The Jazz Singer - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Jazz Singer Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ January 17, 2015
Back in the 1930's Al Jolson was the highest paid entertainer in the business. In the USA he was a massive massive star (the biggest!) but he was also hot stuff around the world having hit after hit alongside international tours with many movies to his name. Let me put it this way, Jolson was the Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley of his time.

Now admittedly many of his movies were never really much cop due to changing tastes over the years and the fact his movies tended to be very samey. It was always that first talkie movie he starred in that really stuck out, probably because it was the first...well actually the second but 'A Plantation Act' was more of a selection of songs and not an actual movie. The Jazz Singer is based on Jolson's life growing up in New York. The story was actually written by Samson Raphaelson after interviewing Jolson on his upbringing, he later adapted the story for the theatre and it became a hit. Warner Bros then acquired the rights to the play and naturally wanted to make a movie out of it, at first Jolson wasn't in line to star in the movie but eventually, long story short, he obviously got it and the rest is history.

I guess you could say this film is a biography of sorts, I'm not entirely sure how much is accurate but I thinks its pretty close to Jolson's early years and beyond. The story follows a young Jolson (in the film Jakie Rabinowitz...can't get more Jewish than that folks) getting in trouble with his strict Jewish father for singing in local beer gardens and acting the fool. His father is a cantor at the local synagogue on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a fully Jewish area. I'm sure you can guess what goes down here, Jakie's father wants his son to be a good religious boy and follow in his footsteps as a cantor, following family tradition and following his destiny. Unfortunately the rebellious young Jakie wants to do other things and ends up running away to choose his own destiny. Over the years Jakie becomes a talented budding singer with a very bright future but as you can guess all this conflicts with his father and eventually he must choose between his career and his family roots and heritage.

Now I won't lie and say this film is amazing simply because it is historically very important (the film was chosen for preservation in the US Library of Congress's National Film Registry), in all honesty most of the story is rather dull. Hold your horses let me explain, the film is of course black and white but that's not a problem for me. There is of course no sound or dialog for the most part accept for Jolson singing (silent film remember), this means we have lots of rather bland full screen old fashioned subtitles that explain very little. They are also rather limited in appearance so half the time your kinda guessing what's going on by the musical score and peoples expressions. It doesn't help at times that the language of the age is also slightly different, the way people wrote, certain words used etc...a different era. The acting is naturally a bit crappy throughout with the odd exception, Otto Lederer is easily the most entertaining character in the movie with his cheerful comedic turn. You can relate to his feelings on what's happening around him whilst everyone else is deathly serious and boring, plus he has an amusing face which helps.

Of course the real highlight of the entire feature is seeing and hearing Al Jolson hammer out his legendary tunes (only six though). This is really why you watch the movie, the plot is extremely predictable and basic (taking into account the age of the film of course) and its not really that gripping, you're here for the jazz singer himself and he doesn't disappoint. As I was growing up my dad would play Al Jolson every Christmas, it was a family tradition to have old Al singing in the background while our little family would enjoy the festive period. So I know how Jolson sounds, I know most of his hits and some of the famous lyrics, but its something else to actually watch the man perform for real.
A small quirky fella with big bright eyes, highly animated and amusing to watch as he bobs his head around like crazy whilst clapping, mugging at the camera and generally showing off. His routines are full of energy and his voice is loud, bold and pitch perfect, the man is clearly getting a buzz enjoying every second. Its all so very charming and delightful you can't help but smile seeing how people enjoyed the simple things back then. There is even a small sequence where Jolson improvises a lot of dialog with Eugenie Besserer (who plays his old mother) which shows the mans sky high confidence in what he could do both musically and verbally. Besserer clearly has trouble keeping pace and shows us one reason why many actors/actresses back then were scared of talkies...their voices sounded terrible!

Towards the finale we do see the famous blackface routine which was commonplace at the time. These days of course it would be frowned upon and admittedly its hard to watch without feeling a tad awkward. I found myself wondering why on earth they did it in the first place, how did it make their performances any better? why hide away behind the makeup? I think it derives from centuries old history where people would perform theatrical shows, plays or skits and perform as black people simply because there weren't any black people around to do so. Anyway the blackface performance by Jolson is really the central part of the film, everything builds up to this one outstanding performance, the moment he cracks the big time. I believe it is displaying how both Jolson (in reality) and his character broke away from the burdens of a heavily religious Jewish life and made their mark in America, both in show business and personally. The blackface performance, his all helps him prove to himself that he can be something other than a Jewish immigrant...but naturally for the sake of the movie there is a happy ending honouring his family traditions.

It does feel weird knowing you're watching the first ever talkie movie...despite the fact its only the songs that have sound. It is a real gem of a time capsule seeing old 1920's New York, the people, the attire etc...its very interesting in more ways than one. Its funny even at the time the critics said it was a simple schmaltzy affair and they weren't wrong. Its cram-packed full of sickly sentimental family customs, rituals and traditional short...its all very Jewish (and I know about that). Honesty its not really a movie as such, you could almost say it was a bit of a gimmick to both promote Jolson and at the same time use him to promote talking pictures in the best way possible. More of an experiment with talking pictures which at the same time takes the opportunity to capture the greatest performer of the age.

'wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothin' yet!'
Super Reviewer
September 2, 2014
Notable for being the first feature film with audible dialogue and touching as it shows a man torn apart by a difficult decision, it however becomes a disgusting melodrama in the last fifteen minutes, when its two possible endings are thrown in together and the character makes a most unacceptable choice.
Super Reviewer
½ March 23, 2008
Hoary old chestnut that should be seen for its historical significance, aside from that its the ripest kind of melodrama. Overwrought acting, clutched bosoms, fevered declamations, the works are on display here. Do keep an eye out for a young Myrna Loy, just starting out, as a chorus girl.
Super Reviewer
½ May 12, 2011
An amazing film for its time! I feel awestruck that THIS was the first ever feature length film to include synchronised sound. The narrative and themes are universal and still relevant today, 80 years on. I feel that this would have been even better if they were able to implement sound for the whole film. A beautiful film with beautiful performances. Some people wouldn't be able to look past the fact that it's mostly silent and in black and white, but I'm so glad I was able to do that and experience this film. They didn't just make a random, awful and totally pointless film to add the sound to, they made something worthwhile something where the sound was secondary to the narrative and that's what makes this even more momentous and inspiring. A fantastic chunk of history.
Super Reviewer
December 9, 2010
Finally after years of hearing about this movie and seeing clips from it in historical film documentaries, I finally watched it! And I really liked it too! The story is universal and still applies today, Jolson was great as the Jewish cantor's son who wanted to be a jazz singer instead of a cantor like his father. Of course this movie is famous for having bits of dialogue spoken, which is spoken during the song sequences. This device is both really cool and makes you wish the whole movie were a talky, but it also is kinda annoying at times too, as the transitions are a bit awkward. Overall, I really liked this movie, though.
Mr Awesome
Super Reviewer
March 19, 2010
There's going to be the inevitable offense of modern sensibilities with the blackface performance of "Mammy", but I'll be damned if that performance which closes the movie isn't both touching and uplifting. Jolson plays Jakie Robin (Rabinowitz), the son of a cantor who wishes to sing jazz instead. A story that's been done many times since (like the cartoon where "Owl Jolson" sings "I wanna sing'a about the moon'a and the june'a and the spring'a", for instance), but the first real "talkie" has got them all beat. Jolson's performance might come off as hokey to modern audiences at first glance, but those are real tears on his cheeks as he sings about his mother (not one but three songs about dear old mom). Calling it the first talkie is a bit of a stretch though, as the majority of the film is still silent, it's just the songs (and a few spoken words during those songs) that have any sound. The sound and picture don't always match up either, but this "vitaphone"-brand of production was brand new and I guess not entirely perfected. Perfected or not, this film, and the wave of popularity that followed, opened the floodgates to the era of talking pictures. Such a revolutionary landmark film didn't necessarily have to be so creative with the story, so it's a pleasant enough surprise that it's not something completely nonsensical. Al Jolson was the consumate entertainer of his day, and this is a fine showcase of his talent. And while it's true those looking to find offense can find it easily enough here, it's well worth it to look at the film through a historical perspective.
Super Reviewer
½ December 28, 2007
Well the first feature-length movie with audible dialogue ...
Super Reviewer
November 14, 2011
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see Michel Hazanavicius' lovable The Artist, a film about a silent film actor's fall from stardom as Hollywood made the transition from the Silent Era to the Sound Era in 1927. My love for The Artist sparked my interest in The Jazz Singer, the very first feature-length film to incorporate synchronized sound into its story. Its popularity at the time led to the Talkie Revolution seen in The Artist. I feel that The Jazz Singer's legacy and impact on cinema is much more impressive than the actual quality of the film itself. It is one of the most historically important and influential films of cinema, but by today's standards it is rather dull and has aged very poorly. The acting in particular is somewhat awkwardly portrayed. The storyline of a man running away from home to pursue stardom seems overdone and cliche, but that is not to say that it wasn't original in its time. Perhaps this story was creative or daring in 1927, but it's nothing new for a modern audience. The flow of the film feels clumsy and disjointed as it repeatedly switches back and forth between silent and sound film. The film is even a bit racist at times as well.

When The Jazz Singer is viewed through the eyes of a modern audience, it is difficult to comprehend the impact this seemingly insignificant film had on cinema. It spurred what many view as the greatest revolution in the history of film. Despite its many flaws, I cannot bring myself to fail it, as it has influenced films in so many ways. I can also be somewhat generous with my rating because it had the challenge of being the very first film to be done in this manner. After decades of silent films with title cards being tradition, I can imagine that it would have been hard to make the very first film of its kind, not having any other examples to go by. The Jazz Singer is full of holes but its historical significance cannot go unnoticed.
Super Reviewer
June 30, 2012
It's not just the first movie in history with sound, it's a gripping experience about losing and regaining family over a career achievement.
Lord Naseby
Super Reviewer
½ May 6, 2010
Well, I really do appreciate the historical value, I mean come on, it was the first talkie. It got bring and rather melodramatic at many points. I was watching this and since it was half sound and half silent, it got me thinking. I think that it was silent when it was focusing on his parents, or the old generation and that is represented with silent film. The Jazz Singer's parts are in sound to signify the new generation or era of talking films. it was a decent film that has good historical value. I feel that it has little else to offer other than a few entertaining moments and one comedic moment.
Super Reviewer
May 31, 2008
Amazing! I was extremely impressed with the blending of silent and sound shots that really made me appreciate sound movies so much more.
Super Reviewer
February 5, 2008
I could be ignorant about it, and compare this movie to other films like "Saving Private Ryan", "Titanic", or even new musicals like "Once", and say that this movie isn't nearly as moving, well-made, or good as them...which would be true.

But, as a true fan of movies, I can't deny the significance of "The Jazz Singer". It was the first movie with sound..that is, "synchronous" sound, meaning sound that is actually coming from the actors and not a score added in post-production. And, it wasn't just a gimmick to showcase the new technology...I was actually really entertained, and quite moved by the message of faith and family. Not to mention Al Jolson's delightful and magnetic performance. I'd be stupid not to recognize and acknowledge this film for what it was at the time rather than what it is today. This is a proven classic, and for good reason, and there's really only one rating that would do this revolutionary film justice, a full five stars.
½ March 21, 2014
Disregarding the history, "The Jazz Singer" is a mildly entertaining film. That is the first feature length film to feature synchronized dialogue. Sound had been synced to film before...dialogue in some shorts, and a full synced music track on a feature...but this was the first feature to use dialogue, and it was a huge hit...sound made it's make on film. Filmgoers didn't quite know it, but they ain't heard nothin' yet. Al Jolson plays a guy dying to get his big break as a jazz singer, but his father, a Jewish Cantor, disowns him for not following his father and his ancestors into being a Cantor for the Synagogue. Jolson portrays the anguish of being torn between his passion for jazz and his past of being Jewish well, but most of the acting in this is over the top. No restraint like in some of the better silent films, which this film mostly is (only a few scenes feature sound). Sure the blackface stuff is dated, but I honestly expected it to be more inflammatory. An important landmark in cinema history, but certainly a tad dated.
½ February 4, 2013
Known for the first silent movie ever with audible dialogue, The Jazz Singer is more than just a film with music. It has some great songs and the father/son relationship story is well told. Easily the basis for all movies about an entertainer trying to be accepted by their family. It's a very soild musical that takes its place in film history.

Grade: B+
½ December 28, 2011
"The Jazz Singer" is the experiment that changed cinema forever. This is the first feature-length talkie and its popularity challenged every film studio to begin filming with sound, establishing talkies as the new standard. It is actually a hybrid of a silent film and a talkie, as the musical sequences are the only sections with an accompanying vocal track. I've seen silent films before, but the inclusion of sound really made me notice the silent moments - I chuckled as Debbie Reynolds' monologue from Singing in the Rain about "pantomime on the screen" came to mind, showing me how true that statement was and how revolutionary the inclusion of sound in film became. This film is an accurate representation of life in the 1920's and, although I have trouble getting into silent films, I enjoyed its heartfelt conflict between honoring your parents and pursuing your dreams. The film moved at a good pace and I was never bored with it. Al Jolson IS this entire movie with the perfect personality (and unique voice) to bring talking into the world of film. The beauty of his voice is reason enough to watch this film, as well as the cute love story between him and May McAvoy. It is a true testament to their acting because, without a single word of dialogue between them, you will fall in love with their love story. You can really see the transition between the older generation of silent film stars and the new generation of talkies during the scene of dialogue between Jolson and his mother. He delivers all of the dialogue with vigor as she shyly sits without uttering much of anything. She really seems to be uncomfortable with the scene, but in all of her silent sequences she shines. My only complaint about this film is its use of blackface. I always feel uncomfortable with anything involving blackface, but became okay with it in this circumstance for two reasons. 1. It is culturally significant to this character piece from the 1920's. 2. There is no racial mocking in the two blackface performances (unlike "Babes in Arms"). I can't give this film my highest rating because there are a ton of films that I'd watch a second time before I'd repeat this one, but I truly enjoyed this piece of cinematic history and believe that it should be seen by everyone to appreciate the progression from silent films to talkies.
½ December 13, 2010
watching this film is a bit of surreal experience. the plot seems like an ideal mold for future musicals, except instead of romance and comedy, this one embraces family and cultural drama. as with a lot of silent movies, some of the dialogue cards come across as a bit schmaltzy and over-the-top, but for the most part the writing is pretty above-par for its time. and then from the underscored silence comes synchronized sound and dialogue...which even after so many years strikes you as strangely out-of-place and captivatingly different. for all this film's lovable 1920s hamminess, there are some legitimately artistic and poignant moments. a true historical classic.
September 5, 2009
If I judged films on the revolutionary technical achievements I would really like it. But, holy crap what a yawner!
½ February 12, 2009
Bonus for mentioning Omaha, and having the first movie line, "You ain't heard nothin' yet." Otherwise, a bit lame really.
February 10, 2009
very good..the first movie to incorporate sound..not the first full length motion picture to have sound in the whole thing like most people think....but still this was very good!
½ February 7, 2009
The 1927 film The Jazz Singer is about a jazz singer. It stars Al Jolson and the story is loosely based on his own life. A young Jewish boy comes from a line of Jewish cantors. He wants to be in show business and is disowned by his father. He becomes successful and tries to win his father's forgiveness. The story itself wasn't particularly interesting.

This film is generally remembered as the first talking picture. While this film did indeed have spoken dialogue, I'm not sure this is the first non-silent film ever made and I'm not sure this isn't a silent film. First, the sound-on-disc technology had been around since the early 1920s. D.W. Griffith's short Dream Street features synchronized dialogue. The 1926 feature film Don Juan features pre-recorded sound effects and a musical score, but no spoken dialogue. The Jazz Singer went a little further than those works by having both synchronized dialogue and being feature-length. Still, most of the film is silent with intertitles. There are six musical numbers which are sung. In the middle of two of these musical numbers is a brief bit of dialogue. The first time Jolson talks to the audience who is not supposed to respond and the second time he has a conversation with his mother although most of what she says is unintelligible.

Overall, this wasn't a very good movie. I'll give it some credit for revolutionizing talking pictures, but it probably gets too much credit for this to begin with. It's worth seeing for those who want a very early example of a sound film, but given that it is mostly silent I wouldn't consider this the first real talkie.


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