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The Jazz Singer
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Reviews & Ratings for
The Jazz Singer More at IMDbPro »

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

The Jazz Singer

Author: Tim Cox from Marietta, OH
22 July 1999

Although a less than spectacular film, it is a part of film history and preservation and if you salute that cause like I do, you will salute this first talkie as a milestone.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

historical film

6/10
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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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Jazz Singer

10/10
Author: cnokuri from United States
24 April 2009

In this movie Al Jolson is an Ashekenazi Jew whose parents emigrated from Eastern Europe during the the early 20th Century. Progroms and antisemitic acts of violence in Russia and the Pale from 1871-1906 forced these communities to settle in the Lower East Side of New York. Like all children of immigrants Al Jolson's character had to go through the difficult process of assimilating into American culture. How did he do this ? Through the music of another marginalized people groups in America. His father however was a cantor, which is a Jewish singer that leads singing in the synagogue. Being the son of a Cantor he quite naturally had signing talent but wanted to forgo his father's profession to seek his own identity in the American world.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Nearly Impossible to Sit Through

3/10
Author: evanston_dad from United States
20 January 2012

Yikes, this film is hard to sit through.

The only thing "The Jazz Singer" has going for it is its historical importance as the first feature-length film to include moments of spoken dialogue. But beyond that, it's pretty dreadful stuff, boring, overly sentimental, not creative in the least. Al Jolson is a winning performer, and it's especially the talkie moments that let his persona shine, but there are very few of those, and the rest of the film is a funereally paced story about his character's conflict between the world of show business and the traditional Jewish heritage of his parents.

Compare this film to others that came out in the same year -- like F.W. Murnau's exquisite "Sunrise" or Chaplin's "The Circus" -- and you'll be sorry that the birth of such an important technology was wasted on such an otherwise forgettable movie.

Grade: D

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Good will for the occasion and all about prejudice

Author: carvalheiro from Portugal
24 October 2007

"The Jazz Singer" (1927) directed by Alan Crosland it is as movie very unusual and strongly grotesque, an extraordinary success by its musical drama construction, with the spontaneous and glad cooperation of Al Jolson, as singer with a black ink on his face as fake skin, because his own father whom is against the skilled transfer of the learned technique of this specific art of singing a kind of spirituals from the church, as the same like to the stage but with another melodic timber. The story is in itself so fantastic that with still a bit of some prejudice against many illogic things, that even today are almost as two times ironic. The girl is also very nice, fellows.

From Swedish origin, this very good stage artist coming also from Broadway is the character of the first unforgettable talkie, made by Warner Brothers with Vitaphone technical revolution and with a screen adaptation from a theatrical entertainment, like the play from 1925. The sound is guttural which means it came from the throat for the effect of musical voice, when he says to his mother the attribute of his relative as romantic supplement of the night's sight of this plot. Made as entertainment risking interdiction by the rules not written concerning segregation both religious by free expression and color of skins as inequality of the time. Except in singers nonetheless this masquerade from Hollywood before the code, to bring up animosity against sadness of blues from Mississippi with such a noisy souls from the cotton lands, but courageously in this specific case making the bridge between church chorus and vocal group out of that line of fire for show business in night clubs. Everywhere around the world of rhythms from slaves of another continent, as roots of all this turmoil of sound, even from the nostrils of Al Jolson and his imitative figure of a Negro's spirituals expressing love by song in spite of relatives opposition.

This kind of movie was by chance and full opportunity the open door for a more ambitious story out of the screens at the time, concerning such a problem of integrity of the masked character : smiling nowhere as in the round circus of the stage, concealed by such a tonic accents in that way of speaking about domestic affairs. Without apparently any other issue than fighting on the backwards of streets bad known and too at short term in the local society, actually with no other way out then talking in between. To the surprise of the viewers this movie is much more interesting than it was supposed to be, because its state of plasticity in the relatively short content of this narrative, which it plays well fresh fervor a little bit camp. Nonetheless the strange affection in it by the melody, at the time of foolish years and just before the Depression crisis.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Don't expect much

6/10
Author: abum190 from United States
23 December 2006

Justly remembered for revolutionizing the business (though more of the movie is silent than the producers would have had you believe), The Jazz Singer is nevertheless, at its best, a mediocre movie. It inspires nothing in the hearts and minds of its audience, and it seems to be so enamored with what we are hearing that it forgets to worry about what we are watching.

This was the only major work of Al Jolson's career, but what he does here is very good and probably the best thing about the movie. Jolson is Jack Robin, a name he changed from Jakie Rabinowitz to escape his Jewish heritage. He grew up the son of a Jewish cantor and was expected to follow in his father's spiritual footsteps but instead leaves home to seek a career as a jazz singer. The big climax of the film is the night when Jack must make the decision to perform in a revue that could be his big break in New York or to sing in his dying father's place even though the cantor had disowned him.

Silent movies derive their strength less from their stories than their images; the Jazz Singer's story is not amazing, but with inspired imagery it could have been very moving. Instead, I found myself pretty bored. One could use the time period as an excuse for this, but when Charlie Chaplin can make brilliant movies like "The Gold Rush," one expects more from a hyped-up movie like this.

All that said, there is something exciting in the feeling that you are watching history like this. When Al Jolson said that famous line "You ain't heard nothing yet!" I felt I was a part of something far bigger than just a modern revolution in film made for commercial purposes; realizing the future movies that this one affected and knowing the art that it helped to create was an awe-inspiring moment that only those who love the movies can really understand. So as a piece of history, The Jazz Singer is worth seeing; but as a movie, it fails to inspire.

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0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

The first fictional talkie.

Author: Andrew-71 from Berkeley, California
6 April 1999

Despite being labeled as the first talkie, and the first sucessful talkie, this movie is notable for neither. It is notable because it was the first film in which film was used in a fictional narrative story, not as a novelty or addition to a filmed vaudville act. This movie is famous for being the first talkie because it whet the audience's appitite for talking films, used as they were in The Jazz Singer.

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1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

My favorite movie of all time

Author: Rich Drezen (Drezzilla)
1 April 2003

This is the highest recommendation I could make for anybody. I mean, sure. It's mostly silent, it's black and white, it's from 1927, but that's not how I see it. The sound is one thing, the story that goes along with it is another. Whether you're from a Jewish family, or know some things about the Jewish religion, or whatever, this is not, and I mean not, a movie that will disappoint you. I've seen it about fifty times now, and I enjoy it more each time.

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3 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

My favorite movie of all time

Author: Rich Drezen (Drezzilla)
1 April 2003

This is the highest recommendation I could make for anybody. I mean, sure. It's mostly silent, it's black and white, it's from 1927, but that's not how I see it. The sound is one thing, the story that goes along with it is another. Whether you're from a Jewish family, or know some things about the Jewish religion, or whatever, this is not, and I mean not, a movie that will disappoint you. I've seen it about fifty times now, and I enjoy it more each time.

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1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Movie Odyssey Review #047: The Jazz Singer

Author: Cyke from Denver, Colorado
11 August 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

047: The Jazz Singer (1927) - released 10/6/1927, viewed 5/2/06.

BIRTHS: Peter Falk.

KEVIN: Finally, we get to watch the beginning of the end of the silent era. The Jazz Singer is hailed as the first "sound" film, although it's really a silent film with a couple of sound scenes thrown in. Besides the wonderful musical numbers, I was genuinely surprised with the poignancy of the story, especially when Jack Robin (Al Jolson) has to choose between making his Broadway debut or singing in place of his sick father at the synagogue on Yom Kippur. I was surprised that things turned out as beautifully as they did, with his father ultimately forgiving him, though I wasn't sure if his father made peace with his son's dreams to be a jazz singer. All in all, I enjoyed this movie much more than I expected.

DOUG: Ah, I have to say it feels so good to cross this little landmark off the list, which we managed to view (without taping, no less) on TCM. It's the beginning of the end of silent film as we know it as Al Jolson sings his way through the first movie to use synchronized dialogue. This could also be considered the first movie musical, since all the sound scenes are musical numbers, and the musical was a genre that obviously would benefit greatly from sound. Is the film important? Of course it is, for obvious reasons. Is it worth seeing? Yes. Is it a good film? I suppose it is, although I had objections to certain scenes. (Seeing blackface in old movies is extremely difficult to swallow these days.) The story was surprisingly moving, although I thought that Jack's girlfriend Mary turned out to be rather shallow; when Jack must make a decision between the show and the duty to his father, Mary tells him that his career is more important, which I didn't believe for a second. With regards to the Vitaphone scenes, I noticed that, as this is the first film to use it, the makers of the film rely only on the FACT of the sound and dialogue rather than trying to do anything clever with it. They don't even try to come up with any interesting dialogue, as nearly all of the talking is improvised. It was a gimmick, and in 1927, it worked.

Last film viewed: Morocco (1930). Last film chronologically: Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927). Next film viewed: Soup to Nuts (1930). Next film chronologically: My Best Girl (1927).

The Movie Odyssey is an exhaustive, chronological project where we watch as many milestone films as possible, starting with D.W. Griffith's Intolerance in 1916 and working our way through, year by year, one film at a time. We also write a short review for each and every film. In this project, we hope to gain a deeper understanding of the time period, the films of the era, and each film in context, while at the same time just watching a lot of great movies, most of which we never would have watched otherwise.

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