The Jazz Singer (1927)

A review by Shlomoh Sherman
Tuesday, September 6, 2014

The Jazz Singer (1927)
Plot: The son of a Jewish Cantor must defy his father in order to pursue his dream of becoming a jazz singer.
Director: Alan Crosland
Writers: Samson Raphaelson (play), Alfred A. Cohn (adaptation),
Samson Raphaelson ... (play)
Alfred A. Cohn ... (adaptation)
Jack Jarmuth ... (titles)
Samson Raphaelson ... (short story "The Day of Atonement") (uncredited)
Stars: Al Jolson, May McAvoy, Warner Oland
Plot Keywords: cantor - jazz - jazz singer - singer - Jewish
Taglines: The Biggest Thrill You Ever Had in Your Life!
Genres: Drama - Music - Musical - Romance
Country: USA
Language: English
Release Date: October 6, 1927 (USA)
Filming Locations: Chatsworth, Los Angeles, California, USA, Chatsworth, Los Angeles, California, USA, Iverson Ranch - 1 Iverson Lane, Chatsworth, Los Angeles, California, USA, KTLA Studios - 5858 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA (studio), Los Angeles, California, USA, New York, USA, San Francisco, California, USA, Warner Brothers Studios - 5800 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA (studio)
Box Office:
Budget: $422,000 (estimated)
Gross: $3,000,000 (USA)
Company Credits: Production Co: Warner Bros.
Runtime: 88 min
Sound Mix: Mono (Vitaphone)
Color: Black and White
Nominated for 1 Oscar, Academy Awards, USA 1929
Won Honorary Award For producing The Jazz Singer, the pioneer outstanding talking picture, which has revolutionized the industry.
Nominated for Oscar Best Writing, Adaptation, Alfred A. Cohn
Rating: [before rating system went into effect]
Violence & Gore: - The 13 year old main character gets a whipping from his father in the beginning of the film. It isn't seen but he is seen comming out of the room while is father puts in his belt.
Frightening/Intense Scenes: The main character gets whipped in the beginning, it isn't shown, but his mother's terrified reaction whilst listening through the door can be seen.

The story of the Jazz Singer had appeared on the Broadway stage before Warner Brothers considered making it into a movie. George Jessel played the part of Jakie Rabinowitz, the singer after whom the story is titled but passed up the offer to star in the movie. Some say that he thought sound in film was too risky a venture to invest in and turned the offer down. Yet Eric Goldman, an "expert" on Jewish cinema, says that the reason Jessel turned the role down is that Warner Brothers changed the ending of the story from its original ending whereby Jakie forsakes a show business career to return to his tribe and its religion. Jessel did not like the idea, according to Goldman, of a boy raised in a traditional Jewish upbringing deserting it for the world of goyim. I really cannot say what the actual reason is but Goldman's account sounds more authentic than Jessel's fear of investing in a new medium. Jessel's withdrawal gave the oportunity to a new personality, Al Jolson, to star in a new type of film. Jolson went on to stardom and Jessel became famous as a toastmaster at Hollywood roasts.

The basic story is probably known to most people sophisticated in cinema. A boy with singing talent from an Orthodox Jewish home in the early 20th century longs to become a popular jazz and ragtime singer on Broadway while his father, a synagogue cantor descended from a family of five generations of cantors, wants Jakie to follow in his footsteps and take over the cantorial position at the family synagogue.

The plot sets the tone of the interplay between the opposing father and son in what some have described as "broad stage melodrama". When Jakie, now calling himself Jack Robin, gets the opportunity to realize his dream of show business fame, his relationshop with his father becomes severed.

On opening night of his show, Jack receives word that his father is lying ill, possibly on his death bed. It is the eve of YOM KIPPUR, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar and Cantor Rabinowitz is unable to lead his congregation in the holiday prayers. Jack must make a difficult choice; either to go on stage opening night to a sold out audience or leave the theater and lead his father's congregation in the YOM KIPPUR prayers.

Schlockmeister (Midnight Movie Land), in his own review of the movie, "WAIT A MINUTE, YOU AIN'T HEARD NOTHIN' YET!", states, "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.

It's so facile for today's politically correct liberals to denouce Jolson singing MAMMY and TOOT, TOOT, TOOSIE GOODBYE in blackface. But blackface was common back in Jolson's era. Jolson was not a minstrel performer yet he used the minstrel type of performance. Jolson was a fan of the south and through his life he affected a kind of southern accent and, for whatever the reason, he saw the Negro as typifying the south. Moreover, in the 1930s and even into the 1940s, famous actors such as Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney among many others were still doing songs in blackface. To suggest that Jolson was somehow a racist is absurd. As stated below by Rainer_fan, "Al Jolson was probably America's foremost 'anti-racist' entertainer". Jolson was a Jew and lived during a time in the early 20th century when antisemitism was rife in America and so he knew what racial prejudice felt like. But he was also a man of his time and in the 1920s and 1930s, black stereotypes provided audiences with humor and often Hollywood played to these racial stereotypes.

The Jazz Singer is a symbolic presentation of the early 20th century immigrant's striving to break away from the old world traditions and to enter the "melting pot" society world of opportunity that this country offered to those with drive and ambition. It successfully points out the tension inherent in discarding valuable aspects of one's ethnic identity in order to gain a more American identity. This drive caused many traditional Jews to invent the phrase, AMERIKA GONIF, America steals our culture away, especially from our American born children.

The Jazz Singer was Hollywood's first venture into sound movies but it was clearly experimental since only the songs are in sound while 99% of the dialogue is text on screen while the action is silent.

In 1946, Columbia Pictures released THE JOLSON STORY, a somewhat inauthentic biography of Al Jolson. You can read my review of that movie HERE!

Did You Know?
According to the dates of the letter/telegram shown and the title card preceding Jakie's return to New York, and allowing one day for travel, the Cantor's date of birth would have been on Saturday, August 9th, 1867 or Sunday, August 10th, 1867.
The original Broadway stage production of "The Jazz Singer" opened at the Fulton Theater on September 14, 1925 and ran for 303 performances. The play starred George Jessel who refused to do the movie. See above.

Before Yudelson enters the Rabinowitzes' home, he touches his hand to the mezuzah and kisses it. However the mezuzah is on the left side of the door, instead of on the right where it's supposed to be.

Jack Robin: We in the show business have our religion too - on every day, the show must go on!

The Sidewalks of New York - (1894) (uncredited) - Music by Charles Lawlor - Played during the opening montage of the New York ghetto
My Gal Sal - (1905) (uncredited) - Written by Paul Dresser - Sung by Robert Gordon
Yosl, Yosl (Joseph, Joseph) - (1923)(uncredited) - Written by Samuel Steinberg and Nellie Casman - [Played several times during New York street scenes. Originally written for the Yiddish Theater]
Waiting for the Robert E. Lee - (1912) (uncredited) - Music by Lewis F. Muir - Lyrics by L. Wolfe Gilbert - Sung by Robert Gordon
Kol Nidre - (uncredited) - Traditional - Sung by Warner Oland (dubbed by Joseph Diskay) - Also sung later by Al Jolson
Dirty Hands, Dirty Face - (1923) (uncredited) - Music by James V. Monaco - Lyrics by Edgar Leslie, Grant Clarke and Al Jolson - Sung by Al Jolson
Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Goo' Bye!) - (1922) (uncredited) - Music by Dan Russo and Ernie Erdman - Lyrics by Gus Kahn - Sung by Al Jolson
Kaddish - (uncredited) - Traditional - Sung by Cantor Joseff Rosenblatt
Blue Skies - (1926) (uncredited) - Written by Irving Berlin - Sung by Al Jolson - Piano performed by Bert Fiske
Mother of Mine, I Still Have You - (1927) (uncredited) - Music by Louis Silvers - Lyrics by Grant Clarke - Sung by Al Jolson during the dress rehearsal
My Mammy - (1918) (uncredited) - Music by Walter Donaldson - Lyrics by Sam Lewis and Joe Young - Sung by Al Jolson at the Winter Garden performance
The Sidewalks of New York - (1894) (uncredited) - Music by Charles Lawlor - Played during the opening montage of the New York ghetto
In the Good Old Summertime - (1902) (uncredited) - Music by George Evans - Played at the saloon before young Jakie sings
Give My Regards to Broadway - (1904) (uncredited) - Music by George M. Cohan - Played at the train station and at Jack's arrival in New York
Romeo and Juliet Overture - (1868) (uncredited) - Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - Played during the opening credits and often in the score
If a Girl Like You Loved a Boy Like Me (uncredited) - Written by Gus Edwards and Will D. Cobb
Sérénade mélancolique opus 26 - (1875) (uncredited) - Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - Played during the score
Pélleas och Mélisande: Mélisande - (1905) (uncredited) - Music by Jean Sibelius - Played during the score. The author complained about the unauthorized use of his music.
Kol nidrei opus 47 - (1881) (uncredited) - Music by Max Bruch - Played during the score. The main theme of the Bruch's work (traditional) is the same than the tradional the theme sung in the film

Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How does the movie end?
Q: Is 'The Jazz Singer' based on a book?
Q: What is 'The Jazz Singer' about?

Message Boards:
Recent Posts:
"Al Jolson was probably America's foremost 'anti-racist' entertainer" -  Rainer_fan
"Jazz Singer Racist...against Whites!" - nickryder9
"Why not the whole movie?" - eoremovich
"80 year anniversary DVD?" - Joshua24fan
"No DVD?" - Roland-charleer
"Great Movies Not On DVD" - Jacksterboy

Discuss The Jazz Singer (1927) on the IMDb message boards

Complete credited cast:
Al Jolson             ... Jakie Rabinowitz
May McAvoy             ... Mary Dale
Warner Oland       ... The Cantor
Eugenie Besserer       ... Sara Rabinowitz
Otto Lederer       ... Moisha Yudelson
Robert Gordon       ... Jakie Rabinowitz - Age 13 (as Bobby Gordon)
Richard Tucker       ... Harry Lee
Cantor Joseff Rosenblatt ... Himself
William Demarest       ... Buster Billings (uncredited)
Neely Edwards ...  Dance Director (uncredited)
Roscoe Karns ... Agent (uncredited)
Myrna Loy       ...  Chorus Girl (uncredited)

Then there was the The Jazz Singer (1952)
Director: Michael Curtiz
Writers: Frank Davis (screenplay), Leonard Stern (screenplay)
Stars: Danny Thomas, Peggy Lee, Eduard Franz, Mildred Dunnock
Plot Keywords: singer - jazz singer - cantor - jewish - war veteran
Plot: Jerry dreams to become a famous jazz singer. But in order to accomplish that, he must defy his father, a Jewish Cantor, who is opposed to such dream as a future for his son.
Taglines: It's joy set to music. A story that sings out to your heart.
Genres: Drama - Music - Romance
Country: USA
Language: English
Release Date: February 14, 1953 (USA)
Production Co: Warner Bros.
Color: Color (Technicolor)
Run time: 107 min
Genres: Drama - Music - Romance  
Release Date: February 14, 1953 (USA)

In Eddie Fisher's autobiography "Been There, Done That", he states that before Danny Thomas was cast in the lead for this film, there was a big rumor going around Hollywood that Fisher would be cast. Fisher believed he was too young at the time for the role, and that he thought Danny Thomas was brilliant in the part.
Michael Curtiz first wanted Doris Day to play the role of Judy Lane, having worked with her before.
For record buyers, there were two collections of songs from the film score. Danny Thomas recorded a 10-inch, eight-selection LP for RCA Victor, featuring Frank De Vol and His Orchestra. Miss Peggy Lee, backed by Gordon Jenkins and His Orchestra, contributed a Decca EP with four tunes, including Peggy's driving, Latin rendition of the Rodgers and Hart standard "Lover," which had become a top single before the picture's release.
The 1927 version of movie was referenced in the Gene Kelly classic "Singing In The Rain", however this version was released in the same year.

Catwalks, lights and other equipment rigged to the roof of the sound stage are clearly visible during a shot of an audience supposedly sitting in a real theater.  
They say that he was returning from the Army yet he was wearing an Air Force uniform.

Referenced in Make Room for Daddy: Linda, the Performer (1960)

Kol Nidre - Traditional - Performed by Eduard Franz (dubbed by Saul Silverman)
I'll String Along with You - (uncredited) - Music by Harry Warren - Lyrics by Al Dubin - Sung by Danny Thomas
Living the Life I Love - Music by Sammy Fain - Lyrics by Jerry Seelen
I Hear the Music Now - Music by Sammy Fain - Lyrics by Jerry Seelen
What Are New Yorkers Made Of - Music by Sammy Fain - Lyrics by Jerry Seelen
Lu Lulla Lu (Hush-a-Bye) - Music by Sammy Fain - Lyrics by Jerry Seelen
Lover - Music by Richard Rodgers - Lyrics by Lorenz Hart
Just One of Those Things - Written by Cole Porter
The Birth of the Blues - Written by Buddy G. DeSylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson
This Is a Very Special Day - Written by Peggy Lee
Breezin' Along With the Breeze - (uncredited) - Music by Richard A. Whiting - Lyrics by Seymour Simons and Haven Gillespie

Warner Brothers released this new version at the Height of the Korean War at the dawn of the McCarthy Era.

There are distinct differences bewteen the two versions as pointed out by Eric Goldman, and they are obvious differences that while showing essentially the same story, gave the 1950s audiences several new takes on it.

Jerry Golding [no longer Jakie Rabinowitz in more than just one way] is introduced in the opening scene as an honorably discharged soldier returning from the Korean War front to his parents' home in Philadelphia.

We see Jerry emerging from a yellow cab in his army uniform and the cab driver, in a rather heavy Irish brogue, wishes him a GUT YONTEF. It is the eve of ROSH HASHANNAH, the Jewish New Year.

Here we are no longer in the world of the immigrant whose child struggles with identifying with America. Jerry and his father are both American born. Not only that but their synagogue [actually a Reform Temple] has been in existence since the 18th century and that Jewish congregation probably established in Philadelphia well before George Washington's time.

The very first scene of the movie establishes certain things about, not only Jerry's community but American Jewry at large in the early 1950s. Now Judaism is accepted as one of the three major religions in the United States, and in the 1950s, Jews are doing what all good Americans are doing at that time to show they are really dedicated to the American way of life; they attend religious services as opposed to the "godless commies".

The Irish cabbie uses a Yiddish phrase and is familiar with Jewish holidays; Americans of immigrant descent now are on terms of familiarity with one another. Jews are merely Americans whose "church" is different from those of Catholics and Protestants. And just as Americans, regardless of ethnic background, interact socially with other Americans from different backgrounds, Jews also do the same. Jerry's girl friend, played by Peggy Lee, is as gentile as they come, and no has a problem with that. Jerry's own parents don't appear to question it.

The wind-down of the film is the same as in the original Jolson movie; on Jerry's opening night on Broadway, his father falls ill and Jerry chooses to replace him as cantor on KOL NIDREI eve.

But again, Warner Brtothers would not be happy if Jerry stayed with his own people after that. So again as in the original, with the now approval of ihs family, he becomes a Broadway star and presumably some time in the future with marry his beautiful, blond, sexy SHIKSA.

When many of us Jews first saw Danny Thomas on the Ed Sullivan Show, we assumed he was Jewish. He simply looked SO SEMITIC, and in fact he was Semitic. Thomas was an Arab Catholic. I had forgotten how wonderful Danny Thomas' voice was. His rendering of KOL NIDREI, much like that of Perry Como and Jonny Mathis, was very sweet.

There was also a so-called Jazz Singer made in 1980 but I will not sully my keyboard to say one word about this piece of trash other than to ask how could Laurence Olivier whore himself to appear in it?

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