- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080p/24
- Audio Codec: DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0
- Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Running Time:
- Blu-Ray: 223 minutes (feature: 96 minutes)
- DVD-1: 185 minutes
- DVD-2: 215 minutes
- Discs: 3 (1x Blu-Ray; 2 x DVD)
- Studio: Warner Home Video
- Blu-ray Release Date: January 8, 2013
- List Price: $35.99
Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures
(All TheaterByte screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG at 100% quality setting and are meant as a general representation of the content. They do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)
In celebration of Warner Brothers Films’ 90th anniversary, Warner Home Video has released a deluxe three-disc edition of the immortal film, The Jazz Singer, the first full-length feature film with completely synchronized dialogue and music. A classic example of art imitating life, Samson Raphaelson’s screenplay is based on the biography of the film’s star himself, Al Jolson. Movie buffs will know the story of a talented young Russian Jew, Jakie Rabinowitz (later Jack Robin) who delights his mother, Sara (Eugenie Besserer) but disappoints his father, Cantor Rabinowitz (Warner Oland) when he leaves the world of religious music for that of vaudeville. On the road, Jack meets dancer Mary Dale (May McAvoy) who gets him a part in a Broadway revue. Jack returns home only to run afoul of his father when he sings a jazz number, “Blue Skies.” Cantor Rabinowitz becomes seriously ill just before the revue’s opening night, and Jack is faced with a dilemma. Should he sing in his father’s place at the Yom Kippur service or perform on his show’s opening night? Jack will be fired if he cancels his stage appearance, but he decides to honor his dying father and sings the Kol Nidre hymn in the synagogue. By the film’s finale, Jack, now a successful performer, sings his most famous number “Mammy,” as Sara and Mary look on.
The Jazz Singer was a breakthrough film, in many ways. Giving full disclosure, this is really a hybrid production, being mostly a silent film with dialogue titles. There is only one extended scene with spoken dialogue between Jack and his mother. Of course, we get several songs, and when these come into play, they must have been a sensation for audiences of the times.
A BD reworking of an original 1.33:1 aspect B&W film that is 85 years old, you might ask? Well, I am here to tell you that unlike some primeval oldies of the talkie era, the restoration crew had some darn good originals from which to work. There is the occasional washout and streakiness but such artifacts have been kept to a minimum. In fact, I have seen newer films, including some Chaplin silent classics, that do not look nearly this good. The visual points that this film scores include a credible presentation of its era (which was contemporary with the story) and great close ups of its principals.
The miracle of sound synchronization must have been a revelation in 1927 through the Vitaphone methodology. The mono DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is boxy, sometimes scratchy and flat, but, taken as an historical item, we get a very good sense of what pre-depression filmgoers got to hear in the theater. For those like myself who never heard the famed Al Jolson live, the reproduction of his voice on this soundtrack offers a sample of what the excitement was all about.
Warner Home Entertain comes through in spades with this one. Besides a lavish booklet replete with historical photos, the history of talking pictures and Warner Brothers, a detailed plot synopsis, and biographies of cast and director, there are bonuses on the BD and two additional DVD. Of note, all of the bonus material is available on 2007 DVD deluxe edition as well.
Blu-Ray Disc 1:
- Commentary by film historians Ron Hutchinson and Vince Giordano
- Collection of vintage cartoons and shorts:
- “Al Jolson in ‘A Plantation Act” -1926 Vitaphone short
- An Intimate Dinner in Celebration of Warner Bros. Silver Jubilee:-1930 short
- I love to Singa-Classic 1936 Parody cartoon directed by Tex Avery
- Hollywood Handicap-Classic 1938 M-G-M short with Al Jolson appearance
- A Day at Santa Anita-Classic Technicolor WB 1939 short with Al Jolson & Ruby Keeler cameo appearance
- 1947 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast starry Al Jolson (audio only)
- Theatrical Trailer
DVD-Disc 2: The Early Sound Era
- Feature-length documentary: The Dawn of Sound: How Movies Learned to Talk
- Two technicolor excerpts from Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929 WB film)
- Studio shorts celebrating the early sound era:
- Finding His Voice (1929 Western Electric animated promotional short, produced by Max Fleischer
- The Voice That Thrilled The World-Warner Brothers short about sound
- Okay for Sound 1946 WB short cebrating the 20th anniversary of Vitaphone
- When Talkies Were Young 1955 WB short looking back at the early talkies
- The Voice From The Screen-1926 WB ‘demonstration’ film explores the Vitaphone technology and the making of a Vitaphone short
DVD-Disc 3: Vitaphone Shorts: Three and a half hours of two dozen rare, historic Vitaphone and music shorts, featuring such early era stars as Blossom Seely, Hazel Green, The Foy Family, Baby Rose Marie, and Burns & Allen.
While these extras run far longer than the feature film, they are fascinating and invaluable documents for students of film history, returning us to the very beginnings of the modern film industry. Overall, a very generous helping of some amazing material that deserves to be seen.
The Definitive Word
There are millions of living Americans who have never seen or heard of Al Jolson or The Jazz Singer. For those of us who love the silver screen, this film is a must-see and must-hear. By current standards, the storyline and dialogue are on the schmaltzy side. Another caveat is Jolson’s use of blackface that would be so politically incorrect in today’s society. But this is also a fundamental story of the generation gap and the conflict between career and personal life, themes that have continued to fuel films to the present. Watching this movie, and I defy anyone to get by the deathbed scene without tearing up, is like being a witness to one of the crossroads moments in entertainment history. Without the ability to hear as well as to see the actors on the screen, it is not likely that the film industry would have become the humongous business empire that it is today. All of us owe a huge debt to the pioneers who were present at the dawn of the talking picture and this reissue is a welcome memento of that era. If you already own the deluxe DVD box set with all of the same extras, shelling out more bucks for this one may be a difficult decision (although the BD version is visually and sonically improved). For those who have waited on the sidelines, this is the time to go for it. In the words of Jolson himself, “you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.” I second that motion.
Additional Screen Captures