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THE JOLSON STORY (Columbia, 1946), directed by Alfred E. Green, is a
nostalgic tribute to the "world's greatest entertainer," Al Jolson, the
man who loved to sing, as portrayed by Larry Parks, covering his life
and career from the turn of the century to about 1940.
This Technicolor production opens in Washington, DC, at the turn of the century where a young teenage boy named Asa Yoelson (Scotty Beckett) and his girlfriend, Ann Murray (Ann E. Todd) are seated in the audience at Kernan's Burlesque House watching Steve Martin (William Demarest) doing his comedy act. He asks for the audience to sing along as he plays his cello, but it is Asa who's the only one brave enough to stand up and start singing. Amazed by this young lad's natural talent, Martin locates Asa's home asking permission of his parents, Cantor and Mrs. Yoelson (Ludwig Donath and Tamara Shayne) to have him as part of his act. Papa Yoelson says no to the idea, and feels that the only place where his son should be singing is not in a theater, but in a Synagogue. Respecting the Cantor's wishes, Martin leaves for his tour. However, Asa leaves home, hopping on a freight car to find Martin, ending up in the residence of a Catholic Church run by a Father McGee (Ernest Cossart). Learning about the boy's background and purpose, the priest sends for both Steve and the Yoelsons, who arrive to find Asa singing in the choir. Not wanting Asa to be constantly running away from home, Mama Yoelson's convinces Papa to have their boy pursue his dream. Years pass. The act of Martin and Yoelson prove successful. Because Asa, now Al Jolson, wants to advance himself, it is Steve who breaks up the act by sending him over to perform in Lew Dockstader's (John Alexander) minstrels. With Steve's help once more, he arranges for Al to start his long and successful career at the Winter Garden on Broadway, with former "blackface" singer and friend, Tom Baron (Bill Goodwin) acting as manager. Jolson, who has never forgotten Steve, hires him as his agent. Now the biggest name in show business, Al Jolson's career takes a turn to success, starring in "the first talking picture," THE JAZZ SINGER, his courtship with Florenz Ziegfeld's (Eddie Kane) latest attraction, Julie Benson (Evelyn Keyes), star of the musical show, LIZA, their marriage, screen careers and finally retirement to the country. Problems arise as Julie learns she's competing with a full-time husband who would rather be a full-time entertainer.
The success of THE JOLSON STORY may not necessarily rely on the plot or its leading stars, but mainly the songs long associated with Al Jolson throughout his years in show business. The songs used for this production include: "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy," "On the Banks of the Wabash," "The Sabbath Prayer" (traditional Jewish prayer); Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria," "When You Were Sweet Sixteen," "After the Ball," "By the Light of the Silvery Moon," "Goodbye, My Blue Belle," "Ma Blushin' Rosie," "I Want a Girl, Just Like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad," "Mammy," "I'm Sitting on Top of the World," "You Made Me Love You," "Swanee," "Toot-Toot Tootsie, Goodbye," "The Spaniard Who Blightened My Life," "April Showers," "California, Here I Come," "Liza," "There's a Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder," "Latin from Manhattan," "Avalon," "About a Quarter to Nine," "The Anniversary Song," "Waiting For the Robert E. Lee," "Rockabye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody," and "April Showers." Trivia: The "Swanee" number is actually performed by the real Al Jolson (in long shot), not Larry Parks.
As a musical, THE JOLSON STORY is grand entertainment. As a biography, it plays too much with the facts, adding inaccuracies to the screenplay. For example, a scene where preview audiences attend THE JAZZ SINGER (1927), hearing Jolson singing "There's a Rainbow Round My Shoulder," that was actually introduced in his second movie, THE SINGING FOOL (1928). Or one where Julie Benson (based on Ruby Keeler) in her movie debut, 42nd STREET (1933) performing a dance number, "Latin From Manhattan," that was really introduced in her latter musical, GO INTO YOUR DANCE (1935). One fact the writers got right is that Jolson and Benson (a/k/a Keeler) collaborated on screen in GO INTO YOUR DANCE, and the number, "About a Quarter to Nine," that accompanies the film, is true to life. Other titles involving Benson's career, SHIPMATES FOREVER, DAMES and GOLD DIGGERS, are used in the montage, but not presented in the order of their release. The costumes and hairstyles acquired by Evelyn Keyes and other actresses are strictly 1946 modern, not fitting into the period for which it is set. The same can be said for the orchestration, sounding more like the Big-Band-era than 1920s or 30s. Larry Park's lip sync recording of Jolson's voice is deeper and softer than the recording of decades ago. Parks, a Columbia contract player since 1941, earned him an Academy Award nomination. So successful was THE JOLSON STORY that Al Jolson, then a forgotten entertainer, was rediscovered again, winning the admiration and charm of a new and younger audience.THE JOLSON STORY, as it stands, fully deserves its place in motion picture history as one of the finest and most entertaining bio-pics ever produced.
Thanks to cable television's Turner Classic Movies, where THE JOLSON STORY premiered November 13, 2006, the Jolson legend can be seen and rediscovered again, along with the original Al Jolson musicals produced at Warner Brothers period (1927-1936), especially his best known and historical film, THE JAZZ SINGER. THE JOLSON STORY, available on video cassette and DVD formats, formerly presented on the Disney Channel in the mid 1990s, and occasionally on other commercial free cable channels, is pleasing both to the eye as well as to the ear. (****)
I could sit and listen to Jolson music endlessly. First of all,he had
to be the originator of soul music, sung right from the heart. We heard
what he felt and then felt what he felt. Secondly,he was the only
singer I ever heard whose voice sounded like a trumpet. Perfect pitch,
clear,crisp and resounding. Hence, we put together those two
attributes, add his showmanship, charm and charisma and we end up with
the greatest single entertainer in the history of American show
business. Larry Parks is truly astounding and gives a performance,
including perfect lip synching, that should have earned him the Oscar.
Politics came first, apparently.
The film, even with its occasional flaws, was amazingly entertaining. From the first scene to when his Julie Benson walks out by realizing that she could have never taken the music out of Jolson and vice versa,the entire production was pure hypnotic joy. Unbeatable music, warmth, tenderness and humility run wild. A superb feast for the ears and eyes. A never-to-be-forgotten film.
"Let me sing a funny song, with crazy words that roll along, and if my song can make you happy, I'm happy.....I'm happy....." Al Jolson sang those words of the song, ' Let me sing and I'm happy,' in the opening of The Jolson Story, words that epitomized the passion and energy in his music. The Jolson Story does a magnificent job in giving us a taste of Jolson's magic that spellbound America in the twenties and early thirties, most of his songs are in the show, April Showers, Swanee, Mammy, California Here I Come and , the incomparable, The Anniversary Song, sang as only Jolson can. And, due to some enterprising technology at the time we also hear more of his voice in the Movie that perhaps his fans did in those days with Film Studio microphones capturing and accentuating a deep resonance that is solely Jolson's. The Film doesn't attempt to factually explore his life, although we do get a chance to see some truths of the relationship with his real life wife, Ruby Keeler, who in the Movie was known as Julie Benson, played by Evelyn Keys. Interesting to note was the fact that Columbia Pictures, who released the Movie failed to give Warner Bros.the Film company responsible for giving Jolson the role in The Jazz Singer, any recognition whatsoever, presenting further evidence of the Producer's and Jolson's desire to give us some entertainment, as opposed to a lesson in history. And, entertained we are, as Larry Parks, with his unbelievable miming to Jolson's songs......apart from a cameo from Jolson singing Swanee....takes us from Vaudeville days in the twenties with all Jolson's great songs and routines, to his semi retirement in the thirties. The Jolson Story is a wonderful experience, full of songs we still sing today more than fifty years after they were released, and sung by the man most of us remember as the greatest entertainer of them all......Al Jolson.
"The Jolson Story" must be one of the most outstanding musical biographies
to ever come out of Hollywood with a multitude of unforgettable popular
songs, luxuriant colour photography, and a noteworthy performance by Larry
Parks in his most accomplished role as Al Jolson. The stunning Evelyn Keyes
sparkled as Julie Benson and the eminent William Demarest was entertainer
Steve Martin (later Jolson's manager). "Give that boy a spotlight!!".
Ludwig Donath and Tamara Shayne were an inspired choice as Jolson's parents:
"Papa, Asa isn't Asa any more!". Bill Goodwin was Jolson's close friend and
singer Tom Baron (later theatrical impresario) and talented Scotty Beckett
gave an appealing performance playing Jolson as a boy. William Demarest had
also appeared with Al Jolson years earlier in "The Jazz Singer" (1927) so it
is intriguing to speculate whether they reminisced about that during the
production of "The Jolson Story". William Demarest received an Academy Award
nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his part in "The Jolson Story" but
was beaten by Harold Russell for "The Best Years of Our Lives". Larry Parks
was also nominated (as Best Actor) but lost to Fredric March (again for "The
Best Years of Our Lives"). As some small consolation the film did win
Oscars for the Best Musical Score and the Best Sound Recording. (For some
obscure reason it wasn't even nominated for the best picture award much to
The film has an absorbing storyline even though it is not entirely accurate and it does take some liberties with the facts. Jolson's mother died when he was eight years old yet in the film she lives on to see him become a big success on Broadway. Many people who played active parts in Jolson's real life story did not even get a mention in the film version. His long time manager Louis Epstein, his dresser/valet Frank Holmes and his brother Harry were all eliminated from the plot! The character Steve Martin played by William Demarest did not actually exist and it has been suggested that this role was probably a composite of the three men referred to above plus several other people. Jolson's first two wives were not even mentioned and Ruby Keeler (Jolson's third wife) would not allow her name to be used in the picture so ravishing Evelyn Keyes had to play the fictitious Julie Benson instead. Ziegfeld: "This is Julie Benson - the star of my next production "Show Girl"." Jolson: "Mr Ziegfeld you will please not advertise on my time!".
Harry Cohn (the notorious head of Columbia Pictures) is to be congratulated for going ahead with this film when all the other major studios had turned it down. Even Warner Bros. (for whom Jolson had starred in several films) were not interested. Filming was started on a small budget and in black and white. However, when Harry Cohn saw the early rushes he decided to film in colour and make "The Jolson Story" a major prestigious production. This certainly paid off for him in a big way as the film became one of Columbia Pictures top money earners. Jolson desperately wanted to play the leading role himself and was opposed to another actor portraying his life. Unfortunately at that stage in his career he was obviously too old (he was 60) but the studio could not have found anyone better than the young Larry Parks (31) who perfectly captured the Jolson style and threw himself into the part with relish. However, Jolson did manage to play himself in one scene singing "Swanee" on the Winter Garden runway (all filmed in longshot with no close-ups). When I saw "The Jolson Story" for the first time it had a major impact on my life and for weeks afterwards I was quoting lines from the film that had stuck in my mind such as these from Jolson to Julie Benson: "Broadway, ha, what a street, you know something baby - it belongs to me. You know something else, if you want it, I'll give it to you!"
The musical numbers were absolutely magnificent and with popular songs like "California Here I Come", "You Made Me Love You", "Toot Toot Tootsie", "April Showers", "Robert E. Lee", "Liza", "Mammy", "Liza", "About a Quarter to Nine", "I'm Sitting on Top of the World" and "Rockabye Your Baby" how could it miss! If there is one film I could take to a desert island it would have to be "The Jolson Story" as I never tire of seeing repeated showings of this timeless classic. As Jolson himself would have said: "Settle back folks, you ain't heard nothin' yet!" (and he would be right about that). 10/10. Clive Roberts.
The best movie ever made about the best entertainer who ever lived.Who else who performed 100 years ago are we still watching.....No One. The songs are the best and Larry Parks contributed immensely to endearing "Jolson" to all future generations. Sit back and turn up the volume and you will feel the electricity and amazing energy of Jolson through Jolson's voice and Parks portrayal. As all Bio's are fictionalized accounts of someones lives, this story is about the music that Jolson brought to millions of fans. My great grandmother born 1885 was the first generation of fans, my 17 month old grandson will become the sixth, his dad, my son plays Jolson every day. The "Greatest Entertainer" lives on.
As a previous commentator put it so well, Larry Parks is better at playing Jolson than Jolson is! It's a fact. Watching him perform as Jolson is infinitely more pleasurable than watching the man himself--and if you've seen any of Jolson's own films you'll acknowledge the truth in my statement. Thank God Larry Parks was chosen to play him--his lip synch job is amazing. When those pure rich tones emanate from his mouth the movie goes into high gear. A dazzling number of songs sung in Jolson's inimitable style makes this a real treasure for fans of nostalgia. It's no wonder this was one of the most popular films of 1946. Glossy production values, a great cast, a script that whitewashes the true Jolson character but still has enough bearing on reality to make it an interesting bio. A total pleasure from beginning to end--again, mainly because Larry Parks was at the right place at the right time. Definitely one of the best musical biographies of all time...and fortunately, the sequel is not far behind it. See 'Jolson Sings Again' and you'll see what I mean.
Simultaneously one of the finest and MOST NEGLECTED musicals of
"Golden Era." One can only attribute this to the current atmosphere of
political correctness that so erodes truth and learning in our society.
one (or very few, at least) are willing or able to understand what
really meant and how it was used and who used it. It is a sad situation
has lead to almost complete amnesia that pervades our time regarding Al
Jolson and this fabulous film biography.
Great songs sung by a master showman. No special effects beyond the dubbing of Jolson's voice by Larry Parks. No explosions, rapes, bloodletting. No morphing, shape-shifting aliens. No loud, tuneless music. No rap "songs" extoling attitude and misogyny. Imagine a world like this one and you have "The Jolson Story." If you are under 45 you probably don't know what this means.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Others have dealt with the content so I'll focus on the technical
aspects of THE JOLSON STORY (1946).
Viewing this 60 year old movie on DVD is simply amazing. The technical quality is phenomenal. The sound is in STEREO with doorbells and ringing phones coming from off screen left or right and trains and cars passing from side to side!!! Al Jolson and the orchestra sound great. The audio recording is so good that it won an Oscar. The music and arrangements are first rate.
The color and clarity of the image are phenomenal - although the restoration quality slips slightly after the first 60 minutes. (Could it be that the second reel of the master print had not aged as well as the first before they transferred it to video??? I don't know)
The sets, lighting and photography are wonderful because they are used to tell the story rather than draw attention to themselves.
Casting is perfect. Larry Parks as Jolson is excellent as he brings enthusiasm and verve to the role. His singing gestures are right on.
In terms of content, Jolson's bold style influenced many performers in his own time and to this day. His popularity lasted many, many years. Jolson's use of "black-face" make up was a convention of its time but he appeared to hold onto it long after his fame would have allowed him to drop it. Despite that, I happen to like Jolson's songs and style and the producers wisely used Jolson's own voice on the music tracks.
Apparently, liberties were taken with some of the facts of Jolson's life in this movie bio but the essence of the story is true. It was and is a very entertaining film that did big box office and is still being sold and rented today on VHS and DVD.
For young people who want a time capsule of show business in the first half of the last century, this is a must see movie.
Al Jolson, along with Frank Sinatra, were perhaps the two greatest
singer/entertainers of the 20th Century. This film, made in 1946, was both
the launching pad and "ball and chain" for Larry Parks. His performance was
so good it earned him an Academy Award nomination. He spent countless hours
perfecting the Jolson mannerisms and lip-syncing the songs that the great
Jolson recorded for the movie. Unfortunately he became so typecast in the
role that his reprise of the role in the sequel in 1949 was his only other
claim to fame. That, and his admission and subsequent subliminal blacklist
from Hollywood for being a member of the Communist Party between 1941-1951,
stopped his career before it ever really had a chance to
My father had me watch this movie as a kid on Million Dollar Movie and I was taken by the personality, drive, energy, and talent of this great entertainer. Hearing about, and seeing, silent movies made me all the more in awe of the talent Jolson must have been since Hollywood banked it's future on talkies with "The Jazz Singer".
Besides Parks excellent performances are also put in by William Demerest, who many of us remember as Uncle Charlie in My Three Sons, Evelyn Keyes as Julie Benson (Jolson's first wife) and the rest of the cast. The 1949 making of Jolson Sings Again is also worthwhile, if for no other reason than watching Parks do the masterful lip-sync and the incredible vocals of Jolson.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I bought the DVD and listened with a pair of high-quality headphones.
What I thought was going to be average monaural sound turned out to be
fantastic stereo surround sound, with the original singing voice of Al
Jolson coming across magnificently ..... and all long before Dolby this
and Dolby that. I later read somewhere that the stereo treatment may
have resulted from a re-release of the film in the 1950's. All I can
say is it sounded great and deserved its Oscar win for Best Sound. The
color cinematography also deserved its nomination from the Academy. All
in all, great acting and story development, even if not completely
accurate as a biography. I had only seen Al Jolson in "The Jazz
Singer," but Larry Parks seems to have pulled off the mannerisms quite
well and exuberantly, too. Watching this interesting film makes it very
clear why Al Jolson was so well loved and admired as an entertainer
throughout the world. Every young person should see this film in order
to appreciate what came before in the world of musical entertainment --
from minstrel shows to vaudeville and the advent of the "talkies."
The superb musical numbers "A Quarter To Nine" and "She's A Latin From Manhattan" were actually in the 1935 film "Go Into Your Dance," in which Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler starred together. To my astonishment that film is not available on DVD yet, but apparently can be seen on cable TV via Turner Classic Movies. It would be really interesting to see how close the musical numbers in "The Jolson Story" copied the original treatments in "Go Into Your Dance."
"The Jolson Story" seems to end suddenly and rather unexpectedly, and I felt the director and screenwriter should have added a bit more emotion and drama to the climax of having Julie Benson (as Ruby Keeler) walking out on Al Jolson. You have the feeling that you want the film to continue at that point, rather than end. This was perhaps planned that way. The sequel, "Jolson Sings Again," is also an excellent film.
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