Musical Monday: Zou Zou (1934)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Zou Zou (1934) – Musical #609

Studio:
Productions Arys

Director: Marc Allégret

Starring:
Josephine Baker, Jean Gabin, Pierre Larquey, Yvette Lebon, Illa Meery, Palau, Madeleine Guitty

Plot:
Zou Zou (Baker) and Jean (Gabin) were children adopted by Papa Melé (Larquey) and grew up as performers in the circus that he ran. As adults, Jean works as an electrician and Zou Zou, who is in love with Jean, works at a laundry. When Jean is accused of murder, Zou Zou becomes a star in a musical show to earn enough money to help clear his name.

Trivia:
• Josephine Baker’s first full-length talkie film
• The film was never distributed in the United States.

Highlights:
• Josephine Baker’s song and dance numbers.
• Costumes in the musical numbers

Notable Songs:
• “Haiti” performed by Josephine Baker
• “Pour Moi Il n’y a q’un Homme a Paris” performed by Josephine Baker
• “Viens Vivine” performed by Jean Gabin

Josephine Baker performing the number “Haiti” in “Zou Zou” (1934)

My review:
There are people you hear of in popular culture that are larger than life – Josephine Baker is one of those people. While Baker wasn’t in many films, we are lucky enough that she was captured on film in 10 French feature films. While this isn’t the same as getting to see Baker live on the stage, the film “Zou Zou” (1934) exhibits her joie de vivre and personality.

“Zou Zou” starts as a romance and ends with a series of musical numbers. Baker plays the title character of Zou Zou, who was adopted by a circus owner along with Jean, played by Gabin. As they grow up, Zou Zou falls in love with Jean, who falls in love with one of Zou Zou’s friends. When he’s faced with a crime, Zou Zou becomes a successful stage star to pay for his legal bills, which is where the musical aspect of the film comes in.

Of her films, Josephine Baker said “Zou Zou” was her favorite. This was also her first talking film.

“Zou Zou” has musical numbers reminiscent of France’s version of Busby Berkeley musical choreography. Dancers awake in a large bed, talk on a large telephone and dance in a sequenced, kaleidoscope fashion. There is also a portion where girls sit on converter belts to give the illusion of moving water. This sequence reminded me a bit of “Footlight Parade” (1933). While entertaining, I will say that the dances with chorus girls could have been a bit cleaner and were not well sequenced.

Jean Gabin and Josephine Baker in “Zou Zou” (1934

Josephine Baker sings two numbers, “Haiti” and “Pour Moi Il n’y a q’un Homme a Paris” (which translates to “For Me There is Only One Man in Paris”). In the “Haiti” number, Baker is dressed in feathers while singing on a swing in a large birdcage. Her outfit is reminiscent of some of her 1920s night club acts. Another highlight is a dance number Baker does, featuring high kicks, all the while she is lit, so her large shadow mimics her in the background.

Before seeing this film, I never had heard Baker sing and thought she had a charming singing voice in these numbers, filled with heart and emotion.

Jean Gabin is also fascinating to watch in this film and even gets to do a little singing of his own. Still relatively new to movies, Baker and Gabin became friends, and he performed with her later on.

Since “Zou Zou” isn’t a musical throughout, this movie shows us not only Baker’s artistic abilities but also her acting – she is young and exuberant as well as heartbroken.

Since we no longer can see Josephine Baker on stage, “Zou Zou” is a great treat.

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