“Wait a minute, wait a minute — you ain’t heard nothin’ yet!”
The son of a Jewish cantor (Warner Oland) rejects his upbringing in favor of making a name for himself on Broadway, and falls in love with a beautiful dancer (May McAvoy). However, when his beloved mother (Eugenie Besserer) begs him to return to the bedside of his dying father and sing in a High Holy Days service, he faces a renewed conflict between family, faith, and his career.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Al Jolson Films
Father and Child
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this historically (in)famous film as “the first talkie, although most of the words we hear are the lyrics to Al Jolson’s songs”, but this description isn’t technically correct: as Tim Dirks writes for his FilmSite review, “Although it was not the first Vitaphone (sound-on-disk) feature, it was the first feature-length Hollywood ‘talkie’ film in which spoken dialogue was used as part of the dramatic action.” Peary goes on to say that the “picture looks like it has been drained of energy by [a] vampire or is dying of old age”, but that it remains “more than a curiosity” given Jolson’s “dynamic performances” singing “‘Mammy’, ‘Toot Toot Tootsie’, and other standards”. He asserts that Jolson’s singing has “not dated at all” (!) — weirdly ignoring any mention of Jolson’s blackface performances, or the fact that his earnest singing style will most likely no longer appeal to many viewers. Young film fanatics should watch The Jazz Singer for its cinematic relevance vis-a-vis the incorporation of sound on film, but also be sure to educate themselves on the toxic history of blackface in our nation.
Note: Check out the following video clip for more details on how this early talkie played a part in movie sound history:
2 thoughts on “Jazz Singer, The (1927)”
First viewing. A once-must, for its place in cinema history.
I certainly don’t agree with Peary that the “picture looks like it has been drained of energy by [a] vampire or is dying of old age”. That quote, actually, caused me to almost dread the viewing experience. But, as it turns out, it wasn’t the awkward trial I’d been led to believe. Overall, the film runs at a good clip – and the mixture of silent and sound, while not seamless, becomes a rather interesting combination. (The sound is 95% songs sung but there’s a bit of dialogue in there as well.)
At the story’s conclusion, the thought struck me that the film was going to opt for a ridiculous handling of the outcome (it almost goes that way) but, fortunately, the wrap-up is neatly done.
Ancient, creaky, very dated but still enjoyable and obviously a must see for its significance as the first sound film.