The Jazz Singer

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Overview

On the verge of receivership in 1926, Warner Bros. studio decides to risk its future by investing in the Vitaphone sound system. Warners' first Vitaphone release, Don Juan, was a silent film accompanied by music and sound effects. The studio took the Vitaphone process one step farther in its 1927 adaptation of the Samson Raphaelson Broadway hit The Jazz Singer, incorporating vocal musical numbers in what was essentially a non-talking film. Al Jolson stars as Jakie Rabinowitz, the son of Jewish cantor Warner ...
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Overview

On the verge of receivership in 1926, Warner Bros. studio decides to risk its future by investing in the Vitaphone sound system. Warners' first Vitaphone release, Don Juan, was a silent film accompanied by music and sound effects. The studio took the Vitaphone process one step farther in its 1927 adaptation of the Samson Raphaelson Broadway hit The Jazz Singer, incorporating vocal musical numbers in what was essentially a non-talking film. Al Jolson stars as Jakie Rabinowitz, the son of Jewish cantor Warner Oland. Turning his back on family tradition, Jakie transforms himself into cabaret-entertainer Jack Robin. When Jack comes home to visit his parents, he is warmly greeted by his mother Eugenie Besserer, but is cold-shouldered by his father, who feels that Jack is a traitor to his heritage by singing jazz music. Several subsequent opportunities for a reconciliation are muffed by the stubborn Jack and his equally stubborn father. On the eve of his biggest show-business triumph, Jack receives word that his father is dying. Out of respect, Jack foregoes his opening night to attend Atonement services at the temple and sing the Kol Nidre in his father's place. Through a superimposed image, we are assured that the spirit of Jack's father has at long last forgiven his son. Only twenty minutes or so of Jazz Singer is in any way a "talkie;" all of the Vitaphone sequences are built around Jolson's musical numbers. What thrilled the opening night crowds attending Jazz Singer were not so much the songs themselves but Jolson's adlibbed comments, notably in the scene where he sings "Blue Skies" to his mother. Previous short-subject experiments with sound had failed because the on-screen talent had come off stilted and unnatural; but when Jolson began chattering away in a naturalistic, conversational fashion, the delighted audiences suddenly realized that talking pictures did indeed have the capacity to entertain. Despite its many shortcomings the storyline goes beyond mawkish, while Jolson's acting in the silent scenes is downright amateurish, The Jazz Singer was a box-office success the like of which no one had previously witnessed. The film did turn-away business for months, propelling Warner Bros. from a shoestring operation into Hollywood's leading film factory. Proof that The Jazz Singer is best viewed within its historical context is provided by the 1953 and 1980 remakes, both interminable wallows in sentimental goo. Worse still, neither one of those films had Al Jolson--who, in spite of his inadequacies as an actor, was inarguably the greatest musical entertainer of his era.
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Hans J. Wollstein
Contrary to popular belief, The Jazz Singer was not the first "talkie" -- not even by a long shot. Attempts to synchronize motion pictures and phonographic devices had begun with Thomas Edison, and the equally industrious if somewhat less successful Lee De Forrest had come pretty darn close to changing the picture business back in the early '20s. Why, then, did this schmaltzy piece of Broadway melodrama prove so potent at the box office that Hollywood was forced to sit up and take notice? Al Jolson, arguably the most popular stage entertainer in the world at the time, attracted his fair share of interest, of course. But Jolson had performed some of his famous songs the previous year in a tremendously received (and still extant) Vitaphone short, A Plantation Act. Certainly, Jolson's famous piano patter with a visibly startled Eugénie Besserer in Jazz Singer -- "Mama, darlin', if I'm a success in this show, well, we're gonna move from here..." -- was greeted with much applause by premiere audiences in 1927, but the entertainer had already previewed his most famous line, "You ain't heard nothin' yet, folks," in A Plantation Act. The moment that truly spelled the death-knell for silent pictures came instead at the end of Jolson's excited soliloquy when Warner Oland, as his cantor father, enters the frame to issue a stern "Stop!" At this juncture, and it is as jolting an experience today as it must have been in 1927, The Jazz Singer returns to silent film and canned music. Not that the voiceless drama was in any way inferior; in fact, the very same season produced truly memorable motion pictures such as F.W. Murnau's stirring and innovative Sunrise (1927) and King Vidor's brilliant The Crowd (1928), works of cinematic art far superior to the rather stolid and pedestrian The Jazz Singer. But when Cantor Oland so successfully silenced his excitable son and the action returned to pantomime, audiences, who had been turned from mere spectators into voyeurs by Jolson's small-talk, lost an immediacy not found in the far less prosaic world of dreams and heightened expression of silent cinema. That The Jazz Singer ushered in the so-called "talkie era" becomes in retrospect almost inevitable. How, for example, would Hollywood have been able to depict the Great Depression without a fast-talking James Cagney or wisecracking dames like Jean Harlow?
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 11/4/1994
  • UPC: 027616231239
  • Original Release: 1927
  • Rating:

  • Source: Mgm (Warner)
  • Format: VHS

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Al Jolson Jakie Rabinowitz (Jack Robin)
May McAvoy Mary Dale
Warner Oland Cantor Rabinowitz
Eugénie Besserer Sara Rabinowitz
William Demarest Buster Billings
Otto Lederer Moishe Yudelson
Cantor Josef Rosenblatt Himself
Bobby Gordon Jakie Rabinowitz (age 18)
Nat Carr Levi
Richard Tucker Harry Lee
Anders Randolf Dillings
Jane Arden
Audrey Ferris Chorus Girl
Ena Gregory
Violet Bird
Roscoe Karns The Agent
Myrna Loy Chorus Girl
William Walling Doctor
Louis Silvers Conductor
Technical Credits
Alan Crosland Director
Alfred A. Cohn Screenwriter
Gordon Hollingshead Asst. Director
Jack Jarmuth Screenwriter
Harold McCord Editor
Hal Mohr Cinematographer
Louis Silvers Score Composer, Musical Direction/Supervision
Nugent Slaughter Special Effects
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 4 )
Rating Distribution

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4 Star

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1 Star

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