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  Jazz Singer, The You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet
Year: 1927
Director: Alan Crosland
Stars: Al Jolson, May McAvoy, Warner Oland, Eugenie Besserer, Otto Lederer, Robert Gordon, Richard Tucker, William Demarest, Myrna Loy
Genre: Musical, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: When he was a teenager, singer Jakie Rabinowitz (Al Jolson) incurred the wrath of his father (Warner Oland), a cantor in the local New York synagogue just as his father had been, and his father's father and so on. Cantor Rabinowitz was furious when he discovered that Jakie preferred to sing jazz in a club rather than perform for his religion, and although his mother (Eugenie Besserer) was more forgiving, already there was a wedge being driven between the two generations, one which would last long into adulthood for Jakie...

Perhaps the most important motion picture of all time, not counting the Lumière brothers offering the world that train pulling into a station, The Jazz Singer was the first sound feature film that most people in the world ever saw. It was based on a popular stage show starring George Jessel, who missed out on his chance to become part of movie history when he was replaced by Jolson, who was a huge star of the day and a natural choice to put over a tune in what was effectively the first musical as well as the first talkie.

However, the film did not use sound all the way through, as for the most part this was a silent film in the tradition of the past three decades, complete with title cards to let us know what the characters were saying. Indeed, if it was not for studio boss Sam Warner we would have only heard the songs, and Jolson's bits of improvised dialogue would have been cut, but wiser heads prevailed and the inclusion of actual speech caused a sensation among audiences. The first line ever spoken? It was "Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothing yet!", something of a Jolson catchphrase even before this film was released.

But what of the plot? Even to the eyes of the day this looked to be laying on the sentimentality on with a shovel, so that Jakie, who has adopted the name Jack Robin in his attempt to break into showbusiness, dotes over his mother even though he cannot see her because his father has disowned him for pursuing his career as a popular singer and not as a cantor. To make matters worse, Jakie has fallen for up and coming dancer Mary Dale (May McAvoy), but her career is leading them to split up before their relationship has even got off the starting blocks.

Are you welling up yet? The whole aim of The Jazz Singer is to make the audience weep buckets, but the most interesting part now, as then probably, are those musical numbers. Funnily enough, Jolson is not the first person we hear singing, that is his teenage incarnation Robert Gordon, and he's not the second person we hear singing, as that is future Charlie Chan Oland (either that or the chap doing his dubbing). But when the star takes to the stage, you're in no doubt of his of magnetic charm, so much so that you wish they had put more numbers into the film.

Among his best known songs are "Blue Skies" (sung to his screen mother) and "Mammy" (sung about his screen mother), so you can see this is a very mother-centric work, finding a universality in a plot that could have exclusively spoken to the Jewish worries over losing their identity in multi-cultural America. One word of warning, however: you do have to accept that Jolson performs in blackface for a sizeable portion of the story, and that can turn a lot of people off even if you are aware of the long tradition of minstrel shows. Often it's difficult not to judge the past through a filter of contemporary values. Nevertheless, this may not be the best film ever made, but it is one of the most historically interesting.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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