Due to the surprise gross receipts of The Singing Fool, Director Bacon, Star Jolson and Sidekick Lee were rushed back to WB to produce something worthy of the former. What they produced was a weak imitation of The Singing Fool and SIWS bombed. It was a bomb then, it still is 80 years later. Rarely does lightning ever strike twice. SIWS is a really good example of that.
I have been a huge Jolson fan for 30 years, since I was a teenager. He may be the world's greatest entertainer, but he really shows his acting limitations here. His upbeat scenes are fine but anytime he is supposed to show some emotion, and that's most of the time, none of it is genuine. It's forced, certainly nothing organic. I've seen better acting in high school productions... or in an Ed Wood movie.
In his defense, he was given some really crappy dialog. "Early talking" is no excuse. They had great writers on b'way. Why not bring 'em over to H'wood? Oh that's right, WB was too cheap for that back then.
SPOILER One of the many examples of bad dialog and bad acting is when Little Pal gets hit by a car, Jolson with wide eyes exclaims "Oh my God, it's MY baby!" is truly an unintentional hysterical moment in the history of film. The reaction I had was, to be sure, not the one Bacon had in mind when he was directing this turkey.
I'm not sure if Davey Lee can act. He certainly was cute and lively. He had the best moments in the movie, the courtroom scene being one. I do think that there was genuine fondness between Jolie and Lee and that rings loud and clear here. This was the only thing that was successfully carried over from the first film to the second. I'll give Bacon the credit for that. In fact, years later in The Singing Kid, his scenes with another child actress, Sybil Jason, are even more phenomenal. So Jolie had some panache working with children. He should have done more that.
It would have been nice to have, in these first few Jolson films, some A list co-stars. Imagine Helen Morgan as his wife and Adolph Menjou as the doctor!! Most of his early films tend to suffer from being "all about Jolson". Imagine a Jolson and Morgan duet!! I suppose that at this stage in his career that Jolson didn't want to share the marque with anybody on his level, hence, the forgettable supporting actors. In the long run, that was a bad decision on his part as Jolson's infamous ego has hurt the watch-ability of the early films today.
Speaking of mediocre, the songs are just that. Little Pal did stay in his rep for the rest of Jolson's life. Not sure why, it's too much like Sonny Boy, which is the better of the two and its by no means a pop masterpiece.
The best scene in the film is a brilliantly directed dream sequence of Little Pal dreaming his father is singing... Little Pal... (what else?) to him. It's a really, really nice, very imaginative scene.
In conclusion, I still love Jolie. By far, this is the worst film he ever made. It is a curiosity only for Jolson fans like me. The good news is that as the years progress, the scripts got better and he got better and more relaxed as an actor. His ego was more or less in check when worked with A list people like Dick Powell, Frank Morgan, Kay Francis, Don Ameche, Alice Faye, Ruby Keeler and ... Helen Morgan. (Still no duet though - what a loss!) It is a shame that Jolson went out of style, or something, by the end of the '30 as we lost what could have been a wonderful fatherly character type actor in the '40s.
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