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Saturday, June 4, 2016

THE SINGING FOOL (1928)

This numbingly awful follow-up to Al Jolson’s THE JAZZ SINGER/’27 was a phenomenon, holding the top-grossing spot for a decade. A ridiculous, poorly made piece of hoke (Jolie’s singing waiter hits it big; marries glamor; loses wife & kiddie; sinks like a stone before crawling back for more tragedy . . . and another hit tune!!), but Synch-Sound rather than content drew them in. (The Bros. Warner, to their financial chagrin, long thought Jolson the draw.) While THE JAZZ SINGER had packed wired-for-sound theaters, how many were up & running? Usually claimed as the first Talking Picture, it is and it isn’t. Largely a silent pic with recorded music & sound effects, its song numbers & a few lines of off-the-cuff dialogue were recorded in the Warner synch-sound system already in use for short subjects. But if not the first Talkie, it does hold a real claim for (of all things) christening The Silents, a term previously unknown. It strikes about halfway in: Jolson, singing & kidding around with his mother, is stopped by an angry shout from his father. Instantly, something’s missing, a vacuum created as the synch-sound stops. The film seems to stagger; then the music track returns. The birth of the Talkies? Or the birth of The Silents? Before this, they were simply ‘The Movies,’ or occasionally Shadow Plays. Paradoxically, this makes Jolson, the man famous for bringing voice to the screen, not the first Talkie star, but more a last Silent discovery. And it’s why this follow-up film, with the huge increase in theaters equipped for the Rube Goldberg contraption that was Warners’ synch-sound-on-disc system - see below/click to expand

(it's 60% talk & song/40% silent with inter-titles) was America’s first chance to see and hear him. Then, their curiosity sated, a shockingly fast loss of interest.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Stick with THE JAZZ SINGER. (WARNING! - Both films earn BLACKFACE alerts!) Wrongly decried as second-rate by most film historians, JAZZ SINGER may be corny & heavy-handed, but it’s also well constructed (the original play is by Samson Raphaelson who hated the film’s sentimentalized ending) and boasts a big handsome production from helmer Alan Crosland.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: A much needed comic song, ‘The Spaniard That Blighted My Life,’ was removed from all SINGING FOOL prints due to a law suit. Here it is, lip-synched by Larry Parks to Jolson’s own vocal in the inexplicably popular THE JOLSON STORY/’46. (VICTOR/VICTORIA/’82 fans will note its likeness to that film’s ‘Shady Dame From Seville,’ right down to the travesty coloratura.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2T_ONrXCtY

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