduces his band with an impressive special effect for the era. He puts a toolbox on a table next to a tiny bandstand. As Whiteman watches, his tiny bandmembers climb out of the toolbox and take their places.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: Paul Whiteman is represented with an animated Paul Whiteman in the opening cartoon.
  • Leg Focus: The Rockettes (billed as the Russell Market Girls) do their leg-kicking thing more than once.
  • The Man in the Moon: The "Bench in the Park" number ends with a rather disturbing shot of Whiteman's corpulent, pencil-mustached face as that of the man in the moon.
  • The Musical: A collection of musical numbers, with some sketch comedy interludes.
  • Music Soothes the Savage Beast: How Whiteman tames the lion that was about to eat him in the opening cartoon.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Subverted. Even though Whiteman called himself the "king of jazz", his music was more in the vein of standard big band numbers rather than what we would call jazz nowadays.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: A variety show, lots of music numbers, some sketch comedy, no plot.
  • "Not Really Married" Plot: In a brief sketch. A husband and wife discover in the newspaper that the minister who married them was a con man and thus they aren't really married. Then we see the baby beside them, played by Paul Whiteman in an unintentionally creepy moment.
    Baby: You know what that makes me.
  • Obvious Stunt Double: Played for a gag. Whiteman, an overweight man, is asked to dance. After the camera pulls back someone who appears to be Whiteman does an acrobatic dance. Then the movie cuts to another close-up shot in which Whiteman congratulates his stunt double.
  • Orange/Blue Contrast: A function of the two-color Technicolor of the day. But the art and costume design make the most of its limited palette.
  • Reprise Medley: Right before the end there is a medley that consists of excerpts from all the songs played in the movie.
  • Storybook Opening: The movie opens with the host standing in front of a giant book titled "Paul Whiteman's Scrapbook." Each segment was then presented as a page from that book.
  • Token Minority: The only black person in the movie is a little girl that is sitting on Whiteman's lap in an entirely random moment.
  • Variety Show: A collection of musical numbers and sketch comedy.