The Jazz Singer (1927) Blu-ray Review
“Wait a minute folks…you ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” When he uttered these words in the 1927 film THE JAZZ SINGER, Al Jolson wasn’t really telling the truth. Though THE JAZZ SINGER is often referred to as the first motion picture with spoken dialogue there were actually several short films, including some with Jolson, which combined sound with picture. That being said, THE JAZZ SINGER is one of those films that anyone who loves movies should see at least one time.
The story finds young 14 year old Jacob Robinowitz, son of the local Cantor, plying his talents in the local tavern. Gifted with a beautiful voice, Jacob’s father wants him to follow in his footsteps and sing with him at Temple. But Jacob wants to be a “jazz singer” and, after another argument with his father, he runs off to pursue his dream. Now calling himself Jack Robins, he begins to grow in reputation until his fame returns him to New York. It is while there that Jack must make a decision that will affect the rest of his life.
The one thing that I’ve always loved about silent-era films is the acting that the performers must do with their eyes. The slightest glance, eye brow raise or widening of the eyes tell so much more of the story then the title cards do. THE JAZZ SINGER uses these techniques to its betterment. The eyes tell the story, whether it be the wide eyes of Jacob (Jolson), expressing his joy in singing, the sad eyes of Cantor Rabinowitz (Oland), as his son, quietly breaks his heart or the bright eyes of Mary Dale (McAvoy), a woman that takes Jake under her wing and falls in love with him. The performances help carry the story, which, even though it was nominated for an adapted screenplay Academy Award, in reality is rather simple and familiar.
Of course the big hook in THE JAZZ SINGER is the sound. I can imagine what it would have been like sitting in a dark theatre (or, as one of the title cards during the film spells it “theyater”) and suddenly being amazed by the sound coming from the screen. The film captures Jolson at the height of his popularity. He is in fine voice and the sound on the disc is clear and strong. I should also note that, as was popular at the time, Jolson delivers some of his singing in black face. It’s not very P/C of course, but an acceptable form of entertainment in the 1920s. Also included are the overture and exit music pieces, which makes the entire film watching experience special. And fans of the “6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game should take note that one of the actors in the film is 35 year old William Demarest, probably best known as Uncle Charlie on MY THREE SONS. Next time you play and someone says Kevin Bacon to Al Jolson may I suggest the following: Kevin Bacon was in SLEEPERS with Robert DeNiro who was in GOODFELLAS with Paul Sorvino who was in NIXON with Madeline Kahn who was in WON TON TON: THE DOG THAT SAVED HOLLYWOOD with William Demarest who was in THE JAZZ SINGER with Al Jolson! Good luck!
This is basically a reissue of the 3-disc boxed set from 2007 but now featuring the title film on Blu ray.
Video: The transfer is incredibly crisp, especially for a film that’s 85 years old. It is presented in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio.
Audio: The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. Again, considering the age of the original film and sound elements the sound is excellent.
The three disc set comes with an 88-page Digi-book that reproduces many of the extra goodies that came in the 2007 set. One thing that did catch my attention was that Warner Brothers, on page one, issue what amounts to an apology for any perceived ethnic and racial prejudices found in the film. No offense meant…no offense taken. The two supplemental DVD discs are modeled after the original Vitaphone discs that traveled with each print of THE JAZZ SINGER. If you are a fan of early Hollywood then consider this package of extras a late Christmas present!
Audio Commentary featuring film historian Ron Hutchinson, founder of the Vitaphone Project, and band leader Vince Giordano who, with his band, The Nighthawks, plays period music on such shows as HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” Both Hutchinson and Giordano are knowledgeable men and they keep their commentary entertaining.
A Plantation Act (9:59): An early film short, actually produced before THE JAZZ SINGER. This one features Al Jolson in black face singing “Red Red Robin,” “April Showers” and “Rock-a-bye Your Baby (To a Dixie Melody)” The short ends with various fade outs and then close-ups of Jolson waving and mouthing “thank you” as if a built in curtain call was added to the short.
An Intimate Dinner in Celebration of Warner Bros’ Silver Jubilee (11:15): From 1930, a get together heralding the studios 25th Anniversary and featuring glimpses of such WB stars as Loretta young, Walter Pigeon, Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and such musical talents as Jerome Kern and Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein.
I Love to Singa (8:15): A Merry Melodies cartoon telling a “Jazz Singer” like story about a musical family of owls. The one that wants to be a singer is named Owl Jolson.
Hollywood Handicap (10:19): A look at a day at the track where the horses are all owned by Hollywood stars, among them Mickey Rooney and Bing Crosby. Jolson and his then wife, Ruby Keeler, also appear. Getting back to being P/C, a subplot here deals with a group of black singers that eat ribs and then sing while the wealthy throw 50 cent pieces at their feet. Directed by Buster Keaton.
A Day at Santa Anita (18:00): Another track-bound story about a little girl and a horse, which again features appearances by celebs including Jolson and Keeler.
Lux Radio Show – June 2, 1947 presentation of “The Jazz Singer” (58:19): A radio dramatization, featuring Jolson, of the film. I have to admit that, with actual dialogue to perform here, that Jolson was a great choice for the role. His performance here is quite good. Added treat: actual commercials from the show.
The other (2) discs included in the package are standard DVDs
The Dawn of Sound: How Movies Learned to Talk (1:25:13): This is a feature-length documentary which follows the progression of sound from the early days of Edison on.
Surviving Sound Excerpts from the 1929 film “Gold Diggers of Broadway” (15:45): Rescued outtakes from the film, in an early color process. Songs included are “Tip Toe Through The Tulips” and “The Finale.”
Also included are a collection of shorts that deal with the early days of sound, including
The Voice From the Screen (15:30): A short film that demonstrates the Vitaphone system and follows the making of a short
Finding His Voice (10:45): A cartoon produced by Max Fleisher.
The Voice That Thrilled the World (18:04): A Warner’s short on the history of sound.
Okay for Sound (19:46): Celebrates the 20th Anniversary of the Vitaphone System.
When the Talkies Were Young (20:22): Another Warner’s short looking back on the early talkies of the studio, including early appearances by James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, Boris Karloff and Edward G. Robinson.
The final disc is a treasure trove for fans of the early days of Hollywood.
VITAPHONE SHORTS (3:35:08)
From 1926-1936, this is the best of a decade of shorts that featured rare musical and comedy performances. Included are early bits from George Burns and Gracie Allen, the Foy Family and Baby Rose Marie, who is best known as just Rose Marie from “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” The shorts included are:
Elsie Janis in a Vaudeville Act: “Behind the Lines”, Bernado De Pace: “Wizard of the Mandolin”, Van and Schneck: “The Pennant Winning Battery of Songland”, Blossom Seeley and Benny Fields with the Music Boxes Hazel Green and Company, The Night Court, The Police Quartette, Ray Mayer & Edith Evans: “When East Meets West”, Adele Rowland: “Stories in Song”, Stoll, Flynn and Company: “The Jazzmania Quintet”, The Ingenues in “The Band Beautiful”, The Foy Family in “Chips off the Old Block”, Dick Rich and His Melodious Monarchs, Gus Arnheim and His Ambassadors, Shaw and Lee: “The Beau Brummels”, Roof Garden Revue: Directed by Larry Ceballos, Trixie Friganza in “My Bag O’ Tricks”, Green’s Twentieth Century Faydettes, Sol Violinsky: “The Eccentric Entertainer”, Ethel Sinclair and Marge La Marr in “At the Seashore”, Paul Tremaine and His Aristocrats, Baby Rose Marie, “The Child Wonder”, Burns & Allen in “Lambchops”, Joe Frisco in “The Happy Hottentots”