AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Jazz Singer
Director: Alan Crosland (Dir)
Release Date:   4 Feb 1928
Premiere Information:   New York premiere: 6 Oct 1927
Duration (in mins):   90
Duration (in feet):   8,117
Duration (in reels):   9
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Cast:   Al Jolson (Jakie Rabinowitz [also known as Jack Robin])  
    May McAvoy (Mary Dale)  
    Warner Oland (The Cantor [Papa Rabinowitz])  
    Eugenie Besserer (Sara [Mama] Rabinowitz)  
    Bobby Gordon (Jakie, at age 13)  
    Otto Lederer (Moisha Yudelson [The Kibbitzer])  
    Richard Tucker (Harry Lee)  
    Cantor Josef Rosenblatt ([Himself] Concert Recital)  
    Nat Carr (Levi)  
    William Demarest (Buster Billings)  
    Anders Randolf (Dillings)  
    Will Walling (Doctor)  
    Roscoe Karns (The agent)  
    Myrna Loy (Chorus girl)  

Summary: 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. 

Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
  The Vitaphone Corp.  
Production Text: A Warner Brothers Production
A Warner Brothers Production
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Alan Crosland (Dir)
  Gordon Hollingshead (Asst dir)
Writer: Al Cohn (Adpt)
  Jack Jarmuth (Titles)
Photography: Hal Mohr (Dir of photog)
Film Editor: Harold McCord (Film ed)
Music: Louis Silvers (Mus score and Vitaphone orch dir)
Sound: George R. Groves (Sd)
Special Effects: Nugent Slaughter (Engineering eff)
Production Misc: Fred Jackman (Tech)
  Lewis Geib (Tech)
  Esdras Hartley (Tech)
  F. N. Murphy (Tech)
  "Alpharetta" (Tech)
  Victor Vance (Tech)
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: "Mammy," by Sam Lewis, Joe Young and Walter Davidson; "Toot, Toot, Tootsie! by Gus Kahn, Ernie Erdman and Dan Russo; "Dirty Hands, Dirty Face," music by James V. Monaco, lyrics by Edgar Lewis, Grant Clarke and Al Jolson; "Blue Skies," by Irving Berlin; "Mother of Mine, I Still Have You," by Al Jolson, Louis Silvers and Grant Clarke; "Kol Nidre," traditional hymn.
Composer: Irving Berlin
  Grant Clarke
  Walter Davidson
  Ernie Erdman
  Al Jolson
  Gus Kahn
  Edgar Leslie
  Sam Lewis
  James V. Monaco
  Dan Russo
  Louis Silvers
  Joe Young
Source Text: Based on the short story "The Day of Atonement" by Samson Raphaelson in Everybody's Magazine (Jan 1922) and his play The Jazz Singer (New York, 14 Sep 1925).
Authors: Samson Raphaelson

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. 6/10/1927 dd/mm/yyyy LP24505 Yes

Physical Properties: Si with sd seq: Talking seq, mus score, and sd eff by Vitaphone

Genre: Melodrama
Sub-Genre: with songs
Subjects (Major): Cantors, Jewish
  Fathers and sons
  Jazz music
  Mothers and sons
  New York City--Broadway
  Yom Kippur
Subjects (Minor): Chicago (IL)
  Death and dying
  San Francisco (CA)
  Racial impersonation
  Railroad stations
  Theatrical agents

Note: 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 cafĂ©'s patrons show their appreciation by striking little gavels on their tables. The first words of spoken dialogue 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 on disk 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. A Vitaphone trailer for The Jazz Singer , which was made to promote the picture as it opened across the country, featured actor John Miljan, who spoke about the picture and introduced brief excerpts. As noted by film historians, the trailer, which was the first sound trailer, actually contained more spoken dialogue than The Jazz Singer itself.
       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 15 Oct 1958 HR 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 6 Oct 1977, the United States Postal Service issued a special commemorative stamp marking the fiftieth anniversary of talking pictures. At that time, according to a LAT 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 13 Oct 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. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Film Daily   23 Oct 1927.   
The Film Spectator   4 Feb 1928   pp. 7-8.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Oct 1958.   
Los Angeles Times   5 Sep 1977.   
MPN   28 Jan 1928.   
MPW   22 Oct 1927.   
New York Times   7 Oct 1927   p. 24.
PM (Journal)   23 Jun 1946.   
Variety   12 Oct 1927   p. 16.
Variety   6 May 1977   
Variety   7 May 1927.   

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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