The Jazz Singer is a 1927 musical drama film directed by Alan Crosland and starring Al Jolson. It holds the distinction of being the first ever sound film and although it does have many achievements, the story is not one of them.
Yes, in terms of storytelling The Jazz Singer fails unfortunately. It has a great subject matter of a young Jew defying his family traditions by singing jazz instead of Jewish church music and the troubled relationship and conflict between the father and the son is a poignant and relevant one. However, that plot is executed rather poorly. The whole emphasized and dramatic angle is just too much with the film being at times, mainly in the third act, incredibly and frustratingly melodramatic to the point of being ridiculous. But I even could have forgiven its immense melodramatic tone if it weren’t for that third act. The choice to give the protagonist an ultimate choice between singing in a Broadway show and singing to his father before his death at the same time is just so incredibly cliched and so unbearably overdramatic. It may sound as if I give this movie a hard time, but I honestly liked the film and even the story was engaging up to that point. It’s just that the third act ruins it for me.
It’s an interesting film for a variety of reasons. It is heralded by many to be the first true talkie when in actuality it is mostly a silent film. It is in fact silent in most of its dialogue and plot points, but the music when sung is accompanied by sound which makes it the first true musical. But the movie also has a couple of sequences where the dialogue is heard with the lines spoken between the mother and our main character played by Al Jolson and also in the scene where Al says that famous quote ‘You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!‘ being especially powerful, memorable and so iconic. That half-sound, half-silent approach is done for better and for worse. It is groundbreaking and interesting, but also a bit weird. But I overall liked it both in its execution and for its historical values.
The characters are solidly developed and the acting is mostly superb. Jakie is a good central character and his dilemmas and his love for jazz are well realized. His father is an important character and a realistic one with his traditional views. Their relationship is a heartbreaking one. As for his mother Sara, she is an interesting character for her polar opposite view of his son and she is a wonderful, sympathetic person that is unfortunately caught in this conflict between the two. And the Broadway people are not as well developed, but are solid nonetheless. As I said, the acting is great. Both Warner Oland and Eugenie Besserer did a great job in their difficult roles, but it is Al Jolson who is absolutely magnificent in the title role with his evident charisma and great acting abilities. He was excellent both in his silent and in his talking sequences, proving that he could do both which is such an admirable feat.
The movie is quite solidly directed and it is also fairly well paced, although the music is not spread appropriately throughout. The music is solid and Jolson is such a terrific singer for sure. The tone is too melodramatic later, but before that, it is well handled with both dramatic and comedic moments present. The dialogue is way too simplistic which, coupled with its melodramatic tone, is the movie’s biggest flaw. But it is authentic in its approach and its groundbreaking, very well realized use of sound. It is a revolutionary movie for sure, but the one which is weaker in comparison to the other 1927 films as the year is one of the strongest ever and The Jazz Singer is just too flawed in terms of storytelling to be enjoyed more.
The Jazz Singer has a terrific, standout performance from Al Jolson, well developed characters, engaging story, a couple of famous moments and iconic quotes and it is an interesting half-sound, half-silent experiment, but it is just so problematic in terms of storytelling with an over-reliance on excessive melodrama and overly simplistic dialogue. It is an interesting film and a groundbreaking one for sure, but still a troublesome one because the script is so-so and it is way over-the-top.