The Stoneman family finds its friendship with the Camerons affected by the Civil War, both fighting in opposite armies. The development of the war in their lives plays through to Lincoln's assassination and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan.
Cantor Rabinowitz is concerned and upset because his son Jakie shows so little interest in carrying on the family's traditions and heritage. For five generations, men in the family have been cantors in the synagogue, but Jakie is more interested in jazz and ragtime music. One day, they have such a bitter argument that Jakie leaves home for good. After a few years on his own, now calling himself Jack Robin, he gets an important opportunity through the help of well-known stage performer Mary Dale. But Jakie finds that in order to balance his career, his relationship with Mary, and his memories of his family, he will be forced to make some difficult choices. Written by
There's not much to say about this other than even today, for this viewer, it is emotionally effective. Yes you know you are being manipulated. Yes, the acting conventions of the silent screen are comically exaggerated. Yes, it is shameless in setting up the ultimate choice. But this is so well structured that even today it escapes cliché. That's so remarkable, because big movies are almost always turned into clichés as bits of them are digested and continuously re-served to us as our visual grammar.
The love interest here is so unusual. He does fall in love with a pretty dancer, but tells her plainly that his career is more important than she is. She later doesn't become part of the choice as would be the case in nearly every other script instead she becomes part of the audience, presenting the dramatic quandary: the stage or God.
The presentation of religion is unique in my experience. Everyone here is a Jew, except the performers. They are the "real" and everyone else is "pretend," performing. Though there are many opportunities to fall into obnoxious stereotypes, its avoided over and over. That's despite the dozens of examples they had before.
In fact, there's an amazing engineering of story here. As any viewer will know, this was the first talkie. It was new, and to emphasize its newness a story was created to emphasize the contrast between old and new.
This film is part silent, part "talkie." It shows a struggle between the old (obviously obsolete) and the vital young. It also depicts in a rather subtle but effective way the "old" god, and the new: there's plenty of talk about the performance hall being a modern church. The music as well: we have the implication that it is not only the setting, the performer and the calling, but the music itself that is something new.
Along the way we get street scenes of the Jewish area of New York. These are genuine street scenes and are absolutely phenomenal: there isn't anything I know that compares. There was an attempt of sorts in "The Pawnbroker," which by itself was strong. But nothing compared to this.
Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.
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