The Jolson Story

Talkie of the Week: The Jolson Story

USA 1946, 128 minutes, color, Columbia Pictures. Director: Alfred E. Green, Producer: Sidney Sklolsky, Written by: Stephen Longstreet, Sidney Buchman, Harry Chandlee, Andrew Solt. Cast: Larry Parks, Evelyn Keyes, William Demarest, Bill Goodwin, Ludwig Donath, Scotty Beckett, Tamara Shayne, Jo-Carroll Dennison, John Alexander

Plot summary: A young Jewish boy called Asa Yoelson stumbles into show business at the beginning of the 20th century and becomes a star of his own making as Al Jolson.

Review: The Jolson Story is modeled on the life of performer Al Jolson, famous singer, actor and comedian. The film, though partly fictionalized, shows Al Jolson’s roots in Vaudeville and Burlesque theater at the beginning of the 20th century and paints a rather dazzling picture of the rise of America’s famous Broadway, movie and Jazz star from the 1920s and 30s.

Larry Parks plays Al Jolson and does a beautiful job merging his own acting with original sound recordings made by Al Jolson himself. He was rightly rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for this film which features a lot of Al Jolson’s popular songs in an always exciting 128 minutes. Larry Parks is supported by a sparkling Evelyn Keyes and a highly entertaining William Demarest. Ludwig Donath and Tamara Shayne play Jolson’s parents and only add to the charm of this colorful tour de force. Originally a black & white feature, the film’s opulent scenery and production convinced studio chief Harry Cohn to re-shoot the already existing material in color – a mastermind decision, especially for the stage scenes and the overall musical appeal of the film.

All in all, The Jolson Story is a delicious example of 1940s commercial cinema. With its mixture of great acting and catchy tunes, the film is a perfect piece of nostalgia in our entertainment-hungry times. It’s an excellent lesson in the art of story-telling that uplifts the audience, as well as its protagonist and stars. Watched in combination with its sequel Jolson Sings Again (released in 1949), this  double feature package is a rhythmic treat on a relaxed Sunday afternoon with a bowl of popcorn and a pot of hot tea. A great reminder of “the good old days” when Hollywood still knew how to sell fairytales.

Available on VHS and DVD.

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