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There are so many stupid comments expressed in the reviews of this film that
it boggles the mind. This film, good or bad, is not about race, racism,
attitudes towards black Americans, nor is the character in the film a
"minstrel." Holy cow, did anybody actually SEE THE MOVIE? Does anyone know
who Al Jolson was and what he accomplished? what he stood for regarding
black Americans? what blackface meant in 1920?
Good Lord. Such myopic political correctness distorts history, reality, and finds fault where there is none. The Amsterdam News, the leading newspaper of Harlem in the 20's lauded Jolson's performance as one "every black man should be proud of." Attitudes, beliefs, values CHANGE OVER TIME...HELLOOOO!!! The fact that Jolson wore blackface says NOTHING about his, the audiences, the producers, actors, or, song writers atttituds toward race. How dumb have we become?
People under the age of five should NOT be allowed to post opinions on this forum.
An historic film, billed as "the first talkie," this was a surprise
because many of the lines are not verbalized, only when Al Jolson sings
or just before or just after his songs. Otherwise, most of it is still
a silent film with the words shown on the screen as in the other silent
This is a powerful story with interesting characters and good songs, to boot. It was different to see Warner Oland as somebody else besides Charlie Chan. He played Jolson's father and I never would have recognized him had I not read the credits. Nor would I have recognized William Demarest.
Jolson, however, is the man who dominates the film. Some of this songs wound up being classics, ones played for years and years, such as "Toot, Toot Toosie" and "Mammy."
Faced with a very tough decision on what to do with his life, Jolson's character does the right thing in the end, which was nice to see. Overall, it's entertaining.
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.
George Jessel passed up a chance to star in this movie. he thought sound in film was too risky a venture to try and took a pass. Al Jolson went on to stardom and George became known as a toastmaster at Hollywood roasts. This is an excellent movie that certainly belongs on anyone's list of 100 best movies. The story has been ably told here, I won't repeat it. I do want to add a few observations, however. The movie is very sentimental, especially in it's portrayal of "Mama" and Jolson's devotion to her. Even when it first came out, writers were critical of this, which harked back to the days of broad stage melodramas. The use of the song Kol Nidre and the Jewish day of Atonement at the ending is significant in that forgiveness and reconciliation is what this movie's theme is all about. Recommended highly, many of the scenes are etched in the consciousness of movie-goers whether you have seen this movie or not. Jolson in blackface doing "Mammy" and "Mother Of Mine", singing "Toot, Toot, Toosie Goodbye". Seeing this film will bring back all these images and place them in their proper contexts. The minstrel type show or even blackface solos were still going strong in the 1920s. In the 1930s and even into the 1940s famous Hollywood actors such as Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney among many others would still be doing songs in blackface. This was no isolated case by a long shot. See it and see history. Also see it for what it is, a classic Hollywood story.
I gave this movie a 10 out of respect for the first talkie. Imagine the
pressure in Hollywood at the time. Movies were rolling along at a great pace
and silent film stars were icons. The technology of putting talking words to
film was being developed and Hollywood had to choose the one star that could
make it happen. That star...Al Jolson. Already incredibly adored and admired
for a great singing and entertaining talent this legend accepted the
challenge and forged Hollywood into a brand new era. Until the advent of
computers and graphic enhancements with special effects Hollywood just
refined that which Jolson brought to the public in 1927.
If ever you want to get a real kick see this movie, if you can find a viewable copy, and revel in the historical significance of it. Also take out your copy, or pick up Singing In The Rain, which pays homage to the advent of talking pictures. Although they goof with the characters, such as the voice of Lina Lamont, the very real challenges of transitioning from a silent world to a talkie world is very evident.
Whatever might be the shortcomings of this famous film, it is an uncanny experience to visit it from time to time. As we know, although it's the first 'talki' it's mostly a silent movie with all that entails. Nevertheless, those moments when sound and image are synchronised, often just for one side of the disc used for the soundtrack, are electrifying. The heat is turned up by the fact that Al Jolson improvised some of his lines, much to the horror of his stage mother. And besides, the tale of the errant son making good in the big lights is affecting. The music is superb, and we are rewarded by some haunintg evocations of the Jewish cantor tradition. I love the film.
You have to learn how to watch a silent movie. Most people who watch one get bored, and expect modern day techniques. All of the actors/actresses did great in this version, even Al Jolson who was not "hammy" as he has been called. He, like the others, made use of wide expressive movements with his hands. Some of the lighting could be improved, but this may have been taken on a remastered DVD, I haven't seen one yet. The music that is used expresses the mood of the scenes very well for that period. The use of Blackface at that time and before was not offensive to most anyone, even black people, as one of their own, Bert Williams, used it over his own black skin. This movie deserves a proper viewing, the viewer should learn a little entertainment business history first.
A simple story of a guy winning back his estranged father, told in strong and memorable images. Jolson looks just right, and although it was done for reasons of cost and technological limitations, it's actually pretty cool that this is a traditional silent movie that turns talkie for the performance scenes. It makes the terrific musical numbers come alive, and it gives the plotting no more or less emphasis than it deserves. Not a great film, but an enjoyable one, and obviously a historically significant one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've read several comments here that say "The Jazz Singer" seems
biographical about Jolson but that's probably coincidence. No, it's
not. Samson Raphelson, who wrote "The Day of Atonement", the short
story that "The Jazz Singer" is based on, was inspired to write it by
seeing Al Jolson perform on stage in Chicago in the early 1920s. The
story is contained in a collection called "No, But I Saw The Movie"
edited by David Wheeler ISBN 0140110909.
I get totally into the movie each time I see it and I've seen it dozens of times, sometimes re-winding it and watching it again in the same sitting. I first watched it 40 plus years ago when it shown on the afternoon slot of a local Los Angeles TV station along with commercials. KTTV didn't give it special treatment.
It is kind of fun to look for familiar faces. Roscoe Karns (he played "Believe you me" Shapely in "It Happened One Night") comes to the train station to tell Jakie about his big break and gives him his train tickets.
Jolson was a Broadway star and, from what I've read, had people eating out of his hand. He'd sing encore after encore and audiences would lap it up. Plus he took the time to make a lot of records when most stage stars left that to singers who worked for the recording studios. His recordings (even the acoustic era--pre 1925) are terrific. So people were familiar with him even in the boonies. "The Jazz Singer" came with a ready-made audience, not just to hear sound on film--there had been experimental short films that did that, in addition to the sound track of John Barrymore's "Don Juan"--but to hear JOLSON! I really don't think the film would have been the success it was with anyone else. I couldn't imagine anyone else playing the title role (and that includes remakes). I try to picture George Jessel in the part, even though he played it on Broadway, and I can't.
I adore Yudelson the kibitzer. When the men are gathered trying figure who should sing Kol Nidre since the cantor is unable, is a hoot, each, including Yudelson, thinking *he* should be the one to sing, implying the others couldn't carry a tune in a hand-basket. The scene where each person brings an identical prayer shawl for Papa's birthday is funny, too. Even Jakie, though his is different looking, brings one. Mama, who receives the gifts for Papa, looks as if she could be saying "Oy vey!" I like the change the movie made over the short story. He comes to his Papa before the old man's death. They're estranged but are reconciled before it's too late. In the short story he's summoned after his father's death.
For a mawkishly sentimental play that was outdated even when it first
was presented on Broadway, The Jazz Singer has had a remarkable life
with now three movie versions and possibly more to come. Of course it
being considered the first sound film probably has a whole lot to do
with it. I doubt it would have been remade twice already if it wasn't a
But for trying to hold up the Brothers Warner for some extra salary for doing that first sound feature, Georgie Jessel might have been able to repeat the role he created on Broadway as Jakie Rabinowitz aka Jack Robin, cantor's son who runs away from home as a juvenile and comes back home in time to sing Kol Nidre at Yom Kippur services in place of his dying father. Jessel's greed was Al Jolson's gain as America's greatest live entertainer at the time got to inaugurate the era of movie sound.
As Al Jolson was wont to do in his stage shows, he interpolated material from all sources in his first film that he felt was suitable for him. Toot Toot Tootsie and interestingly enough My Mammy were songs he'd done on stage before and were proved material his audience would respond to. The first song he actually does sing is Dirty Hands, Dirty Face which was something he had not done before. Blue Skies which he sings to his mother after returning home as a Broadway star was in fact a current hit on Broadway at the time Jolson was singing it.
People from that era say that you cannot appreciate Jolson on the screen, that to really get the full impact of his dynamic stage presence you had to see him live. Maybe so, but since that isn't possible, there's enough of him in The Jazz Singer and other of his films to realize what a great entertainer he was, black-face or not.
Warner Oland, later to be the first Charlie Chan, plays Cantor Rabinowitz and Eugenie Besserer is touching as Jolson's mother caught hopelessly between her husband and son. In that first scene of a grownup Jolson in a café before he sings Dirty Hands, Dirty Face you will note that is William Demarest who he's dining with. Myrna Loy has a small role as a chorus girl.
Still both the play and the personality dictate that this film is owned exclusively by Al Jolson. Despite later versions with Danny Thomas and Neil Diamond in the lead, the story will always be identified with the man who said we ain't heard nothing yet.
Though The Jazz Singer is exponentially sentimental and mawkish, it does have a very nice depiction of Jewish life and neighborhood in the Teens and Twenties of the last century. And of course The Jazz Singer is a historic first.
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