The Jazz Singer (1927)
The son of a Jewish Cantor must defy the traditions of his religious father in order to pursue his dream of becoming a jazz singer.
Cantor Rabinowitz is concerned and upset because his son Jakie shows so little interest in carrying on the family's traditions and heritage. For five generations, men in the family have been cantors in the synagogue, but Jakie is more interested in jazz and ragtime music. One day, they have such a bitter argument that Jakie leaves home for good. After a few years on his own, now calling himself Jack Robin, he gets an important opportunity through the help of well-known stage performer Mary Dale. But Jakie finds that in order to balance his career, his relationship with Mary, and his memories of his family, he will be forced to make some difficult choices.
In New York, thirteen year-old Jakie Rabinowitz is the son of a stern Jewish Cantor. When Rabinowitz is informed by Moisha Yudelson that Jakie is singing ragtime in a club, he beats his son. The traditional cantor expects that Jakie sings in the synagogue like his previous generations did, but the boy dreams on becoming a jazz singer. Jakie leaves home pursuing his dreams. 10 years later, Jakie is in London where his artistic name is Jack Robin. When he meets the famous stage performer Mary Dale, she helps him in his career. Sooner, he travels to New York for the greatest chance of his life in an important show on Broadway and he visits his parents. However, his father banishes him from home. On the opening day, the manipulative Moisha Yudelson invites him to sing in the Atonement Day since his father is very ill, but the emotional blackmail of the Jewish leader does not work. When Jakie is ready to the rehearsal, Moisha brings Jakie's beloved mother to press him to sing in the synagogue. Now Jakie will choose between his career and Mary Dale and the bonds with his family and religion.
After getting a severe beating for singing in a saloon, the young Jakie Rabinowitz leaves home vowing never to return. His father, cantor at his synagogue, had wanted Jakie to follow him as a cantor and is heartbroken as a result. Jakie gets his big break when stage star Mary Dale hears him sing. He makes a career for himself and after many years on the road gets his chance to perform in a Broadway revue. His return home is bittersweet: his mother is overjoyed to see him but his father asks him to leave. When Cantor Rabinowitz falls seriously ill, Jakie is asked to sing in the synagogue but it conflicts with his big opening night on Broadway, forcing him to choose between his career and his family obligations.
Jakie Rabinowitz comes from a long line of Jewish cantors. He has inherited the singing ability of the Rabinowitz men before him and has also inherited his place as cantor at the local synagogue following his father. But Jakie instead wants a life as a jazz singer, something he has known since he was a young teen. This move places a wedge between him and his father, who disowns his son. A grown Jakie, choosing the stage name Jack Robin, does have some success as a jazz singer in touring musical revues after Mary Dale, an established musical performer, hears him sing. When Mary gets her big break to star in a musical revue on Broadway, she decides to bring Jack with her. But a chance at reconciliation with his father may come at the price of his Broadway debut.
- Cantor Rabinowitz wants his son to carry on the generations-old family tradition and become a cantor at the synagogue in the Jewish ghetto of Manhattan's Lower East Side. But down at the beer garden, thirteen-year-old Jakie Rabinowitz is performing so-called jazz tunes. Moisha Yudelson spots the boy and tells Jakie's father, who drags him home. Jakie clings to his mother, Sara, as his father declares, "I'll teach him better than to debase the voice God gave him!" Jakie threatens: "If you whip me again, I'll run away-and never come back!" After the whipping, Jakie kisses his mother goodbye and, true to his word, runs away. At the Yom Kippur service, Rabinowitz mournfully tells a fellow celebrant, "My son was to stand at my side and sing tonight - but now I have no son." As the sacred Kol Nidre is sung, Jakie sneaks back home to retrieve a picture of his loving mother.
About 10 years later, Jakie has changed his name to the more assimilated Jack Robin. Jack is called up from his table at a cabaret to perform on stage.
Jack wows the crowd with his energized rendition. Afterward, he is introduced to the beautiful Mary Dale, a musical theater dancer. "There are lots of jazz singers, but you have a tear in your voice," she says, offering to help with his budding career. With her help, Jack eventually gets his big break: a leading part in the new musical April Follies.
Back at the family home Jack left long ago, the elder Rabinowitz instructs a young student in the traditional cantorial art. Jack appears and tries to explain his point of view, and his love of modern music, but the appalled cantor banishes him: "I never want to see you again - you jazz singer!" As he leaves, Jack makes a prediction: "I came home with a heart full of love, but you don't want to understand. Some day you'll understand, the same as Mama does."
Two weeks after Jack's expulsion from the family home and 24 hours before opening night of April Follies on Broadway, Jack's father falls gravely ill. Jack is asked to choose between the show and duty to his family and faith: in order to sing the Kol Nidre for Yom Kippur in his father's place, he will have to miss the big premiere.
That evening, the eve of Yom Kippur, Yudleson tells the Jewish elders, "For the first time, we have no Cantor on the Day of Atonement." Lying in his bed, weak and gaunt, Cantor Rabinowitz tells Sara that he cannot perform on the most sacred of holy days: "My son came to me in my dreams-he sang Kol Nidre so beautifully. If he would only sing like that tonight-surely he would be forgiven."
As Jack prepares for a dress rehearsal by applying blackface makeup, he and Mary discuss his career aspirations and the family pressures they agree he must resist. Sara and Yudleson come to Jack's dressing room to plea for him to come to his father and sing in his stead. Jack is torn. He delivers his blackface performance ("Mother of Mine, I Still Have You"), and Sara sees her son onstage for the first time. She has a tearful revelation: "Here he belongs. If God wanted him in His house, He would have kept him there. He's not my boy anymore-he belongs to the whole world now."
Afterward, Jack returns to the Rabinowitz home. He kneels at his father's bedside and the two converse fondly: "My son-I love you." Sara suggests that it may help heal his father if Jack takes his place at the Yom Kippur service. Mary arrives with the producer, who warns Jack that he'll never work on Broadway again if he fails to appear on opening night. Jack can't decide. Mary challenges him: "Were you lying when you said your career came before everything?" Jack is unsure if he even can replace his father: "I haven't sung Kol Nidre since I was a little boy." His mother tells him, "Do what is in your heart, Jakie-if you sing and God is not in your voice - your father will know." The producer cajoles Jack: "You're a jazz singer at heart!"
At the theater, the opening night audience is told that there will be no performance. Jack sings the Kol Nidre in his father's place. His father listens from his deathbed to the nearby ceremony and speaks his last, forgiving words: "Mama, we have our son again." The spirit of Jack's father is shown at his side in the synagogue. Mary has come to listen. She sees how Jack has reconciled the division in his soul: "a jazz singer-singing to his God."
"The season passes-and time heals-the show goes on." Jack, as "The Jazz Singer," is now appearing at the Winter Garden theater, apparently as the featured performer opening for a show called Back Room. In the front row of the packed theater, his mother sits alongside Yudleson. Jack, in blackface, performs the song "My Mammy" for her and for the world.