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The Jolson Story
The Jolson Story
Actors: Larry Parks, Evelyn Keyes, William Demarest, Bill Goodwin, Ludwig Donath
Genres: Drama, Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2003     2hr 8min

No Description Available. Genre: Musicals Rating: NR Release Date: 21-OCT-2003 Media Type: DVD

     
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Movie Details

Actors: Larry Parks, Evelyn Keyes, William Demarest, Bill Goodwin, Ludwig Donath
Genres: Drama, Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: Drama, Musicals
Studio: Sony Pictures
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen - Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 10/21/2003
Original Release Date: 10/10/1946
Theatrical Release Date: 10/10/1946
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 2hr 8min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Japanese

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Movie Reviews

We All Have Flaws - Embrace the Flaws
William G. Edwards | Ashburn, VA USA | 09/29/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"As a music historian in general, and as a performer of many of the pieces that Jolson made famous (piano for my part), and also as the son of an actor from radio and film that worked in Hollywood during Jolson's reign there, and as a collector of ancient recordings from the pre-vinyl era plus sheet music, I have had a lot of exposure to Jolson and his personna outside of these films. The view from inside is a bit sanitized, but not horrid.

Larry Parks is more than adequate for the role. Unfortunately, due to the limitations of the film media from 1946 (lack of widescreen and loss of ambience without surround sound and fx), the true essence of how BIG Jolson was on stage is lost to a degree. Jolson was not the best singer. He was not the best of lyricists. He was not the most humble of people. He had flaws that were both visible and invisible. But... HE WAS A GREAT ENTERTAINER. My Sheet Music Collection, which currently numbers over 7000 pieces, will validate that. Jolson saw his face on more sheet music covers than the bulk of many smaller publishers total output. You don't get there through simple coercion - it was his magnitude as a STAGE (not film) entertainer that got him there and kept him on top for two decades.

To some degree, while there is whitewashing and Hollywood sanitizing (such as the odd omission of Ruby Keeler's name in conjunction with her character), some of the personal flaws of Jolson are most certainly presented on screen. A more personal look from this decade would show a very troubled man with blatant insecurities, yet still quite likable. At the very least, this biopic was certainly better than some of that time, including the nearly totally fictitious Cole Porter mishap (discussed in D'Lovely). Note also that only Jolson and Fanny Brice have had no less than two consecutive biopics made about them. The incidents are otherwise not totally contrived, but some are a bit out of sequence, as is the music. I would guess the use of Rainbow On My Shoulder as a piece from the Jazz Singer (it was actually in The Singing Fool) was to get around Warner copyright issues.

Going back to the Ruby Keeler thing, the character in this movie is called Julie Benson. This is not only historically inaccurate but downright confusing, since there is no Benson in 42nd Street or Dames, which are among her movies prominently mentioned in The Jolson Story. What is more confusing is that Keeler often referred to herself as Mrs. Jolson long after their marriage was over. Maybe it was another copyright issue with Warner, possibly since they may have owned her name at the time. If she objected, in spite of how obvious it was to the public that it was her character on screen, I don't know why.

Other omissions among this and the accompany film (Jolson Sings Again) include two missing wives, the mention that Jazz Singer was originally a vehicle for Georgie Jessel, then later stolen from Eddie Cantor, the making of the Vitaphone - A Plantation Act - a year before The Jazz Singer, the lawsuit over the plagiarism of Avalon, etc. I prefer to think of these as omissions more so than inaccuracies, but they do add a certain bias to the story when these things are known.

For all the good, there are a few flaws. Parks is NOT Jolson, but he manages to overcome that so much that he becomes Jolson part way into the film. They could have minimized his hair a bit more than was done to give a closer appearance, but his synchronization with Jolson's recorded tracks is exemplary. But... the switch between Parks' speaking voice and Jolson's singing voice is jarring at times. Further, the arrangements being played during the "ragtime era" are really the swing era arrangements used for his Decca recordings. Anybody who has heard Jolson's work on Columbia or Victor knows that he was in much better voice with a timbre closer to Parks back in the 1910s and 1920s. I suppose now that his voice could be extracted from those recordings and laid over new recorded orchestrations. Stylistically the newer arrangements for older songs don't work, but appealed to the audience of the time (my mother saw the thing four times when it came out!).

The DVD box is misleading. The film is in limited scope 2.0 stereo, not mono (is this an original or redone - knowing Sony it was contrived). There is good separation between the underscore and the center channel voices through most of it, except when Jolson's recorded tracks are used, and those are mostly mono. The color is quite beautiful and not oversaturated. Chroma correction for this restoration is fairly accurate.

Even though the film can't fully capture Jolson (you need some CDs of his early work to even approach that), it helps to explain why the "mammy factor" worked so well for him and why he is still discussed a full century after he got his start on the stage. Since the second film, Jolson Sings Again, literally starts within an hour of when the first film ends, you really need the set. It also displays Parks as a talent of his own, albeit one that was sadly taken down during the McCarthy hearings, and whose career never recovered from the association.

In any case, walk a million miles and get some smiles. Buy the films!"
The greatest Hollywood film musical biography ever
C. Roberts | Halifax, Yorkshire, United Kingdom | 12/29/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The young Asa Yoelson (Scotty Beckett) runs away from home to join Steve Martin (William Demarest) in vaudeville against the wishes of his parents. They find him and realising how much he wants to get into show business they reluctantly agree for him to join Martin on tour. As he grows up he changes his name to Al Jolson (now played by Larry Parks) and becomes a big Broadway star. He meets Julie Benson (Evelyn Keyes) and they get married. However, all that Jolson really cares about is to get in front of an audience and sing so his marriage suffers because of it. He stars in one successful Broadway show after another and then is invited to go to Hollywood to take the lead in the first ever talking picture "The Jazz Singer". In later years his popularity declines and he finds it harder to get work. He does in fact make a sensational comeback and is in even bigger demand than ever which was portrayed in the sequel "Jolson Sings Again".When I first saw "The Jolson Story" I had never heard of its star Larry Parks although I had bought a few Jolson records prior to seeing the film. Parks gave a magnificent portrayal but apart from appearing in "Jolson Sings Again" three years later he made very few films after that due to the McCarthy communist "witch hunt" which was a shame.Some favourite lines from the film:William Demarest: "Give that boy a spotlight!".Tamara Shayne (to Ludwig Donath): "Papa, Asa isn't Asa any more!".Larry Parks (to orchestra leader): "Oscar, what are you doing with that phone - this is no time to call up women!".Parks (to audience in theatre): "Settle back folks - you ain't heard nothin' yet!".Parks (to audience in theatre): "I'm going into what they call talking pictures - don't know what's going to happen to me - but er, if I come back you'll let me - won't you?"."The Jolson Story" is one of those rare movies that you can enjoy over and over again and has a high place in my Top Ten films of all time. Wonderful acting, superb colour, fascinating story (even though not entirely accurate), and how about those memorable old songs - "California Here I Come", "April Showers", "Swanee", "Rockabye Your Baby", "Robert E. Lee", "Mammy", "You Made Me Love You", "I'm Sitting On Top of the World", "About a Quarter to Nine", etc. This film is worth seeing just to hear the real Al Jolson belting out the songs that made him famous. Jolson was often billed as "the world's greatest entertainer" and I'm sure that was a title well deserved. Clive Roberts."
Greatest of All Time
Anthony Babino | New York | 01/07/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"There are few words that can accurately describe the magnificent performance of Larry Parks in "THE JOLSON STORY". With Larry's performance, Morris Stoloff's Orchestra, and the great Al Jolson's voice, this movie is easily hands down, the best musical biography ever made. Along with it's sequel, "JOLSON SINGS AGAIN", it stands in a class of it's own. Sure reviewers of today have deemed it a little hoaky, but that is how wartime Hollywood movies were. In addition, although the movie is obviously fictionalized, the facts of Jolson's accomplishments are TRUE, and cannot and should not be denied with regard to their historical importance as it relates to the evolution of American Entertainment and the great American Songbook. Jolson was the KIng of Showbusiness for more than four decades, and his accomplishments are legendary. For those who have not yet seen this movie, take note of some of Al Jolson's achievements: 1st million selling record; 1st million selling album; 1st to take a Braodway show on the road; 1st to go overseas and entertain the troops in the USO; and the list goes on and on. Do yourself a favor...watch this movie...see history...discover America's Greatest Entertainer."
Blackface in context
Barbara W. Goulter | Werribee, Victoria Australia | 12/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This comment is for those so offended by blackface that they would like to see it edited out of The Jolson Story. It will never happen, of course. Aside from rewriting history, it would sacrifice half the songs and make nonsense of the plot. Still, there's good reason to feel repelled. Jolson put on blackface and sang Dixie nostalgia at a time when lynching and the Ku Klux Klan were in revival and blacks were fleeing the South for their lives. Yet there is another side to it.
Imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery. Artists don't copy styles they despise, only those they admire. We can see how that works when it comes to more recent performers. We don't think of Eminem, or white gospel singers, as denigrating African-Americans. Elvis' first record, It's All Right, had such a black sound that many assumed he was black. Elvis was born and raised in the segregated Mississippi of the 1930's and 40's, yet his imitation of black sound was homage, not mockery.
But blackface was different, right? Or was it?
To understand Jolson, you have to go back to Stephen Foster. America's first great writer of popular songs, born in the 1830's, Foster was a northerner who visited the South, very briefly, only once in his life. Yet he was steeped in minstrel music and would black up as a child to perform it. In his day, black and white songs styles were perceived as different in kind. If you were trying to sound black, it made sense to try to look black. Foster wrote only two hits in white "parlor" style: Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair and Beautiful Dreamer. But he wrote dozens in black styles ranging from tragic laments to comic ditties.
Jolson's songs abound in allusions to Foster: Weep no more, my lady, Old Black Joe, Old Folks at home, Swannee River. But what could such songs have meant to an immigrant Jewish youth of the early 20th century?
Like blacks, immigrants were also uprooted. They also knew hard times and relied on humor to survive. Also, by then, Foster had become folk music. Black or white, everyone knew his songs from the cradle. Yet they were still seen as black-style songs, clearly different from white-style ones such as Banks of the Wabash and When You Were Sweet Sixteen. So white entertainers still blacked up to sing them, and anything at all like them.
Irrational? Absurd? Sure. But in a society so segregated by race, how else could whites hear black-style music? Look at the audiences in The Jolson Story. Entirely white. The entertainers too.
Fortunately, change was coming and a new black music would drive it. With the triumph of blues and jazz, black music became everyone's music. Blacks and whites were freed to sing the same songs. Backface vanished.
Jolson's career coincided with that transition. The Jolson Story captures his life-changing discovery of jazz and his attempt to marry it to the Foster tradition. Let us be grateful that his superb film biographies were made exactly when and how they were, preserving both his amazing voice and one of the weirdest moments in American cultural
"