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The Jazz Singer

August 24, 2010

35. The Jazz Singer
Directed by Alan Crosland
USA, 1927
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Rachel
Second viewing


Jakie Rabinowitz (Al Jolson) is disowned by his cantor father when it becomes apparent that he wants to become a jazz singer. Jakie changes his name to Jack Robin and works hard to achieve success. The day before Jack’s big break, his father becomes ill and there is no-one to sing at the synagogue for the Day of Atonement. Jack realises he has to choose between his career and his faith.

Essential Scene:

In every living soul, a spirit cries out for expression — perhaps this plaintive, wailing song of Jazz is, after all, the misunderstood utterance of a prayer.

The Jazz Singer opens with beautiful shots of the New York ghetto. While Cantor Rabinowitz (Warner Oland) gets ready for the beginning of Yom Kippur, his young son Jakie is singing old rag time songs at a saloon nearby. The cantor wonders where he is, as Jakie is due to sing at the Synagogue. When a friend of the family sees Jakie performing, he visits the cantor to let him know what he has witnessed. The cantor rushes to the saloon and drags Jakie home. The cantor’s wife tells him that Jakie isn’t like them; that he has more of an independent mind when it comes to their traditions.

But Papa – our boy, he does not think like we do.

The cantor accuses Jakie of misusing the beautiful voice God gave him and gets ready to punish him. Jakie threatens to leave home if he beats him again, but the cantor does as he pleases and beats Jakie off-screen in a locked room. We only know of the beating by his mother’s anguished face. A dishevelled Jakie comes out of the room and says goodbye to his mother before leaving.

The cantor starts the service at the Synagogue, and his wife looks on in tears as she knows her only son is no longer a part of her life.


The Jazz Singer quite daringly tackles the subjects of organised religion, tradition and freedom of choice. Jack Robin had to end the family tradition of the son taking his father’s profession, but it did not mean his love for his faith had died. Should children in religious families be given more freedom when it comes to their own beliefs and lives?

The Jazz Singer was the first film to use synchronised sound. It is not a full talkie; so to a modern day viewer the sudden switch to title cards after a sound sequence is a bit jarring. But the haunting songs of the cantor and the realistic portrayal of the Jewish faith make The Jazz Singer a fascinating piece of cinematic history. (The jazz music ain’t half bad either!)

Fascinating Fact Double Whammy!

  1. This film was the inspiration behind the Simpsons episode “Like Father, Like Clown.”
  2. Al Jolson’s father was a cantor.
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