Cast & Crew
In New York City, at the turn of the century, Cantor Rabinowitz is determined that his thirteen-year-old son Jakie become the next in a long family line of cantors. On Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, he looks forward to the time when Jakie will take his place in the temple, but his loving wife Sara is concerned that their son wants to do something else. Meanwhile, Jakie is seen singing in a saloon by neighborhood kibbutzer Moishe Yudelson, who then rushes to inform the cantor. Jakie is then dragged home and given a whipping by his father. Later, Jakie tells his heart-broken mother that he is going to be on the stage, then runs away. Years later, in San Francisco, Jakie has become a singer performing at Coffee Dan's restaurant. When he sings the poignant song "Dirty Hands, Dirty Face" for the audience, followed by the jazz tune "Toot, Toot, Tootsie," vaudeville dancer Mary Dale, who is in the audience, is intrigued. She tells him that he has what other jazz singers do not, a tear in his voice, and helps him to get a job with her troupe. Some time later, while performing in Chicago, Jakie, who has changed his name to Jack Robin, goes to a concert of sacred songs given by famed Cantor Josef Rosenblatt, and is deeply moved. Through the years, Jack has sent letters home boasting of his success but has never reconciled with his father. Jack has grown to love Mary and is saddened when she leaves the troupe for a chance to appear in a Broadway show. A short time later, Jack is told by his agent that he, too, has been offered a part in a Broadway show, and he looks forward to a return home to New York and his mother. In the autumn of 1927, on Cantor Rabinowitz's sixtieth birthday, Jack pays a surprise visit home. Although Mrs. Rabinowitz is over-joyed to see her son, who promises to move them to a new house in the Bronx and buy her a new pink dress, Cantor Rabinowitz is furious to hear his son singing jazz music in the house. They have a violent argument over Jack's preference for show business over the family tradition of being a cantor, and Jack leaves after his father bitterly calls him a "jazz singer." On Yom Kippur, Cantor Rabinowitz is too ill to sing the Kol Nidre in the temple and dreams that his son will sing in his place. Yudelson goes to see Jack at the theater where April Follies , the show in which he is co-starring with Mary, is about to open, and asks him to sing in the temple. Although Jack is torn, he refuses. Just before Jack is to go on stage and perform his role in the dress rehearsal, Yudelson returns with Mrs. Rabinowitz, who begs her son to reconsider. Although Jack's heart is pulling at him, Mary reminds him of what he had just told her, that his career means everything to him. Jack refuses to leave the dress rehearsal and, seeing Jack on stage, Mrs. Rabinowitz realizes that her son no longer belongs to her and leaves. When his number is over, Jack is told by Mary that his mother realizes that his life is now show business, but Jack cannot deny what is in his heart, and rushes to see his father. Jack then goes to the temple and, after Cantor Rabinowitz hears his son singing the Kol Nidre, he dies in peace. Although the show's opening had to be canceled because of Jack, he is soon a Broadway star and sings "Mammy" as his mother and Yudelson proudly sit in the front row, and Mary happily watches from the wings.
Cantor Josef Rosenblatt
George R. Groves
James V. Monaco
F. N. Murphy
Best Writing, Screenplay
The Jazz Singer (1927)
Experiments in sound film had been occurring almost since the birth of silent pictures, but Warner Bros. - until then considered a second-string studio - took the initiative in creating sound feature films after setting up its own radio station in 1927. Using its newly developed Vitaphone process, the studio added a score and sound effects to Don Juan (1926), a John Barrymore silent already in production. The success of this film, plus a series of musical shorts, inspired the creation of the first real "talkie" feature, The Jazz Singer.
Although Jolson had been the model for the central character in the Broadway play that became the basis for The Jazz Singer, the role of a young cantor who defies family tradition to become a pop singer had been played onstage by George Jessel. Warners bought the film rights for $50,000 and also signed Jessel, who balked when he learned the film would include sound and demanded an additional $10,000 to perform the songs. Instead, Warners turned to Jolson, and film history was made. The Jazz Singer proved a sensation at the box office, earning $3.5 million in profits on an investment of $500,000. As its special Oscar indicated, the film sparked the sound revolution and helped turn Warner Bros. into a major studio. Jolson's next film for Warners, The Singing Fool, was an even bigger hit and grossed more than any other movie of the 1920s.
Director: Alan Crosland
Screenplay: Alfred A. Cohn, Jack Jarmuth (titles), from Samson Raphaelson play Day of Atonement
Cinematography: Hal Mohr
Editing: Harold McCord
Original Music: Louis Silvers, Irving Berlin (song "Blue Skies," uncredited), James V. Monaco (song "Dirty Hands, Dirty Face")
Cast: Al Jolson (Jakie Rabinowitz/Jack Robin), May McAvoy (Mary Dale), Warner Oland (Cantor Rabinowitz), Eugenie Besserer (Sara Rabinowitz), Otto Lederer (Moisha Yudelson), Bobby Gordon (Jakie, age 13).
BW-89m. Descriptive Video.
by Roger Fristoe
The Jazz Singer (1927)
Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothin' yet! Wait a minute, I tell ya! You ain't heard nothin'! You wanna hear "Toot, Toot, Tootsie"? All right, hold on, hold on...- Jack Robin
Lou, listen. Play "Toot, Toot, Tootsie," three chorus, you understand. In the third chorus, I whistle. Now give it to 'em hard and heavy, go right ahead.- Jack Robin
First movie with audible dialogue.
George Jessel, star of the stage version, was asked to play the role in the film, but refused. Eddie Cantor was also asked, and also refused.
Synchronized sound is used only for a few scenes containing songs. Spoken dialogue, such as the famous line "You ain't heard nothing yet," occurs only immediately after songs. All other dialogue, even including offstage dialogue during one song, is displayed on intertitles as usual for silent movies.
Al Jolsen's famous line "you ain't heard nothin' yet" was an adlib. The intention was that the film should only have synchronized music, not speech, but Jolsen dropped in the line (which he used in his stage act) after the song "Dirty Hands, Dirty Face". The director wisely left it in.
Not wanting to risk losing the disks, Warner Bros. had all of the Vitaphone sound for the film transferred to optical tracks on the side of the film itself in the 1930s.
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 café'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.