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I saw this movie for its historial value, but I stayed for its greatness.
Because, first talkie or not, this is just a great movie. The 6.3 rating
baffled me; didn't everyone else like this interesting story about a boy who
abandons tradition and his father who disowns him? I can't think of anything
not to like about the movie. It's a fabulous movie, and a filmmaking
I'd like to comment on someone else's comments now. Someone said this movie was very racist and that's why it was successful, saying, "Would this film have still been successful if it was just Jolson as himself and not black-faced? Probably not. That's because people watched it to make themselves feel better about themselves."
I wonder if this commenter actually saw the movie. Jolson is only wearing blackface for about 15 minutes for a performance. The rest of the movie, Jolson IS himself. Jolson never plays an African-American as his character in the movie, he just sings a song as one. Yes, the song is somewhat racist by today's standards, but most of this comment is not valid at all. In fact, I suspect the comment was written solely based on a glance at the video box cover.
Anyway, if you wanna see a historical landmark in film or if you wanna see a fabulous movie (half-talkie, half-silent), go ahead and see "The Jazz Singer."
THE JAZZ SINGER (Warner Brothers, 1927), directed by Alan Crosland, is
an experimental movie that premiered on that historic night of October
6, 1927, becoming the first feature length film to use sound. Hailed as
the "first talkie," it is actually a silent movie accompanied by a
Vitaphone Orchestra score conducted by Louis Silvers, with limited
dialog and singing sequences mostly by Al Jolson, the Broadway
headliner of his day making his feature film debut. Although based on
the 1925 play that starred George Jessel, the plot itself could easily
be Jolson's own life story itself.
The story opens in the ghetto of New York City where Cantor Rabinowitz (Warner Oland) discusses his high hope ambition to his wife, Sara (Eugenie Besserer) for their son, Jakie (Bobby Gordon) to succeed him as cantor, but Mrs. Sara Rabinowitz, a kind-hearted person ("God made her a woman and love made her a mother"), only knows that Jakie wants more in life than just following old Hebrew traditions. After being caught singing ragtime songs ("My Gal Sal" and "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee") in a neighborhood saloon, Old Man Rabinowitz takes his son home to give him a good whipping. But that doesn't stop Jakie, who makes a big decision to leave home. Years later, Jakie Rabinowitz becomes Jack Robin (Al Jolson), and gets his first break singing at a night club in San Francisco where he makes an impression of Mary Dale (May McAvoy), a theatrical dancer who decides to give him a opportunity to appear in an upcoming show. Later, he receives news that he is to star in a Broadway revue. Back in New York, Jack decides to return home to see Mama and to participate in celebrating his father's 60th birthday. Mama welcomes Jack home with open arms (literally), but when Rabinowitz returns home to find Jakie singing "Blue Skies" to his mother, father and son have another bawling out, causing Jack to leave home once more. During dress rehearsal, Mama Rabinowitz comes backstage to Jack, telling him that his father is ill and might be dying, and he must return home for Yom Kippor and take his father's place at the altar to sing "Kol Nidre." Now he's faced with the terrible situation.
While it's been said on movie documentaries that "The Jazz Singer" is a terrible movie, then and now, with the exception of using a couple of different songs, I cannot see how this movie could have been done any other way. Jolson fits his role like a glove, possibly reenacting his own life story on film. He ad-libs in one scene while talking to his on-screen mother, who is heard speaking a few lines of dialog. Oland gets to be heard on screen shouting only one word, "STOP!" And May McAvoy only speaks through title cards. Her voice is never heard. Some of the title cards presented on screen are, at times, unintentionally funny. In spite of everything, these things can be overlooked for this a 1927 movie, even though I've heard some worse dialog come from recent movies.
Also in the cast are Otto Lederer as Moisha Yudelson; Nat Carr as Levi; William Demarest as Buster Billings, whose scenes were reduced to only a brief bit set in a café. Look fast for a young Myrna Loy as one of the gossiping chorus girls.
Other songs include: "Dirty Hands, Dirty Face," "Toot-Toot-Tootsie, Goodbye," "Mother, I Still Have You" and "Mammy" (all sung by Jolson) Cantor Josef Rosenblatt appears as himself singing "Yahrzeit" (In Memorium) during a special concert performance. He's possibly the one who dubs for Warner Oland's temple singing of "Kol Nidre" (All Vows)in the early portion of the story.
"The Jazz Singer" is palatable for those who enjoy watching films made during the dawn of sound era. It might be unbearable to those who feel Neil Diamond's 1981 remake to be a masterpiece. (And let's not forget there was a 1952 first remake starring Danny Thomas). The 1927 original is available for viewing on video cassette, DVD, or on the Turner Classic Movies cable channel. (***)
One of the most unique movies of all times, the first talking picture and all. I saw this movie for the first time a year ago. although it was for school, i actually enjoyed this movie, doing a unit in film studies on Black cinema immeditally following, put things into prespective. in 1927 black face was commonplace and it was in 1929 as well when Show Boat came out. both have black face in it and watching it now really doesnt belittle the blacks at all, its just that the style of music that they sing in both while Jakie and Magnolia are in black face are song that you might have seen them,the blacks, preform in real life. everyone who dislikes it should really watch this film for its historical signifigance. great movie, funny dialogue, love it it gets a 10
Rather than follow in his father's footsteps, a Jewish cantor's son
runs away from home to become a jazz singer; many years later he
returns to New York to star in a Broadway show and attempts a
reconciliation with his implacable father. Even 1927 audiences thought
it was pretty silly--but no one ever went to see THE JAZZ SINGER
because it was a great film. They went to see it because you could hear
the actors talk.
Not that they do much talking. Al Jolson performs several of his popular numbers and there are occasional snatches of speech and dialogue, but for all practical purposes THE JAZZ SINGER is a silent film. The cast, which includes Warner Oland (better known for his later appearances as Charlie Chan) plays very broadly, and the result is mildly entertaining. But the interest here is largely historical. Film historians, students, and buffs will be eager to see it--and rightly so--but I do not recommend it for the casual viewer.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
The Jazz Singer is an important film historically since it was most definitely the film that brought the world into the sound era. Looked at today, many people hate the black face used by Al Jolson in the film but that was, like it or not, a very popular entertainment art form back in those days. Much has been said about the songs and ad-libs interpolated in the film, which was mostly silent with a synchronized music score. They are fine and channel the true Jolson. The film was given a very good restoration several years ago and it looks and sounds better than ever on the new DVD and Blu-Ray releases. The opening and exit music is present, and the DVD set I have is just about the most spectacular one ever released. Three discs with more extra features than I have ever see, and a cornucopia of printed materials originally released with the film in 1927. Listening to the cleaned-up musical score on the DVD, it sounds surprisingly modern, capturing the many moods of the various scenes. Yes, there are dated elements in this film, but they are overshadowed by the fact that this represents a cinematic watershed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
. . . my local library had the three-disc Warner Brothers DVD set that includes about every possible clue to the development of "talkies," or flicks with synchronized soundtracks, nearly a hundred years ago. Of the scores of separate items included on these discs, SHOCKINGLY, this film--THE JAZZ SINGER--was the top-rated item. I expected some cringe-worthy antiquated doo-doo nearly impossible to suffer through with THE JAZZ SINGER, based on the few snippets of Al Jolson in Blackface to which I'd previously been exposed. What I got was an adept father-son tear jerker which has an internal self-awareness in terms of playing with the fact that this collaborative effort was knowingly changing EVERY facet of American popular entertainment up to that time through its use of synchronized sound. The soundtrack and song selection are amazingly good, but the score by Louis Silvers ranks right up there on the pathos scale with anything John Williams or Max Steiner have composed. Jolson's acting is a revelation, and it's a more than eerie coincidence that as a character named Jakie "Jack Robin" he's breaking the sound barrier IN BLACKFACE in BROOKLYN just 20 years before a man actually named Jackie Robinson breaks America's COLOR BARRIER in popular culture IN BROOKLYN!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's not the best film or even a great film, but it's pretty good, and
you have to have it in the AFI Best Films list for the simple and pure
fact that it was the first feature length synchronized talkie ever
Al Jolson does a pretty good job in the lead, the performances are okay for the most part, the real delight about the movie though is it's theme about having to choose, to make a choice. As in The Dark Knight, Batman must save either Harvey Dent or the Woman he loves, he has to choose, he can't have his cake and eat it too, and the same situation goes for Al Jolson's character in The Jazz Singer. He must choose between breaking his Mother's heart or ending his career before it even gets started. In the end, Jolson's character does what is right because it is right, it's the right thing to do in his heart, and I would agree with his decision as well.
But it's an interesting thing to be put in a situation like that. Most of us in life are not tested in that way to where we must go one way or the other(with a major major decision), and the aftermath of it is we could always think 'what if', live in regret, be the victim, etc. We as human beings like it when we are not pigeon holed in a corner and we can make one solid choice and not have to be in a tail spin of 'What Should I do, pick this one or that one, if I do this then And if do that then But I might regret it if I ' All of these things, ideas and questions would be popping into our head to make a choice where the stakes are incredibly delicate and extremely important.
It's interesting as well that Jolson's character must or feel like he must choose between the person that brought him into this world/that gave him life and the passion that fulfills all of his dreams and makes him whole, the thing that could give him his most ultimate fulfilling and happy life. It's some interesting things to think about, and I enjoyed that aspect of The Jazz Singer the best. In the final analysis though, on the subject of making an important choice between two things, in this writer's opinion, is to think it over, weigh it out, and as tough as it can be sometimes, make a decision and never look back with regret or anything because the decision you made will be the best one for you, in your heart of hearts, just like it was for Jolson's character in the movie.
Overall I liked this film, I would recommend it to any film enthusiast who wants to see a huge part of cinematic history. As landing on the moon is a monumental event in history for most people, the first talkie, which is The Jazz Singer, is a Monumental event in history for film cinema and all film buffs alike.
...but it was the first time that it was integrated into the storyline
of a feature film in such a way that it was remotely entertaining to
The story was adapted from a Samson Raphaelson play, and I've heard from many viewers who have reviewed this film with the criticism that the title cards and even the storyline itself for the all but twenty minutes that are silent film are like those from a melodrama from the 1910's rather than the more sophisticated material from films such as Sunrise from that same year. However, clever silent dialogue is not the point of watching this. The point is how Jolson jumps off the screen anytime he is center stage and performing a number and how the dynamism that was Jolson could only be adequately communicated in the presence of sound. Sam Warner, the Warner Brother that dragged the other Warners into the sound era kicking and screaming and died right before the film opened, picked well when he selected Al Jolson to be the centerpiece of the new sound on disc system's ability to capture synchronized dialogue.
What I always notice whenever I watch this film is just how apparently scared the Warners were of letting someone actually speak in what is supposed to be a talking picture. Jolson's famous impromptu dialog with his mother while at the piano performing "Blue Skies" is the only real conversation - although it is completely one-sided - in the entire film. The first all talking picture would have to wait until the following year to be created when a Vitaphone short inadvertently turned into a 59 minute feature film while Jack Warner was out of town. That picture was, of course, "Lights of New York". After that film opened to a grind house run and made over a million dollars the sound revolution was truly on. "The Jazz Singer" was considered only a novelty at the time.
Of course, part of the reason that so much of this film is silent is that is was still very difficult at this time to synchronize speech with film for extended periods of time. Even Jolson's whistling during Toot Toot Tootsie was sound dubbed over silent film versus the Vitaphone process.
Watch this one with an eye and ear mainly for Jolson's singing numbers. Also keep an eye out for some of Jolson's costars that have big careers later on. Of course there is Warner Oland who plays Al's father here and is Charlie Chan over at Fox during the 1930's, but there is also Myrna Loy as a chorus girl peeking through some curtains backstage during a rehearsal with a few catty - but unfortunately silent - remarks. Finally look out for William Demarest sharing a table with Al at Coffee Dan's as they both dig into a plate of ham and eggs. Ironically, Demarest played Jolson's mentor in the excellent 1946 biopic "The Jolson Story".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Al Jolson made cinematic history in October of 1927 with the release of The Jazz Singer. Jolson stars as the son of a cantor who can't accept Jolson's penchant for wanting to sing jazz instead of becoming a sixth generation cantor. Jolson has a few singing scenes which are accompanied by synchronized sound, and his energy in the role is hard to ignore. However, the plot is very creaky, even by 1920's standards with embarrassing overacting, complete with breast-beating by the actress playing Jolson's mother: Eugenie Besserer. Swedish actor Warner Oland, who in a few years garnered fame as Charlie Chan, plays Jolson's stubborn (and quite frankly), obnoxious father. May McAvoy is Jolson's girl who sees him through these troubled spots. Musical highlights include "Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye", "Blue Skies", and the closer "My Mammy". Alfred A. Cohn adapted the screenplay from the play by Samson Raphaelson. Director Alan Crosland reached his zenith with directing this film. Time has taken a toll on this film for sure. Look for William Demarest in a bit role and Myrna Loy as a chorus girl. ** of 4 stars.
I saw the Jazz Singer because I love movies and the history of movies. For this reason alone, the film is worth seeing. It is the first sound film after all so if the history of films interests you then see this one as a sort of intellectual exercise. But otherwise, I didn't think this film was very good. It wasn't horrible but definitely below average. Although, I think this is at least partly due to the fact that the film is an odd combination of sound and silence. The songs are sung by the performers and are audible but the rest of the movie is silent as if the director was told he had to use some sound. So that was distracting. If you have seen a silent film before then you know that you have to watch it differently than you do a sound film. And I found it difficult and annoying to have to constantly switch back and forth between sound and no sound. But for film lovers this is certainly worth seeing at least to understand that sound in film sure didn't happen all at once.
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