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Al Jolson Shines in a Warner Brothers Classic

Author: romanorum1 from Rhode Island, United States
4 March 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"The Jazz Singer" may not have been the first film featuring sound, as there had been several experimental short films with sound earlier. For instance see the Theodore Case Sound Test: "Gus Visser and his Singing Duck" (1925), which is easily found online in YouTube. But "The Jazz Singer" was the first feature length film to use real sound, although dialog is limited as most of the film is silent (at least three-quarters) with Title Cards (intertitles). It is accompanied by a Vitaphone Orchestra score and features singing sequences by Al Jolson, America's favorite entertainer. The success of this film transformed the movie industry from the silent to talkies.

The story begins in the Lower East Side of the New York City Ghetto. Bearded cantor Rabinowitz (Warner Oland) tells his wife, Sara (Eugenie Besserer) that his ambition is for their son, Jakie (Bobby Gordon) to continue in the family tradition and succeed him as cantor at the Orchard Street synagogue. Sara, though, knows differently, as young Jakie really wants to be an entertainer, a jazz singer. Not long after, Cantor Rabinowitz catches young Jakie singing popular (ragtime) songs like "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee" in Muller's neighborhood bar- café. Outraged that Jakie is defying Jewish tradition, the cantor promptly takes him home to give him a whipping. To Sara's detriment, Jakie responds by leaving home. Nevertheless, Cantor Rabinowitz proceeds with the services at the synagogue, telling another cantor that he has no son.

The years pass, and three thousand miles away Jakie Rabinowitz has become well-known entertainer Jack Robin (Al Jolson) at Coffee Dan's nightclub in San Francisco. The audience is aroused by his singing when Jolson says those famous words: "Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You ain't heard nothing' yet. Wait a minute, I tell ya, you ain't heard nothing'! Do you wanna hear 'Toot, Toot, Tootsie!'? All right, hold on, hold on. Lou (band leader), listen. Play 'Toot, Toot, Tootsie!' Three choruses, you understand. In the third chorus I whistle. Now give it to 'em hard and heavy. Go right ahead!" Jack makes an impression on Mary Dale (May McAvoy), an attractive theatrical dancer with clout who decides to give him an opportunity to appear in an upcoming show. It develops into a successful run on vaudeville circuits at all major western cities. He writes to his mother, but Sara is chagrined to learn that he now has a non-Jewish name and has fallen in love with a non-Jewish girl. Later, he receives news that he is to star in a major Broadway revue.

Back in New York, Jack decides to return home to see Sara and to participate in celebrating his father's sixtieth birthday. Sara welcomes Jack home with open arms, but when Cantor Rabinowitz returns home to find Jakie singing "Blue Skies" to his mother, father and son have another brouhaha, causing Jack to storm away once more. "Leave my house! I never want to see you again, you jazz singer!"

During a dress rehearsal before opening night on Broadway, an important public performance, Sara comes backstage to Jack, telling him that his father is ill and might be dying, and he must return home for Yom Kippur and take his father's place at the altar to sing "Kol Nidre." Now he's faced with the difficult decision to eschew his big break to be at the synagogue. If only opening night could be postponed. In the end, Al Jolson eventually sings "My Mammy" (in blackface).

Although Al Jolson was a plodding actor, his vibrant voice brings enthusiasm to the silver screen. "The Jazz Singer" is not a great movie by any means, but it is entertaining and its influence was far-reaching. After 1927, talkies became the norm. For instance, Alfred Hitchcock saw the writing on the wall and filmed his "Blackmail" in both silent and talkie versions; the latter is what we see today. "The Jazz Singer" does present a slice of Jewish life in the early twentieth century. Note that blackface entertainment, which had been popular since the mid-nineteenth century, was not considered inappropriate then. It came into public disfavor by mid- century.

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ground breaking

Author: SnoopyStyle
25 October 2015

In NYC, child Jakie defies his father Cantor Rabinowitz, his culture and family tradition to sing in the ragtime jazz club. He runs away after a whipping by his father. Years later in Chicago, Jakie (Al Jolson) becomes singer Jack Robin. He's smitten with performer Mary Dale (May McAvoy) and she gets him an important opportunity.

This is the first feature-length motion picture with synchronized dialogue sequences. There has been shorts with dialogue but this is considered the dawn of the talkies. Al Jolson's first line is "Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothing' yet" which is great on many levels. The story itself is nothing special but at least, it doesn't suck. For such an iconic movie landmark, it would be horrible if this movie is bad in any way. It's a musical with a couple of great songs. The blackface could be irksome for parts of modern audience but that's the style back in the day. It's not meant to be offensive. This is worthy movie for such a big technical signpost.

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What a Milestone for Cinema History!

Author: cameron-59-297793 from Los Angeles
29 April 2015

The "roaring twenties" was a huge time for the United States! There were many new things going on! One huge thing was that people would go to movie theaters to watch old silent films! This was also when the prohibition happened so people were having parties and the crime family thrived with illegal usage and selling of alcohol. The twenties was also the birth of a whole new genre of music: Jazz! Starting in Harlem, jazz quickly grew everywhere in the US. But something in 1927 happened that no one thought would happen, The Jazz Singer came out! This movie was the very first talkie! Most major movie companies thought that the world was not ready for a talkie was it was deemed to be a complete and utter failure. Something surprised them, however, it was a huge success, gaining money and putting a lot of silent actors into a jobless environment. This movie was a stepping stone to cinema history!

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Parental Tyranny Is Not Much Fun

Author: disinterested_spectator from United States
22 November 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Once you strip away this movie's historical significance and musical numbers, you are left with some pretty heavy melodrama. Forced to choose between a long Jewish tradition from the old country and the individualism and freedom of America, Jakie chooses the latter, and is disowned by his father, a cantor from a long line of cantors who wants his son to be a cantor. This goes on through the whole movie and it wears you out. But then, on the opening night of his first big break in the theater, Jakie finds out his father is dying, and there is no one to sing in the temple on the Day of Atonement. He agonizes and agonizes over the choice he must make between family and career. But what was he worried about? Didn't he know this was a Hollywood movie where people get to have it both ways? He chooses to sing for his father, and then goes on to sing in the theater too, becoming a great success.

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A warm, wonderful film.

Author: thermodon1 from United States
12 November 2014

Seldom do I give a 10 star rating as few films are perfect, but this movie is as close to perfect as it could get for a silent film. The story line is sweet, the dubbed over original soundtrack is wonderful, making it interesting, and never left me wanting it to hurry up and end. Because this movie is available on Blu-ray, made it even better for having the quality it deserves. It certainly should be listed as a classic silent film in the top 100 of the genre. To rate this movie with just one word,"Fantastic", would be more than enough. It would be fair to say that this great early film is wonderful as the other top silent films of the age, such as the Big Parade, Wings, Sunrise, the Crowd and many, many others.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

The screen learned to talk.

Author: jwvongoethe1800 from Netherlands
19 August 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie was responsible for the end of the silent era of cinema in 1927, and the destruction of the careers of hundreds of actors who couldn't talk. Does this movie hold up after 87 years? Well, it still did.

First an note: This film is known as the first sound film (or "talkies" as they where called in the 20s), but most of the film is still the same as the movies from the silent era. Only the singing parts are with sound. But the jazz singer has made his chapter in the history of cinema and soon actors had two choices. 1: Look for a new job. 2: Learn to talk.

The movie stars Al Jolson as the son of a Jewish priest (don't really know how they are called) who wants to be a jazz singer, even when his father hated that idea. Without spoiling to many things, he became a jazz singer and we than see the famous black-face scene the movie is known for. people now will see that as racist and I am agree with that, but it was part of the time period. And it became one of the most iconic scenes in the history of cinema.

I will recommend this film to people who are curious about cinema history. To the others: Give it a watch. It is not that racist at all and the black-face scene is only 3% of the film.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

D.J. Jazzy Blackface

Author: Ryan Ellis from Toronto, Canada
15 December 2013

Take away The Jazz Singer's gimmick and it would be remembered as just another movie from the 1920's. This film, however, is widely acknowledged as the first talking picture. It stars Al Jolson. It's a universal story of dogged pursuit of career and Daddy Issues. Those are legit reasons (particularly the sound thing) to keep it somewhat relevant, but it's also pretty dumb. Had it been made a few years into the sound era, it certainly wouldn't have been recognized by the American Film Institute on their 1998 Top 100 list.

Even at that, the talking scenes are mostly just Jolson singing and doing his jazz act. When they give him and his mother (Eugenie Besserer) a scene that isn't about music, he's stiff and you can hardly hear what she's saying. Sure, this was all new to people who'd been making movies for years without having to worry about dialogue. They were infants in the land of audio. You gotta cut them a little slack.

Okay, slack cut. Back to beefing. This is one more in a long line of movies that rely on the "you perform tonight even though your father is on his death bed or you're through" crutch. Nothing like a good guilt trip dealt out by show biz types who've OFTEN put their career goals over the needs of their family. As for whether not Jack Robin (Jolson) puts his father's dreams of the son becoming a Jewish cantor over the son's jazz career...that shall not be spoiled here. There IS much hand-wringing over it though, often literal hand-wringing.

And then there's the blackface! Arguments could be made that this movie was just paying homage to the racist staple of vaudeville days of yore and weren't trying to make fun of black people. Still, we can't just forgive them in their ignorance. It's great that the movies finally got to speak in 1927 and The Jazz Singer was sound's godfather. They might have looked a little harder for a more worthy story. And they could've found a way to avoid that blackface.

If this snapshot review made you yearn for more, check out the website I share with my wife ( and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 32-minute Jazz Singer 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

historical film

Author: blanche-2 from United States
13 June 2012

The first talking picture, 1927's "The Jazz Singer" is the story of a young man (Al Jolson) who wants to break from the family tradition and become a jazz singer.

I have to agree with some of the reviewers - though there are some absurd things in this film, it has to be viewed in the context of the time it was done without today's focus on political correctness. One needs to look at the history of blackface and do a little research about Al Jolson before jumping in with reviews. Otherwise you come off like the guy who asked if Gandhi was a fictional character - which, by the way, happened on this site.

What's excellent about "The Jazz Singer" is its look at the immigrant Jewish life in New York City at that time. Jolson is Jakie Rabinowitz, whose father (Warner Oland) wants him to pursue the family tradition of being a cantor.

Even as a young boy, though, Jakie is interested in singing and performing jazz, which causes a rift -- so big a rift that he leaves home for good, breaking his mother's heart. He changes his name to Jack Robin and has success on the road. Big success comes when he is hired to costar in a Broadway show. This means a return to New York and a chance to see his parents.

When his father falls ill, his mother begs him to sing Kol Nidre at the synagogue, but it's on Jack's opening night, and he feels that he has made his choice.

Many people can relate to defying one's family to follow a dream. It is handled somewhat simplistically in "The Jazz Singer," because obviously, if you're contracted to do a Broadway show, you can't walk out on opening night unless you want to pay the rent on the theater and make up for the loss in box office and somehow stay out of court. Here it's treated, in scene after scene, as if Jack really has a decision to make, with his mother pulling at his heartstrings and his girlfriend (May McAvoy) yanking him the other way. Also, I just have to put this in - what producer in his right mind would schedule an opening night on Passover? Anyway, none of this was meant to be looked into too closely.

I will be honest and say I always thought this landmark film only contained one spoken line, and I thought it was "You ain't heard nothing' yet." Turns out, Jolson does what amounts to a monologue, with his mother (Eugenie Besserer) making comments along the way. She's not miked. It's fascinating.

The history of the Vitaphone license is even more interesting. Sam Warner (who died before this film's release) wanted the Vitaphone license, but anti-Semitism ran very high. When he went to meet with the Vitaphone people, Sam, a big, redheaded guy, asked his Catholic wife, Lina Basquette, to wear her Catholic cross. He got the license. Fox had a competing sound systems, and Vitaphone was junked in 1932. Studios couldn't convert to sound immediately after "The Jazz Singer" - at first, sound was considered a fad, converting the theaters was a huge expense, the studios didn't actually have a plethora of equipment to do sound films - and then there was the European market. It all took a while, but this is the film that started it all.

After George Jessel starred in the stage version on Broadway, and both he and Eddie Cantor turned down the film, the producers settled on Al Jolson, an electrifying performer and a powerful singer. It's hard today to measure his impact, as Jolson really needed a live audience. But the effect of his voice and his obvious energy is still present.

Nowadays some of the acting will seem hammy. Jolson actually comes off very well, as does Warner Oland, who is best known as Charlie Chan. Besserer uses her hands a lot in gestures long gone - grabbing her heart, for instance, but this was the style of the day, and her performances comes off as being a warm and sweet one. Otto Lederer as the kibitzer is a riot.

A very important film that deserves to be seen. Sadly with the advent of sound, no one was interested in anything else, so Abel Gance trashed his early Cinemascope-type invention, which we got to see for the first time in the 1980s with the restoration of his "Napoleon." But everything happens in its time. And in 1927, it was time for the movies to start talking.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet!

Author: SmileysWorld from United States
6 January 2008

After years of silent movie screens with the exception of live piano or organ accompaniment,we finally had sound on the big screen,at least in appropriately chosen moments.I can just imagine the first audiences of this film being totally mesmerized and amazed at what they were seeing and hearing for the first time.The film is one of those turning points in cinema history we can point to and talk about along with the first technicolor feature and the first time we heard Clark Gable dare to utter a curse word on screen.Al jolson had an electrifying charm that he plays to the hilt here,though much of his act is considered racially offensive today.There are those who call it a great film,and there are those who hesitate to do so,but there is no denying The Jazz Singer's impact on cinematic history.We truly had heard nothing yet.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Club Silencio

Author: chaos-rampant from Greece
10 December 2012

Contrary to well-established legend, this is not the first of its kind. But it was a smash hit, and the first sound film where music—sound at its fullest chromatic range—was central to the plot, the first musical film, and history was bent to accommodate. The film is in fact a silent, except when we are on a stage and someone is singing.

As a film, it throws away the many wonderful advances of the late silent era—L'Herbier, Pudovkin, Pabst—so we can have singing, it's uninteresting to watch. As a musical, bulky sound technology of the time prevents dazzle or movement. All the emphasis is placed on the novelty, that is listening to Al Jolson sing.

The story is partially about the transition to sound. In a nutshell, the young Jewish kid wants to be a jazz singer instead of a cantor like his father and five generations before him. Heartbreak ensues, he runs off. Years later, his father has fallen ill and there is no one to replace him on the same night as the son's years of struggle pay off in his Broadway debut.

Generally speaking, I would not recommend this to you—it is emotionally stodgy and heavy. Its metaphors—blackface to emphasize the 'otherness' of the show business from the mother's pov— are as draining as in those films about sad clowns pretending to be happy.

I saw this as part of a project on musicals I'll be running through winter and have two remarks to make.

The film is in what would prove a popular model for Depression-era musicals, a show about a show being staged, in fact two, Broadway and synagogue. It starts here, even though there is no choreography to speak of.

We only have song, but the premise is the same—expressions of some purity can mend hearts, 'magically' solving reality. There are three notable instances of this, one in a theatre where song takes us to the synagogue, the second where a mirror becomes a window, the third when a deathbed window is opened and song flows in and lifts the barrier between father and son.

No, I find this the most interesting as the dissonant artifice of an old world that vanished as the lights and stage were being set for the modern world; the contrast in the form between silent film and splashes of song, musical shifts from ragtime to mournful Jewish chants, Freudian fixation on the mother instead of a healthy love interest, all of it is curious here, curious because simply no one would make films this way again. In a mysterious way it manages to unsettle.

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