“Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothin' yet! Wait a minute, I tell ya! You ain't heard nothin'!”
- Jack Robin
Released in 1927, it goes without saying that The Jazz Singer is an important film. It was the movie that broke the sound barrier, the one that made Warner Bros a Hollywood studio to reckon with and, almost single-handedly, changed the face of the cinematic landscape.
But is it is a good movie? From a dramatic storytelling perspective, has it held up over the eight-plus decades?
The answer to those questions are somewhat complicated. The easy response? Yes, The Jazz Singer has held up. A simple as the story is, as maudlin as the family dynamics at its core can be and as obvious as the final moments are, there is entertainment value to be found in this movie, director Alan Crosland doing a great job keeping the momentum up and making sure the more emotional dramatics stay front and center.
But the story, even for 1927, is as cliché as it gets, the plot following wannabe star Jackie Rabinowitz (Al Jolson as an adult, Robert Gordon as a teenager) as he strays from his Jewish traditions and the rulings of his father the elder Rabinowitz (future Charlie Chan Warner Oland) as he pursues his dreams. It’s old school versus new school, the teaching of faith versus the desires to be a vaudeville star, all of it going in the directions you expect and leading to conclusions that are more than readily anticipated.
There’s not a lot more to say. Jolson was a star, no question, his transformation into a singing, dancing sensation 100-percent believable. While he was not the first person wanted for the role in hindsight it’s hard to imagine anyone playing the part any better than he did, and while the actor never truly built on the major impact his appearance in this film caused (the biopic The Jolson Story notwithstanding) that doesn’t make him any less a mesmerizing talent.
It should be noted that the movie isn’t exactly a ‘talkie,’ per se, the only sound moments coming during, and at times just a bit before and little bit after, the explosively entertaining musical numbers. What the movie did, of course, was prove sound was viable as far as cinema was concerned, and the changes that would wash through Hollywood afterwards were of course massive. The importance of The Jazz Singer cannot be denied, and as such its place in movie history is assured. Thankfully, though, the film still entertains, and while it’s far from perfect (and while the ‘black face’ sequences are a little uncomforting if you judge them by modern standards) that doesn’t make watching it any less fun.
The Jazz Singer is presented on a single-layer 25GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1.33:1/1080p transfer.
This Blu-ray features an English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono soundtrack along with a Polish Dolby Digital Mono track and features optional English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean and Polish subtitles.
Extras here are ported over from the previous three-disc DVD special edition and include:
DISC ONE (Blu-ray)
· Audio Commentary with Ron Hutchinson and Vince Giordano
· Vintage Shorts Featuring Al Jolson
i. A Plantation Act (9:59)
ii. Hollywood Handicap (10:19)
iii. A Day at Santa Anita (18:03)
· An Intimate Dinner in Celebration of Warner Bros.' Silver Jubilee (11:15)
· “I Love to Singa” (8:15)
· Radio Show Adaptation (58:20)
· Original Theatrical Trailer (7:10)
DISC TWO (DVD)
· The Dawn of Sound: How Movies Learned to Talk (1:25:14)
· Surviving Sound Excerpts from 1929's Gold Diggers of Broadway (15:45)
· Studio Shorts Celebrating the Early Sound Era
i. The Voice from the Screen (15:31)
ii. Finding His Voice (10:46)
iii. The Voice that Thrilled the World (18:04)
iv. Okay for Sound (19:46)
v. When the Talkies Were Young (20:22)
DISC THREE (DVD)
· Vitaphone Shorts from the Warner Bros. Vaults (1926-1936)
i. Elsie Janis in a Vaudeville Act: "Behind the Lines" (7:26)
ii. Bernado De Pace: "Wizard of the Mandolin" (10:29)
iii. Van and Schenck: "The Pennant Winning Battery of Songland" (9:22)
iv. Blossom Seeley and Bennie Fields with the Music Boxes (9:43)
v. Hazel Green & Company (8:12)
vi. The Night Court (9:30)
vii. The Police Quartette (8:09)
viii. Ray Mayer & Edith Evans in "When East Meets West" (8:43)
ix. Adele Rowland: "Stories in Song" (9:44)
x. Stoll, Flynn & Company: The 'Jazzmania Quintette' (9:38)
xi. The Ingenues: "The Band Beautiful" (9:14)
xii. The Foy Family in "Chips off the Old Block" (7:42)
xiii. Dick Rich and His Melodious Monarchs (9:37)
xiv. Gus Arnheim and His Ambassadors (9:40)
xv. Shaw & Lee: "The Beau Brummels" (8:43)
xvi. The Roof Garden Revue Directed by Larry Ceballos (9:43)
xvii. Trixie Friganza in "My Bag O' Tricks" (10:02)
xviii. Green's Twentieth Century Faydetts (7:13)
xix. Sol Violinsky: "The Eccentric Entertainer" (7:17)
xx. Ethel Sinclair and Marge La Marr: "At the Seashore" (8:20)
xxi. Paul Tremaine and His Aristocrats (9:29)
xxii. Baby Rose Marie: "The Child Wonder" (8:34)
xxiii. Burns & Allen in "Lambchops" (8:01)
xxiv. Joe Frisco in "The Happy Hottentots" (10:41)
It’s a lot of stuff, all of it worthy of discovery. While quality levels obviously waiver, the majority of these shorts, cartoons and original Vitaphone efforts are rather extraordinary. While students of cinema will undoubtedly want to dive into every sin
gle facet of this three-disc edition, lovers of classic film and people who just want to sit back and be entertained will also find much to obsess over here. It’s a magnificent collection, and one I’m sure I’ll be obsessing over for many years to come.
The set comes in impressive 39-Page DigiBook packaging filled with even more information, classic illustrations and numerous extras sure to delight just about anyone.
The Jazz Singer isn’t so much a great film as it is a really, REALLY important one. It helps, of course, that it’s also incredibly entertaining, making the watching of it something fun instead of nothing more than a cinematic history lesson. Warner’s Blu-ray presentation is fantastic, fans of the film owing it to themselves to add this indelible piece of movie history to their own hi-def libraries.