Warner decideded to take a major risk by investing in the Vitaphone sound system for “Don Juan,” a silent film with some music and sound effects. Then in 1927, the studio adapted Samson Raphaelson Broadway hit “The Jazz Singer,” with actual musical numbers but the rest was non-talking.
Al Jolson stars as Jakie Rabinowitz, the son of Jewish cantor Warner Oland. Rejecting family tradition, Jakie becomes a cabaret-entertainer with the WASPish name Jack Robin.
When Jack visita his parents, he is warmly received by his mother (Eugenie Besserer), but is rebuffed by his father, who feels that Jack is a traitor to his heritage. Both father and son are stubborn and refuse to compromise and reconcile.
On the eve of his biggest triumph, Jack receives word that his father is dying. Out of respect, Jack attends religious services and sings the Kol Nidre in his father’s place.
All in all, about 18 minutes or “The Jazz Singer” qualify as “talkie” sequences, built around Jolson’s musical numbers.
Jolson’s singing and talk, in the scene where he chants “Blue Skies” to his mother was an exciting highlight. Jolson’s naturalistic chatter pleased audiences, who cheered.
Despite shortcomings of a sentimantal (borderlne schmaltzy) tale and amateurish stilted acting, “The Jazz Singer” was a box-office smash, running for months at the theaters. Jolson was not a great dramatic actor but he was an amazing entertainer.
There have been several remakes of “The Jazz Singer,” most notably in 1952, with Danny Thomas as the cantor’s son and Eduard Franz as his father, and in 1980, with Laurence Olivier as the father.
Warner followed its partial-talkie, “The Jazz Singer,” with its first all-talkie, “The Lights of New York,” in July 1928, a melodrama that grossed $2 million due to its novelty. Louis B. Mayer, MGM’s top exec, who had earlier called sound a “passing fad,” decided to follow Warner and produce talkies at MGM. He thus added sound effects and music to the largely silent feature, “White Shadows in the South Seas.”
Oscar Nominations: 2
Adaptation: Alfred Cohn
Engineering Effects: Nugent Slaughter
Oscar Awards: 1
Special Award for Warner studio “for producing the pioneer outstanding talking picture, which has revolutionized the industry.”
The Adaptation Oscar went to Benjamin Glazer for “Seventh Heaven,” and the Engineering Effects Award to Roy Romeroy for “Wings,” which won Best Picture.
Al Jolson as Jakie Rabinowitz (Jack …
May McAvoy as Mary Dale
Warner Oland as Cantor Rabinowitz
Eugénie Besserer as Sara Rabinowitz
William Demarest as Buster Billings
Running time: 89 Minutes
Released on October 6, 1927.
DVD: October 16, 2007 (for the film’s 80th anniversary)