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The Jazz Singer

This was the film that revolutionized the motion picture industry, spelled disaster for hundreds of leading players who couldn't or wouldn't speak their lines, and made stars out of unknowns dying to give voice to films. With THE JAZZ SINGER the movies finally--and forever--talked! Besides the songs, there's actually only a smattering of dialog in the film, when Al Jolson's Jakie Rabinowitz talks to his mother (Eugenie Besserer)--once privately, as he sits at a piano, and another time while she sits in an audience watching him perform. The story, such as it is, concerns Jakie and his longing to have a Broadway career as a jazz singer. However, his father (Warner Oland) insists that Jakie eventually take over as the synagogue's leading cantor, a position which the father occupies. This difference leads to much conflict between father and son, until Jakie breaks with his father completely, taking the name of Jack Robin and going on the stage, with encouragement from his girl friend (May McAvoy), a glamorous showgirl. Jakie gets his big break and is about to appear in a Broadway production when, hearing that his father has suddenly been taken ill, he hurries home to find the cantor dying and to sing the "Kol Nidre," which delays the opening of the show. But he does open on Broadway to become the great Jazz Singer, with his mother rooting him on in the audience. Moviegoers around the world flocked to see this history-making film, and were electrified by Jolson's words as he ad-libbed his way into immortality with these remarks to Besserer: "Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothin' yet. Wait a minute, I tell you. You ain't heard nothin' yet. Do you want to hear `Toot, Toot, Tootsie'?" (The first voice heard in the film is actually that of Bobby Gordon, who plays Jakie as a child, singing in a saloon during the opening sequence.) By today's standards, THE JAZZ SINGER is mawkish, crudely filmed, and full of schmaltz. Yet it remains fascinating in its historical value, not only for its technical innovation, but because director Alan Crosland took his cameras on location into New York's Jewish ghetto around Hester and Orchard streets and then along the Great White Way of Broadway, showing the colorful, divergent, and now vanished ways of immigrant and show business life. THE JAZZ SINGER netted $3,500,000 upon release, an enormous sum for its day, instantly converting Warner Bros. from a struggling studio into one of the three biggest filmmaking organizations in the US. The man who brought it all about, Sam Warner, died at the premature age of 41, one day before THE JAZZ SINGER's New York premiere on August 6, 1927. The film was remade with Danny Thomas in 1953 by Warners, and again in 1980 with Neil Diamond and Laurence Olivier, though neither of these versions had anything like the power of the original, which received a special Academy Award for its innovative achievement. Songs include "Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goodbye" (Gus Kahn, Ernie Erdman, Dan Russo), "Blue Skies" (Irving Berlin), "My Gal Sal" (Paul Dresser), "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee" (Wolfe Gilbert, Lewis E. Muir), "Dirty Hands, Dirty Face" (Edgar Leslie, Grant Clarke, Jolson, James V. Monaco), "Mother, I Still Have You" (Jolson, Louis Silvers).