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The Jazz Singer

The Jazz Singer(1927)

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The film opens with the following written prologue: "In every living soul, a spirit cries for expression-perhaps this plaintive, wailing song of Jazz is, after all, the misunderstood utterance of a prayer." According to modern sources, author Samson Raphaelson was inspired to write his short story "A Day of Atonement" after seeing Jolson perform "Where the Black-Eyed Susans Grow" on stage. In 1925, the short story was expanded into a novel (co-written with Arline De Haas) as well as a hit Broadway play, both titled The Jazz Singer. Although George Jessel starred in the Broadway show, Warner Bros. advertised the film as a "biography" of Jolson, whose father, a cantor, had initially opposed his show business career. The film, which has dialogue and musical sequences, begins as a silent picture with background music. The first spoken dialogue occurs in the "Coffee Dan's" sequence, in which "Jakie Rabinowitz" (Al Jolson) sings the song "Dirty Hands, Dirty Face," after which the caf's patrons show their appreciation by striking little gavels on their tables. The first words are uttered by Jolson, who says, "Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain't heard nothin' yet. Wait a minute I tell ya, you ain't heard nothin'. You want to hear 'Toot, Toot, Tootsie'?" Those words, which many contemporary and modern critics have likened to a metaphor for the birth of "talking" pictures, have frequently been repeated in documentaries about the history of motion pictures. Another sound sequence, in which "Jack" talks with his mother, then plays the piano and sings "Blue Skies," ends when "Cantor Rabinowitz" enters the room and shouts "Stop." Experimental sound sequences, utilizing a variety of techniques, had been produced periodically, even before the beginning of the twentieth century. Among them was the 1926 Warner Bros. film Don Juan, which had musical accompaniment and sound effects. Although The Jazz Singer was not the first "talking picture," or the first to have some synchronized sound or dialogue segments, its enormous success was a significant factor in the rapid transition of the motion picture industry from silent to sound films. The film received Academy Award nominations for Engineering Effects (Nugent Slaughter) and Adapted Screenplay (Al Cohn). Warner Bros., as the producers of the film, received a special Academy Award for "The Jazz Singer, the pioneer outstanding talking picture, which has revolutionized the industry." Jolson, who had been a long-standing star in vaudeville and the Broadway stage, made a number of additional films for Warner Bros. during the late 1920s and early 1930s and became one of the biggest stars of the early sound era. The picture has had several "special anniversary screenings" since 1927, and was officially reissued in 1958. According to a October 15, 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was to open at the Symphony Theatre, where it was to be "heftily exploited to cash in where possible on the 'novelty value' of the oldtimer." On October 6, 1977, the United States Postal Service issued a special commemorative stamp marking the fiftieth anniversary of talking pictures. At that time, according to a Los Angeles Times article, the Los Angeles City Council member for Hollywood suggested that the old Warner Bros. Hollywood studio, where the picture was filmed and the home of television station KTLA and radio station KMPC, be turned into an official cultural monument; however, this apparently was not done. Raphaelson's story was also the basis of a 1953 Warner Bros. picture (see below), a one-hour drama broadcast on NBC's Ford Television Theater on October 13, 1959, directed by Ralph Nelson and starring Jerry Lewis, and a 1980 film, also titled The Jazz Singer, directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Neil Diamond.