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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 Coffee Dan's 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
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Jazz Singer (1927): Dir: Alan Crosland / Cast: Al Jolson, May McAvoy, Warner Oland, Otto Lederer, Richard Tucker: First successful sound film with Al Jolson playing a successful jazz singer who fled home at a young age. His father is a Cantor who believes that his son is debasing the voice that God gave him but his mother is supportive. He soon meets a woman who claims that "there are lots of jazz singers but you have a tear in your voice." They get acquainted and tour New York. When his father becomes ill he wishes for his son to perform his duties at the church. This leads to predictable circumstances and a questionable performance by Jolson in blackface. Well directed by Alan Crosland with terrific musical numbers that distract us from the fact that the screenplay really isn't that interesting. Jolson gives an inspiring performance as a man seeking direction but his blackface appearance is offensive and best left on the cutting room floor. His female partner encourages his talent towards his own independence. His parents on the other hand, are as idiotic as the blackface performance. His father is a stereotype with a stick up his ass who pushes his views on his son. His mother isn't much broader. In supporting roles are May McAvoy, Warner Oland and Otto Lederer. Overrated formula driven story highlighted by Jolson's energy and sincere song and dance. Score: 5 / 10
The son of a Jewish Cantor (Al Jolson) must defy the traditions of his
religious father in order to pursue his dream of becoming a jazz
Today (2015) this film is known for two things: being the first feature-length film to have sound, and for having its star perform in blackface. For the former, it will always be historically important. For the latter, it will always be looked down upon by some, though it should be seen less as a racist film and more a simple product of the time.
Either way, it is just not that great of movie. If you like hearing 1920s songs sung by a guy swinging his hips, you may enjoy it. And it has something to say about sons going their own way, even when they could easily follow their father. But the movie is really not that amazing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
All my life I promised myself that I'd sit down some evening and watch
"The Jazz Singer". Well, just a couple of days after my 65th birthday,
I finally did. I love old movies...but not quite this old. My interest
begins about 5 years after this production...somewhere around 1932
(give or take).
Without dialog (and this film only has spoken word in some parts...mostly Jolson's songs), films go very slowly to me...and this film is no exception. Of course, I didn't watch this film for entertainment. I watched for its history, and this film is just as historical as about anything you'll find in a museum -- the first real talking motion picture -- a true revolution.
Nevertheless, the plot here is not too bad if you can stand all those silent dialog boxes. I'd like to criticize Jolson for sometimes over-acting, but is that fair way back during the transition from silent to talking pictures? Certainly Warner Oland (later Charlie Chan, here the father and cantor) is stiff as a board...even before he died in the film. Eugenie Besserer as the mother was quite good. Otto Lederer has an entertaining role as a family friend. And of course, every one and every thing is VERY Jewish.
This film is primitive enough (though the print shown on TCM is very good considering the age) that you may not find it palatable. In that case, soak in the history as you watch the man who considered himself to be the world's greatest entertainer. This film is history.
Finally after all these years of hearing about this movie, and seeing clips from it in historical film documentaries, I finally watched it! And I really liked it too! The story is universal and still applies today, Jolson was great as the Jewish cantor's son who wanted to be a jazz singer instead of a cantor like his father. Of course this movie is famous for having bits of dialogue spoken, and they are spoken during the song sequences. This device is both really cool, and makes you wish the whole movie were a talky, but it also is kinda annoying at times too, as the transitions are a bit awkward. Overall, I really liked this movie, though, it's got heart.
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.
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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