The Jazz Singer (1927) Poster

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More Than Just A 'Curiosity Piece'
ccthemovieman-15 April 2006
An historic film, billed as "the first talkie," this was a surprise because many of the lines are not verbalized, only when Al Jolson sings or just before or just after his songs. Otherwise, most of it is still a silent film with the words shown on the screen as in the other silent films.

This is a powerful story with interesting characters and good songs, to boot. It was different to see Warner Oland as somebody else besides Charlie Chan. He played Jolson's father and I never would have recognized him had I not read the credits. Nor would I have recognized William Demarest.

Jolson, however, is the man who dominates the film. Some of this songs wound up being classics, ones played for years and years, such as "Toot, Toot Toosie" and "Mammy."

Faced with a very tough decision on what to do with his life, Jolson's character does the right thing in the end, which was nice to see. Overall, it's entertaining.
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Four Angels, Poised
tedg10 February 2007
There's not much to say about this other than even today, for this viewer, it is emotionally effective. Yes you know you are being manipulated. Yes, the acting conventions of the silent screen are comically exaggerated. Yes, it is shameless in setting up the ultimate choice. But this is so well structured that even today it escapes cliché. That's so remarkable, because big movies are almost always turned into clichés as bits of them are digested and continuously re-served to us as our visual grammar.

The love interest here is so unusual. He does fall in love with a pretty dancer, but tells her plainly that his career is more important than she is. She later doesn't become part of the choice — as would be the case in nearly every other script — instead she becomes part of the audience, presenting the dramatic quandary: the stage or God.

The presentation of religion is unique in my experience. Everyone here is a Jew, except the performers. They are the "real" and everyone else is "pretend," performing. Though there are many opportunities to fall into obnoxious stereotypes, its avoided over and over. That's despite the dozens of examples they had before.

In fact, there's an amazing engineering of story here. As any viewer will know, this was the first talkie. It was new, and to emphasize its newness a story was created to emphasize the contrast between old and new.

This film is part silent, part "talkie." It shows a struggle between the old (obviously obsolete) and the vital young. It also depicts in a rather subtle but effective way the "old" god, and the new: there's plenty of talk about the performance hall being a modern church. The music as well: we have the implication that it is not only the setting, the performer and the calling, but the music itself that is something new.

Along the way we get street scenes of the Jewish area of New York. These are genuine street scenes and are absolutely phenomenal: there isn't anything I know that compares. There was an attempt of sorts in "The Pawnbroker," which by itself was strong. But nothing compared to this.

Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.
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uh, what?
aciolino30 May 2004
There are so many stupid comments expressed in the reviews of this film that it boggles the mind. This film, good or bad, is not about race, racism, attitudes towards black Americans, nor is the character in the film a "minstrel." Holy cow, did anybody actually SEE THE MOVIE? Does anyone know who Al Jolson was and what he accomplished? what he stood for regarding black Americans? what blackface meant in 1920?

Good Lord. Such myopic political correctness distorts history, reality, and finds fault where there is none. The Amsterdam News, the leading newspaper of Harlem in the 20's lauded Jolson's performance as one "every black man should be proud of." Attitudes, beliefs, values CHANGE OVER TIME...HELLOOOO!!! The fact that Jolson wore blackface says NOTHING about his, the audiences, the producers, actors, or, song writers atttituds toward race. How dumb have we become?

People under the age of five should NOT be allowed to post opinions on this forum.
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"Wait a minute, you ain't heard nothin' yet!"
Schlockmeister3 June 2001
George Jessel passed up a chance to star in this movie. he thought sound in film was too risky a venture to try and took a pass. Al Jolson went on to stardom and George became known as a toastmaster at Hollywood roasts. This is an excellent movie that certainly belongs on anyone's list of 100 best movies. The story has been ably told here, I won't repeat it. I do want to add a few observations, however. The movie is very sentimental, especially in it's portrayal of "Mama" and Jolson's devotion to her. Even when it first came out, writers were critical of this, which harked back to the days of broad stage melodramas. The use of the song Kol Nidre and the Jewish day of Atonement at the ending is significant in that forgiveness and reconciliation is what this movie's theme is all about. Recommended highly, many of the scenes are etched in the consciousness of movie-goers whether you have seen this movie or not. Jolson in blackface doing "Mammy" and "Mother Of Mine", singing "Toot, Toot, Toosie Goodbye". Seeing this film will bring back all these images and place them in their proper contexts. The minstrel type show or even blackface solos were still going strong in the 1920s. In the 1930s and even into the 1940s famous Hollywood actors such as Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney among many others would still be doing songs in blackface. This was no isolated case by a long shot. See it and see history. Also see it for what it is, a classic Hollywood story.
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Walking A Million Miles For One Of Your Smiles
bkoganbing17 October 2007
For a mawkishly sentimental play that was outdated even when it first was presented on Broadway, The Jazz Singer has had a remarkable life with now three movie versions and possibly more to come. Of course it being considered the first sound film probably has a whole lot to do with it. I doubt it would have been remade twice already if it wasn't a historical moment.

But for trying to hold up the Brothers Warner for some extra salary for doing that first sound feature, Georgie Jessel might have been able to repeat the role he created on Broadway as Jakie Rabinowitz aka Jack Robin, cantor's son who runs away from home as a juvenile and comes back home in time to sing Kol Nidre at Yom Kippur services in place of his dying father. Jessel's greed was Al Jolson's gain as America's greatest live entertainer at the time got to inaugurate the era of movie sound.

As Al Jolson was wont to do in his stage shows, he interpolated material from all sources in his first film that he felt was suitable for him. Toot Toot Tootsie and interestingly enough My Mammy were songs he'd done on stage before and were proved material his audience would respond to. The first song he actually does sing is Dirty Hands, Dirty Face which was something he had not done before. Blue Skies which he sings to his mother after returning home as a Broadway star was in fact a current hit on Broadway at the time Jolson was singing it.

People from that era say that you cannot appreciate Jolson on the screen, that to really get the full impact of his dynamic stage presence you had to see him live. Maybe so, but since that isn't possible, there's enough of him in The Jazz Singer and other of his films to realize what a great entertainer he was, black-face or not.

Warner Oland, later to be the first Charlie Chan, plays Cantor Rabinowitz and Eugenie Besserer is touching as Jolson's mother caught hopelessly between her husband and son. In that first scene of a grownup Jolson in a café before he sings Dirty Hands, Dirty Face you will note that is William Demarest who he's dining with. Myrna Loy has a small role as a chorus girl.

Still both the play and the personality dictate that this film is owned exclusively by Al Jolson. Despite later versions with Danny Thomas and Neil Diamond in the lead, the story will always be identified with the man who said we ain't heard nothing yet.

Though The Jazz Singer is exponentially sentimental and mawkish, it does have a very nice depiction of Jewish life and neighborhood in the Teens and Twenties of the last century. And of course The Jazz Singer is a historic first.
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a film boosted by its legendary historical status
strezise11 September 2004
Whatever might be the shortcomings of this famous film, it is an uncanny experience to visit it from time to time. As we know, although it's the first 'talki' it's mostly a silent movie with all that entails. Nevertheless, those moments when sound and image are synchronised, often just for one side of the disc used for the soundtrack, are electrifying. The heat is turned up by the fact that Al Jolson improvised some of his lines, much to the horror of his stage mother. And besides, the tale of the errant son making good in the big lights is affecting. The music is superb, and we are rewarded by some haunintg evocations of the Jewish cantor tradition. I love the film.
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1927 Triumph in Motion Pictures
hnrobinson27 December 2007
I have seen the Jazz Singer several times over my 60 years. I became interested in 1920 entertainers when I was in my mid teens. My grandfather had seen Jolson in a few Broadway shows and actually met him on a few occasions. Jolson was, as he claimed, "The Worlds Greatest Entertainer". He wasn't the greatest talent, such as Sammy Davis Jr. was, but his dynamic extroverted personality and the way he could capture an audience in his live Broadway Performances was never captured on screen. I know it may sound strange, but the movie producers just couldn't contain all of his energy and exuberance in front of a camera. His dialog delivery,singing and acting was quite good in this movie. Let us not forget that in 1927, black and white silent films were still the standard. That standard brought over dramatization,dark make up, etc. They were not going to take a chance on giving up the tried and proved silent ways completely. They weren't sure on how sound would go over with the movie attendees. How can that be? Silents were a technology that the audiences accepted. The use of all sound was taking a big risk, and difficult to produce using Vitaphone, which was basically synchronizing large recorded discs to the film. Nearly all of the movie houses were not set up for any type of sound at that time. In my opinion, the sound technology and the performance of Jolson carried the film.

I have great difficulty in understanding the comments listed in the posts of how today's human rights standards can be applied to a film that was created 80 years ago.

We are talking about 1927,and it is hard for me to understand how today's negative comments are made about the Black-face and other racial comments. This was a convention of the time 80 years ago. I do not for a moment agree that the way minorities were treated was correct, but that was 1927, not now! You cannot erase history to make it fit today's standards.

I thought Al Jolson did a superb job in his singing,dialog,and acting in this film for the era. One would need to review and compare the singing and acting styles,that of other performers of the era and make comparisons. Crosby, Sinatra, Eddie Fisher, even Elvis Presley & Jackie Wilson said that Al Jolson was a great influence on their careers. To say he could not sing as in some posts here, is absurd.
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Good fun
ukcritic4 November 2002
A simple story of a guy winning back his estranged father, told in strong and memorable images. Jolson looks just right, and although it was done for reasons of cost and technological limitations, it's actually pretty cool that this is a traditional silent movie that turns talkie for the performance scenes. It makes the terrific musical numbers come alive, and it gives the plotting no more or less emphasis than it deserves. Not a great film, but an enjoyable one, and obviously a historically significant one.
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Almost biographical movie of Al Jolson
Shapster1118 May 2001
I gave this movie a 10 out of respect for the first talkie. Imagine the pressure in Hollywood at the time. Movies were rolling along at a great pace and silent film stars were icons. The technology of putting talking words to film was being developed and Hollywood had to choose the one star that could make it happen. That star...Al Jolson. Already incredibly adored and admired for a great singing and entertaining talent this legend accepted the challenge and forged Hollywood into a brand new era. Until the advent of computers and graphic enhancements with special effects Hollywood just refined that which Jolson brought to the public in 1927.

If ever you want to get a real kick see this movie, if you can find a viewable copy, and revel in the historical significance of it. Also take out your copy, or pick up Singing In The Rain, which pays homage to the advent of talking pictures. Although they goof with the characters, such as the voice of Lina Lamont, the very real challenges of transitioning from a silent world to a talkie world is very evident.
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A touching story and a great singer
nellybly13 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I've read several comments here that say "The Jazz Singer" seems biographical about Jolson but that's probably coincidence. No, it's not. Samson Raphelson, who wrote "The Day of Atonement", the short story that "The Jazz Singer" is based on, was inspired to write it by seeing Al Jolson perform on stage in Chicago in the early 1920s. The story is contained in a collection called "No, But I Saw The Movie" edited by David Wheeler ISBN 0140110909.

I get totally into the movie each time I see it and I've seen it dozens of times, sometimes re-winding it and watching it again in the same sitting. I first watched it 40 plus years ago when it shown on the afternoon slot of a local Los Angeles TV station along with commercials. KTTV didn't give it special treatment.

It is kind of fun to look for familiar faces. Roscoe Karns (he played "Believe you me" Shapely in "It Happened One Night") comes to the train station to tell Jakie about his big break and gives him his train tickets.

Jolson was a Broadway star and, from what I've read, had people eating out of his hand. He'd sing encore after encore and audiences would lap it up. Plus he took the time to make a lot of records when most stage stars left that to singers who worked for the recording studios. His recordings (even the acoustic era--pre 1925) are terrific. So people were familiar with him even in the boonies. "The Jazz Singer" came with a ready-made audience, not just to hear sound on film--there had been experimental short films that did that, in addition to the sound track of John Barrymore's "Don Juan"--but to hear JOLSON! I really don't think the film would have been the success it was with anyone else. I couldn't imagine anyone else playing the title role (and that includes remakes). I try to picture George Jessel in the part, even though he played it on Broadway, and I can't.

I adore Yudelson the kibitzer. When the men are gathered trying figure who should sing Kol Nidre since the cantor is unable, is a hoot, each, including Yudelson, thinking *he* should be the one to sing, implying the others couldn't carry a tune in a hand-basket. The scene where each person brings an identical prayer shawl for Papa's birthday is funny, too. Even Jakie, though his is different looking, brings one. Mama, who receives the gifts for Papa, looks as if she could be saying "Oy vey!" I like the change the movie made over the short story. He comes to his Papa before the old man's death. They're estranged but are reconciled before it's too late. In the short story he's summoned after his father's death.
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Well done
nabors-doug3 October 2005
You have to learn how to watch a silent movie. Most people who watch one get bored, and expect modern day techniques. All of the actors/actresses did great in this version, even Al Jolson who was not "hammy" as he has been called. He, like the others, made use of wide expressive movements with his hands. Some of the lighting could be improved, but this may have been taken on a remastered DVD, I haven't seen one yet. The music that is used expresses the mood of the scenes very well for that period. The use of Blackface at that time and before was not offensive to most anyone, even black people, as one of their own, Bert Williams, used it over his own black skin. This movie deserves a proper viewing, the viewer should learn a little entertainment business history first.
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You need to see Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer and it'll all start to make sense.
Ziggy544615 May 2007
Director Alan Crosland's and Warner Bros.' 1927 historic milestone film entitled The Jazz Singer was not the first sound film, nor the first "talkie" film or the first movie musical. It's completely baffling to hear many people actually associate this film with the visitation of sound, however, if one can recall the 1926 silent film featuring John Barrymore entitled Don Juan, than they would know that it was the first feature film with a Vitaphone soundtrack, though, like The Jazz Singer, it is by no means the first sound film either. The first sound film can be dated as far back to 1895.

Though, not being the first "talkie", The Jazz Singer, is certainly a remarkable film; it still holds its place as an cinematic landmark for being the first feature-length Hollywood "talke" film in which "spoken dialogue was used as part of the dramatic action." However, it's still largely a silent film with a synchronized musical score and a handful of sound sequences built around singing. It's also become something of a controversial case because of Al Jolson's (arguably the most popular entertainer of his time) use of blackface in some of the musical sequences, forgetful of the fact that this was a theatrical artifice from the era; it wasn't intended as "mean-spirited" as so many claim it to be. It was actually praised by black newspapers in 1927, and was being done by another much defamed minority, a Jew.

You can see what an impact sound must have had in 1927, because it certainly wasn't the movie that made this production a phenomenon. Though, the film itself, is more than just a movie about a guy who likes music. It's also a story about a Jewish kid who turns his back on his heritage to try and make it big on the stage - exceptionally daring subject matter for its era, and still enthralling today. It's certainly not ragged and dull, though, the magic moment when Jolson turns to the camera to announce, "You ain't heard nothing' yet" - a line so loaded with unconscious irony that it still raises a few goose bumps. Audiences were captivated by this and still are to this very day. A must see!!!
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First "Talkie" in General Circulation
leemcintyre23 September 2006
I rate the movie a "10" for its historical significance. "The Jazz Singer" is the answer to the perennial trivia question, "What was the first sound motion picture?" Certainly there were other talkies before this, but this one, the first feature-length talkie in the world -- is the one that turned Hollywood and the movie-going public on its ear.

It's fascinating. We think of "The Jazz Singer" as a talkie, but most of the picture is in typical "silent pictures" style -- with intertitles (title cards) to convey character dialog. Only with Jolson's vocal numbers and two other scenes is the new sound technology is used, and we hear the voice of the man many have called the world's greatest entertainer.
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Is "The Jazz Singer" racist?
lecole17 June 2006
The answer to this question isn't as easy as it seems at first blush. Yes, Al Jolson does wear blackface several times in the movie. However, the historical record suggests that the African American response to his portrayal was mostly quite positive; many blacks were reported to have wept (as did many whites) during the performance of "Mammy," because this was a *sympathetic* portrayal of the African American experience (in contrast to movies like "The Birth of a Nation"). Remember that in the 19-teens and 1920s, many African Americans had left families behind to come north. Given the cost of train travel and low wages for the jobs that hired them, they'd be unlikely to return frequently if ever, putting them in the same position as immigrants from across the Atlantic (or Pacific!). Thus the sympathetic portrayal combined with the common experience of leaving friends and family behind was responded to positively, even if we may react to it with jaundiced eyes 75+ years later.
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Besides Its Historical Importance, Still Worth Seeing In Its Own Right
Snow Leopard18 October 2004
Almost every movie fan knows the historical importance of the Al Jolson version of "The Jazz Singer", even if they've never had the chance to see it from start to finish. Although it's actually not, as it is often described to be, 'the first talking picture', it was the one feature that, more so than any other, captured the public's attention on behalf of sound movies. It's also still worth seeing in its own right, and while it is far from a masterpiece, as a movie it is somewhat better than its reputation.

The movie is actually a hybrid, with some silent sequences and some sound sequences. Successful experiments with sound movies go back to the 1890s, and got closer and closer to the goal during the 1920s. "The Jazz Singer" was really just one of a number of steps on the way towards full-length all-talking pictures becoming commonplace, but it probably would not have caused such a sensation if it did not also have some good material to go along with the new technology. The sound quality and other technical aspects do reflect the limitations of the time, and some of the material does also reflect the perspectives of its era, and thus now seems odd or uncomfortable. But there is still a solid core of the story that is still worthwhile, in the conflict between Jack's talents and dreams on the one hand, and his family and heritage on the other.

In following Jack as he pursues his career and tries to make his family understand, the specific details of the situation and setting aren't really crucial to understanding his position. Anyone whose family or friends want them to do one thing, but who feels called in his or her heart to do something else, can easily identify with this kind of struggle. These themes are handled rather well, although some of the time the story is simply used as a device to set up the musical numbers. Most of these do not seem especially noteworthy now, at least in themselves, but they must have impressed the movie's original audiences.

The year 1927 produced an unusual number of great (silent) movies that have deservedly become highly-regarded classics. This version of "The Jazz Singer" doesn't stand up to those classics on its own merits, but in itself it is still as good as any other movie version of the story, and for anyone who enjoys either classic movies or movie history, it's definitely worth seeing.
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Not the first time that synchronized speech was in a feature film ...
AlsExGal7 August 2010
...but it was the first time that it was integrated into the storyline of a feature film in such a way that it was remotely entertaining to audiences.

The story was adapted from a Samson Raphaelson play, and I've heard from many viewers who have reviewed this film with the criticism that the title cards and even the storyline itself for the all but twenty minutes that are silent film are like those from a melodrama from the 1910's rather than the more sophisticated material from films such as Sunrise from that same year. However, clever silent dialogue is not the point of watching this. The point is how Jolson jumps off the screen anytime he is center stage and performing a number and how the dynamism that was Jolson could only be adequately communicated in the presence of sound. Sam Warner, the Warner Brother that dragged the other Warners into the sound era kicking and screaming and died right before the film opened, picked well when he selected Al Jolson to be the centerpiece of the new sound on disc system's ability to capture synchronized dialogue.

What I always notice whenever I watch this film is just how apparently scared the Warners were of letting someone actually speak in what is supposed to be a talking picture. Jolson's famous impromptu dialog with his mother while at the piano performing "Blue Skies" is the only real conversation - although it is completely one-sided - in the entire film. The first all talking picture would have to wait until the following year to be created when a Vitaphone short inadvertently turned into a 59 minute feature film while Jack Warner was out of town. That picture was, of course, "Lights of New York". After that film opened to a grind house run and made over a million dollars the sound revolution was truly on. "The Jazz Singer" was considered only a novelty at the time.

Of course, part of the reason that so much of this film is silent is that is was still very difficult at this time to synchronize speech with film for extended periods of time. Even Jolson's whistling during Toot Toot Tootsie was sound dubbed over silent film versus the Vitaphone process.

Watch this one with an eye and ear mainly for Jolson's singing numbers. Also keep an eye out for some of Jolson's costars that have big careers later on. Of course there is Warner Oland who plays Al's father here and is Charlie Chan over at Fox during the 1930's, but there is also Myrna Loy as a chorus girl peeking through some curtains backstage during a rehearsal with a few catty - but unfortunately silent - remarks. Finally look out for William Demarest sharing a table with Al at Coffee Dan's as they both dig into a plate of ham and eggs. Ironically, Demarest played Jolson's mentor in the excellent 1946 biopic "The Jolson Story".
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A jazz singer torn between two, equally important for him, worlds.
Boba_Fett113819 January 2007
Widely know as the first widely released 'talkie'. The first commercially successful feature-length movie with audible dialog, "The Jazz Singer" tells the story of the son of a Jewish Cantor, who must make the choice to pursue his singing career or carry on his Jewish family traditions and by singing in the synagogue as a Cantor. A tradition in the family, for 5 generations long already.

This movie is definitely better than currently given credit for on here. Not that many serious dramas were made in the '20's and those that were made can't really match up to this well written and directed movie.

Of course the movie is mostly legendary because of the fact that it is widely regarded and accepted as the first 'talkie', even though only few lines are actually spoken in the movie and it also isn't the first movie featuring audible dialog. Only the singing sequences have sound and the moments before and after it. When the first talking happens in the movie, it really hits and stuns you. You totally aren't prepared for it, since the movie begins just as purely a silent movie. Just imaging how this would have been for movie goers in the '20's. Love to have seen the crowd reaction. A revolutionary step in movie-making, though it took 3 to 4 more years before the silent-era was truly over. Making full length movies with sound added to it, simply was too costly at the time. This movie was an important movie that marked the coming ending of the silent period and introduced the 'talkie' movies. This movie forms the perfect and symbolic transition between these two completely different movie types.

But above all, the movie is just simply good. The story is very well written and features some good drama aspect when a young jazz singer has to make a choice between his family and reunite with his loving mother and his disappointed father who denounced him, or his career on the stage and a life with his great love, the well-known stage performer Mary Dale. It's a well written dramatic story that works well and is effective, especially toward the ending of the movie. It provides the movie with some deeper emotional layers.

Of course the acting is totally over-the-top, even though Al Jolson remains very good and likable in his role. Also the heavy make-up and lighting works distracting at times but that's all now part of the charm of it these days.

The whole racial problems some persons have with this movie is ridicules. Yes, toward the ending the main character puts on a so called 'blackface' but this is just part of his performance act. Al Jolson never plays an African-American character in the movie. Back in those days it wasn't uncommon that actors or singers put on a blackface and even black singers did it. People had no problem with it in 1927 but now, 80 years later, people suddenly start having problems with it and consider it racist. Also sort of too bad that most people just remember this movie because of the 'blackface', as if its the most significant part of the movie. The movie has so incredibly much more to offer.

A movie-historical important- and landmark movie but above all a simply just really great movie on its own!

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Hollywood Icon
PWNYCNY23 October 2007
Yes, the movie was made eighty years ago. Yes, the acting is stagy. Yes, the movie is a relic. Yes, the story is hokey and contrived. Nevertheless this is a great movie which withstands the test of time. It's about a man in conflict within himself and his family. It's about the immigrant experience in the United States. It's about the lure of show business. It's about life. It's about the American urban experience in the early 20th century. For the Jazz Singer is more than a curiosity piece, it is an icon of American culture and will be recalled and remembered as long as people have interest in movies. Although talkies are now taken for granted, the Jazz Singer hearkens back to a time when movies were silent and actors were seen but not heard, and this movie represents a technological breakthrough of monumental importance that cannot be overstated. Al Jolson was one of the greatest performers in American history. His place in the history is firmly established, and Jazz Singer is proof.

The Jazz Singer is a landmark in the history of movies. First, the Jazz Singer is the first commercially successful talkie ever produced, featuring both dialogue and songs, signifying the transition from silence to sound. Second, the movie dramatizes several social themes directly relevant to the immigrant experience: Old World versus New World; Young versus Old; Secular versus Religious; Ghetto versus Non-Ghetto; Tradition versus Change. Third, the movie stars Al Jolson, at the time one of the most popular entertainers in the United States. Fourth, the movie showcases aspects of the Jewish community in New York City as it existed at the time. Fifth, the movie depicts two genres of entertainment, the minstrel and black face, which in 1927 were accepted forms of entertainment but today are considered controversial. The Jazz Singer was remade three times: in 1952, with Danny Thomas and Peggy Lee; in 1959 with Jerry Lewis and Anna Maria Alberghetti; and in 1980 with Neil Diamond, Lucie Arnaz and Laurence Olivier.
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Pivotal milestone but also Powerful and Poignant Drama
ElMaruecan8222 January 2018
"Isn't there anything that touches you, that warms you? Every man has a dream, what do you dream about?"

That quote comes from my favorite moment of Stanley Kramer's "Inherit the Wind" the movie about the monkey trial ending with the atheist lawyer, played by Spencer Tracy, admitting off the record the power of faith. He wasn't against religion but the way religion could become an oppressive force while its quest for a spiritual meaning could generously provide the kind of harmony every man seeks.

That's the idea of "The Jazz Singer", a film about two men who have their own religion, a rabbi who believes in the word of God and his son Jacob (Al Jolson) who believes he can only sing his truth by entertaining people. What they all have in common besides belonging to a prestigious generation of Cantors is the same 'tear' in the voice, and this is the stuff you can't cheat with. Yet the father won't allow his son to disgrace the family by shouting or dancing to pagan rhythms, the mother is more understanding.

Religion becomes oppressive and pushes little Jackie to leave the house and fulfill his dream. The rest is history... and today, the movie is mostly famous for being the first talkie, and the talkies couldn't have a better start than something enlightening us about the power of a voice, of music, and how it translates your thoughts, your emotion, your demons so powerfully it can reach other souls. There's something in "The Jazz Singer" that fittingly touches the essence of the medium and we might have noticed it if we weren't so busy looking at it as a pioneer.

Indeed, I've been interested in movies ever since 1995 and the whole centenary celebration. In these Internet-less times, there wasn't a book I opened, a documentary I saw that didn't mention the iconic "Jazz Singer". You'd have asked me as a kid about the first talking picture, I would give you the title and the most iconic image, a singing black-faced man... and I thought that the movie was only consisting on a man singing, a short film whose novelty was enough to made a sensation.

Then I saw the first excerpts from "Goodfellas" with the "Toot, Toot, Tootsie" part, then being an AFI buff, I discovered the line "Wait a minute, you ain't heard nothing yet" the first unsung line of history. I noticed many cartoons of the Golden Age made a reference to the "Manny" song. And then, I saw the episode of "The Simpsons" revealing that Krusty the Clown was estranged with his father, a rabbi who disowned him after he became an entertainer. I know it's not a very interesting story but just to say that all these little pieces of the puzzle made me believe that "I saw everything yet".

But I didn't! What makes the film so great has actually nothing to do with its status. Of course, the music is integral to its power, but had this film been the second or third talking picture, it would have changed absolutely nothing to its greatness. Yes, it is outdated by many elements (actually there aren't many talking parts) but the film is as modern and relevant today as it was nine decades ago as a riveting portrayal of an inner conflict, a man who has a dream but a heart too.

Our Jazz singer must choose between whether the show must go on and the call of his race, from deep inside. There comes a point where he either misses his first show on Broadway or not sing during the Atonement ceremony because his father is too sick. At that moment, I was at the edge of my seat as if I was watching a thriller. I've said it once and I say it again, the greatest thrills come from these powerful conflicting dramas.

And when Jackie says "I must choose between losing my career or breaking my mother's heart", I couldn't handle the desperation, whatever ex-machina could have saved him, I was ready to accept it, Because Jackie wasn't just desperate, he was angry at his boss to ask him to abandon his parents or threaten him to lose his job. That climactic sequence was one of the most powerful I've experienced recently and the resolution was just perfect.

Ebert said about Astaire's blackface number in "Swing Time" that, according to the Cinebooks essay, it was "perhaps the only blackface number on film which doesn't make one squirm today", I know there was some controversy around Jolson's blackface, but when he sang Manny, I was literally hypnotized by the tears in his voice and could see beyond the race. Just like any non-Jewish person can relate to Jackie, I don't think the blackface is played as an insult or whatever derogatory, if anything, this is a film that more plays for the ears than the eyes, and for the spirit, more than the ears.

Speaking of religion, "The Jazz Singer" is also one of the first movies immersing us in a faith that is not Christian, a film that takes you in the intimacy of a culture. Hollywood was created by many immigrants who escaped from the pogroms in Eastern Europe, it's only fitting that one of the seminal Hollywood movies plays like a tribute to their faith, especially since religion is never preached but plays like an antagonist at first before reconciling with jazz through the idea that it's only a way to reach people, after all, if music wasn't so powerful, psalms wouldn't be sung and jazz wouldn't have religious songs.

So I conclude by saying that it's more than a pivotal moment in Hollywood history, it's a great movie on its own merits, I said about "The Mission" that it was the greatest movie about the three universal languages of the soul: faith, love and music, well, maybe I'd consider "The Jazz Singer" a close second.
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A fun-filled landmark in the history of motion picture
daisyduke80008 March 2003
Al Jolson is a true legend and this movie is rightfully called a milestone in film-making. The blackface number, though somewhat disturbing, is hardly something to base the movie solely on. Those of you who say that this movie would not be as popular had the blackface number not been in it, I beg to differ. In 1927, hearing people speak in films was something unheard of, and so when it eventually happened naturally everyone had to go and see it. THAT is why this movie is a milestone. Add to that the fact that the legendary Al Jolson stars and sings some of his greatest songs in it, makes this film very enjoyable.
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first talkie, first successful talkie, not the first successful talkie, eh, who cares? It's a great movie.
ajdagreat8 August 2002
I saw this movie for its historial value, but I stayed for its greatness. Because, first talkie or not, this is just a great movie. The 6.3 rating baffled me; didn't everyone else like this interesting story about a boy who abandons tradition and his father who disowns him? I can't think of anything not to like about the movie. It's a fabulous movie, and a filmmaking landmark.

I'd like to comment on someone else's comments now. Someone said this movie was very racist and that's why it was successful, saying, "Would this film have still been successful if it was just Jolson as himself and not black-faced? Probably not. That's because people watched it to make themselves feel better about themselves."

I wonder if this commenter actually saw the movie. Jolson is only wearing blackface for about 15 minutes for a performance. The rest of the movie, Jolson IS himself. Jolson never plays an African-American as his character in the movie, he just sings a song as one. Yes, the song is somewhat racist by today's standards, but most of this comment is not valid at all. In fact, I suspect the comment was written solely based on a glance at the video box cover.

Anyway, if you wanna see a historical landmark in film or if you wanna see a fabulous movie (half-talkie, half-silent), go ahead and see "The Jazz Singer."
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The Very First Version of Pump Up The Volume
dataconflossmoor19 November 2007
This is where it all began, the illumination of sound to major motion pictures, it started with the movie "The Jazz Singer". The film "Singin in the Rain" centered around this particular time in 1927 when this film ("The Jazz Singer") was made!! Very innovative as well as very controversial, "The Jazz Singer" delved into a complex story line and incorporated the use of sound in this picture to bring on an undaunted form of entertainment to the movie audience!! The plot to this movie was a precise depiction of how breaking into the entertainment business when you were raised by such a strict Jewish orthodox code of ethics hence welcomes an onslaught of complications into the lives of all parties concerned!! The film "The Jazz Singer" is considered by AFI to be one of the 100 best films ever made!! Given how groundbreaking this film was, it would stand to reason that it would become the recipient of such an accolade!! I thought that "The Jazz Singer" was an excellent movie, and it signified the potential for progress in the cinema not only for the use of sound, but also, for the introduction to the American movie viewer of complex emotional plots!! "The Jazz Singer" is an all time classic and deservedly so!! I definitely recommend seeing this film!! In a sense, this is where films of today all began!!
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A great story of the times, and the striking explosion of synched sound!
secondtake5 November 2010
The Jazz Singer (1927)

Never mind the history for a sec, this is a pretty good drama about the clash of two generations in New York City. It must have been a familiar story, the stern Old World father and the son with dreams of making it American style. And there are familiar strains of devotion to religion and pure love of success and the joy of life.

This is all set, appropriately for New York at the time, in a Jewish context. The protagonist is the son, with a talent for singing and love of the stage, played by a man who fit that description perfectly, Al Jolson. His father is a real patriarchal icon, a bit cardboard in his unwavering attitudes (there is no sense of conversation here, simply saying, "No," loudly). But this might not be so far from the truth. The mother is another stereotype, surely, but a completely believable one, and a lovely one, compassionate and trying with some success to see that America really is different than the old Europe they left behind.

The crux of the conflict is whether the son has any right to abandon the generational calling to be a cantor--a singer of holy songs for the temple. The timing--Yom Kippur, which is perfect, since the movie was released the day before Yom Kippur, 1927. It really is a day of atonement, and the movie does not avoid the sanctity of that day, or of the traditions of being a Jew, new or old style. There are routine portions of the plot, and some filming that is a little awkward at best, but really the overall idea is a great one for the time.

But wait, this is the famous Jazz Singer, which made the film world (and the world) realize that sound was finally here. The technological hurdles were finally cleared. (This is dramatized nicely in Scorsese's "The Aviator," by the way.) Most of "The Jazz Singer" is standard silent film, but with a more or less parallel sound track (much like "Sunrise" had done, and done better, actually, a month earlier). But there are those startling, wonderful few moments--a few songs, one singing by a well known cantor, and a beautiful dialog between the son and the mother near the end--that feel like a door has opened and light and air and the smell of Spring has come in. I do not exaggerate, and this is 2010.

One reason this works is because of the clumsy (truly clumsy) transitions between the silent mainstream and the synch sound sections. The contrast is uncanny. A pure sound film, as would be the norm in a couple years, avoids this contrast, and of course most of us prefer that. But if it is the advent of true sound in movies we are looking for, the change in ambiance and realism between one section and the next is really worth watching for. Even now.

Deservedly famous, even to this day.
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"Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothing' yet"
ackstasis15 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This is it, folks. This is when the movies learned to talk. Though often dismissed nowadays as a technical innovation without any significant artistic merit, I was pleased to find that Alan Crosland's 'The Jazz Singer (1927)' employed the newfangled technology of synchronised soundtracks as a storytelling device rather than a gimmick. There's a wonderful scene early in the film when young Jakie Rabinowitz (Bobby Gordon, later Al Jolson) briefly returns home while his father, a Jewish cantor, sings in the nearby synagogue. The father's somber, passionate voice is heard by Jakie as he prepares to abandon his family, and the new technology enables Crosland to easily communicate the boy's (dwindling) proximity to his estranged father, using only the film's soundtrack. It's a simple but effective technique that allows extra detail to be imparted without crowding the viewer with visual information.

Of course, though touted as cinema's first feature-length "talkie," most of 'The Jazz Singer' unfolds as a typical silent film, with intertitles intact. Yet the director knew when the addition of sound would prove most effective. Apart from the excellent musical numbers, which show Jolson – perhaps the most popular entertainer of his time – at his musical peak, Crosland also shoots a single dialogue scene with a soundtrack, as an enthusiastic Jakie (now known as Jack Robin) teases his adoring mother with some rag-time hits (including Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies"). Appropriately, the soundtrack ceases from the moment Jack's father (Warner Oland) enters the room. The elderly cantor, firmly set in his traditional ways, is analogous to the old silent film technology, whereas Jolson's lively stage performer is the mouthpiece for an art form that is moving forward, evolving for the better.

Today, the use of blackface is generally frowned upon as racist, or simply unnecessary. Al Jolson himself frequently employed the costume in his stage performances, and its usage in 'The Jazz Singer' is actually quite important. Made up as an African American before a dress rehearsal, Jack Robin peers into a mirror and glimpses the fading vestiges of his Jewish cultural roots, now almost entirely hidden by the uniform of his trade. This clever sequence highlights how far Jack has strayed from family origins, and he is ultimately persuaded to embrace both his past and future values. Two of Jolson's songs – ""Mother of Mine, I Still Have You" and "My Mammy" – directly address the importance of family – in both cases, via his loving and accepting mother (Eugenie Besserer). Interestingly, Jack's romance with beautiful dancer Mary (May McAvoy) is uncharacteristically underplayed; Jack even admits to her that she runs second to the progress of his career!
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Al Jolson And The Transition To Sound
Lechuguilla14 June 2009
Billed as "the world's greatest entertainer", legendary singer and showman Al Jolson injects heart and soul into this otherwise glib story about a young man who, despite his father's wishes to continue the family tradition of singing religious songs, strikes out on his own as an entertainer and jazz singer.

It's a corny story. And the plot focuses way too much on the stern father, Cantor Rabinowitz, played by Warner Oland who gives a terrible performance, overwrought and bug-eyed. The film's B&W visuals are drab. Interiors are cheap looking and bleak. The costumes are homely and unattractive. I certainly mean no disrespect, but some of those hats women wear are suggestive of baskets you'd use to store potatoes.

However, the story, the acting, the production values and costumes are just background clutter for the film's main attraction, really the only attraction: the presence of Al Jolson.

Because of Jolson's huge popularity before the film was made, audiences came to see not the film so much as to see Jolson himself, whose on-stage persona I would describe as bizarre. The way he rolls his eyes, the way he swings his arms and hips, and his unusual voice combine to make his presentation unconventional and unique. But he was undeniably talented and charismatic.

Of course, the film has historical significance because it served as a transition from silent films to the "talkies". Most of "The Jazz Singer" is a traditional silent film. But Jolson's songs can be heard. In one scene, he serenades his mother to the tune of "Blue Skies". During this scene, his mother can be heard muttering little improvised comments, a feature that must surely have mesmerized audiences in 1927.

Jolson also sings the sentimental "Mother Of Mine", later released as a single recording. It became the first song ever released to the public as a direct result of having first been introduced in a film.

The death knell of the silent film era can be defined almost precisely at the moment when Jolson, on-stage in blackface and wearing white gloves, gets down on one knee and bursts into an emotional rendition of "My Mammy": "I'd walk a million miles for one of your smiles, my mammy ..." His impassioned performance has become immortal. It's sheer Americana. And it made "The Jazz Singer" the first commercially successful feature film to use sound, an achievement that cannot be overstated.
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