The Jazz Singer (1927)
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Directed by: Alan Crosland
Starring: Al Jolson, May McAvoy, Warner Oland, Eugenie Besserer, William Demarest
The Jazz Singer ranked # 90 on the American Film Institute's Top 100 American Films list.
The Jazz Singer is a 1927 U.S. movie musical notable for being the first feature-length motion picture with talking sequences. Released by Warner Bros., it was directed by Alan Crosland and starred Al Jolson, who sings five songs.
The Jazz Singer contains only a few minutes worth of dialogue, most of it improvised. The rest of the film's soundtrack is instrumental musical accompaniment and sound effects, with most of the dialogue presented through the standard caption cards prevalent in silent movies of the era. The songs and dialogue sequences were enough, however, to create a sensation among moviegoing audiences of the day.
The movie opened on October 6, 1927, and its success demonstrated to Hollywood (and to the world) that "talkies" were profitable.
Donald Crafton has demonstrated, however, that the reputation the film later acquired for being one of Hollywood's most enormous successes to date was greatly inflated. The movie did well, but not astonishingly so, in the major cities were it was first released, garnering much of its impressive profits with long, steady runs in population centers large and small all around the country.
On the other hand, Crafton's statement that The Jazz Singer "was in a distinct second or third tier of attractions compared to the most popular films of the day and even other Vitaphone talkies" errs in the other direction. In fact, the film was by far the biggest earner in Warner Bros. history, and would remain so until it was surpassed a year later by The Singing Fool, another Jolson feature.
In the larger scope of Hollywood, among films originally released in 1927, available evidence suggests that The Jazz Singer was among the three biggest box office hits, trailing only The King of Kings and Wings.
The film opened the door to the evolution of sound film and signaled the end of the era of the silent film. The first all-talking feature Lights of New York (1928) was released in the following year by the Warner Brothers.
Al Jolson made a series of movies for the Warners, including the part-talkie The Singing Fool (1928), and two all-talking features, Say It With Songs (1929) and Mammy (1930); the latter includes Jolson's first appearance in Technicolor sequences, which have recently been restored.
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