The Jazz Singer
Time Out says
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” vaudeville legend Al Jolson suddenly exclaims. “You ain’t heard nothing yet!” Heard, of course, is the key word here. Moviegoers had sat through various early shorts with synced sound (including Jolson’s own 1926 one-reeler, “A Plantation Act,” in which he also utters the aforementioned line), but this 1927 adaptation of a play by Samson Raphaelson was the first full-length feature in which audiences could experience the novelty of performers speaking their dialogue onscreen. Never mind that two thirds of The Jazz Singer is a silent movie with intertitles, that the warhorse plot was considered trite even then or that its showstopper—the most famous blackface routine in the history of entertainment—is undeniably racist: Alan Crosland’s mediocre melodrama managed to literally talk its way into history.
Time has not been kind to this creaky story of a cantor’s son, but Warner Home Video’s three-disc set gives the groundbreaking film an executive treatment that befits its landmark status. Though the film has never sounded better (thanks to a new audio transfer lifted from the original Vitaphone recordings), the reason that film buffs need to own this is the mother lode of extras: The comprehensive 90-minute documentary The Dawn of Sound and the dozens of early talkie shorts included on disc three provide a context for Jolson and Crosland’s revolutionary achievement. Thanks to them, the cinema could speak. We’re still reaping the benefits.