In the early days of cinema, movies were, for the most part, silent films. This usually meant that a film would be shot, edited, and put together for a local theatre to showcase to the public. Then, in 1927, Warner Bros. released “The Jazz Singer”, in which the studio advertised as the first “talking” motion picture. Unfortunately, that statement is false, as the majority of the film is silent with only a few sound bites coming from the songs as performed by Al Jolson. But it is still a historical movie to gander at. Because, for the time, audiences were finally able to hear their favorite actors and actresses rather than reading title cards that came with silent films. “The Jazz Singer” is best known for its historical importance in Hollywood, but if we look a little closer at the film, then we might discover something new.
Based off the play by Samson Raphaelson, the story centers on Jack Robin (Jolson in a performance that’s very histrionic) who only wants to be a successful entertainer. Jack does not want to be like his father, who is the head Cantor at the local Jewish synagogue in New York City. One day, Jack comes home to perform a minstrel review for the public, which just so happens to open on the Day of Atonement. A sacred Jewish tradition that Jack has avoided since he was a young boy. On the eve of the Day of Atonement, Jack learns that his father is dying. Jack must then decide which is better: his career, or his family that he left behind.
“The Jazz Singer” is remarkable in a few ways. First and foremost, this movie brought sound to the film industry. Because of this, many other studios followed suite. Finally, the movie brought forth the death of silent cinema. Many actors and actresses of the silent cinema, including one Charlie Chaplin, thought the idea of the studios putting them in a sound picture would not further their career. Unfortunately, the studios said “Get with the program, or you’re fired.” Eventually, most of the silent film stars, including Chaplin, moved onto sound films. All thanks to “The Jazz Singer” and its use of putting sound into the movies. In fact, the 1952 film “Singin’ in the Rain” describes the process of how studios transferred from silent cinema to talking pictures.
Despite the praises that this film gets, “The Jazz Singer” is a severely flawed movie. By this I mean that there are numerous things wrong with the film. For one thing, the film has a look to it that you can watch it and know it was for a certain era. The sound is pretty dated, but you must understand that this was the early days of talking pictures. The editing is a bit sloppy, but that’s to be expected in early movies. Finally, the entire production fells like it’s attempting to be a full-on stage show.
But what really bothers me is the story. It’s pretty much something we all know quite well. The father of the family wants the son to follow in his footsteps, but the son has other ambitions. It’s only until the end of the movie that the father realizes his mistake and ultimately forgives his son in the process before the father dies.
It’s pretty corny and very predictable. In fact, Hollywood has remade “The Jazz Singer” twice. Once in 1952 done in color, and finally in 1980 with Neil Diamond. It should be clear that if Hollywood decides to remake this movie again, the writers better produce a pretty good story.
Overall, the 1927 version of “The Jazz Singer” should be watched for its historical importance, and that’s about it. With the dawn of the sound cinema to lead the way for the future, “The Jazz Singer” is probably a poor choice to start the era of with, but it’s still good, nonetheless. Eventually, the technology improved in the sound industry and films got better. Again, this is all thanks to Warner Bros. 1927 movie “The Jazz Singer”.