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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

'The Jazz Singer' Blu-ray: Nicely Transforms Diamond in the Rough

Jazz Singer, The (1927) (BD Book) Blu-ray
Warner Brothers' three-disc blu-ray release of the 1927 classic "The Jazz Singer" is so indescribably awesome that it make me regret choosing a bare-bones DVD of the equally timeless "Citizen Kane" over Warner's 70th Anniversary blu-ray release of that film about a boy and his sled.

"Singer" is best known for being cited as the first "talkie" film despite having most of the sound consist of tons o' really great music, rather than dialogue, and for spawning the 1980 Neil Diamond remake.

The 1927 version stars Al Jolson as Jake Rabinowitz, the son of a strict immigrant (insert your own "Coming to America" joke here) orthodox Jewish cantor who demands that his son follow his career of singing in the synagogue. Jake, on the other hand, wants a career singing secular songs in taverns and other "unclean" establishments.

A violent confrontation prompts teen Jake to run away, change his name to Jack Robin, and establish a career as a jazz singer. This defiance prompts Rabinowitz senior, played by Charlie Chan actor Warner Oland, to dramatically declare that he has no son and to forbid his wife from even reading letters from Jake.

The action quickly advances 20 years to just before Jack gets a chance to fulfill his dreams of pursuing both the girl of his dreams, who is not a store-bought woman but does make Jack sing like a guitar hummin', and a Broadway career.

Jack's return to New York stirs up drama with his father and presents Jack with a true Sophie's choice.

The story holds up very well and is timely nearly 90 years after its release. Also, the Warner wizards did a stunningly awesome job cleaning up the film for blu-ray.

The picture is very sharp for a non-hi-def film, and there are none of the expected scratches or dirt marks. Additionally, the sound and overall presentation is virtually perfect.

The expert presentation extends to the truly collectible bound book in which the three blu-rays are encased. The booklet starts with a TCM host Robert Osborne worthy recap of the introduction of talkies, goes on to provide stills from the film, and winds up with extensive promotional material from the film.

The second blu-ray in the set is a feature-length documentary, including clips, of the early talkies. I have not watched this yet but it seems very interesting.

I did watch some of the roughly 30 early "talkie" shorts on the third discs. Like "The Jazz Singer," most of  the sound from the shorts from the 20s consisted of music and background noise. These evolved to full dialogue and musical numbers by the mid-30s.

One stand-out was a short titled "Night Court," which shared elements of the sitcom of the same name. The judge had a night club's performers do their acts so that the judge could determine if they were "risque" and otherwise illegal as charged.

The penultimate short was special as well because it had the hilarious Burns and Allen do a true vaudeville routine that broke down the fourth wall between them and the audience. Burns' straight man performance did not evoke hilarity that prompted shouting "Oh God" but was still great classic comedy.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "The Jazz Singer" is welcome to email me.