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USA 1946
Directed by
Alfred E. Green
128 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Jolson Story

Studio-era Hollywood biopics can be relied on to lean towards the hagiographic but this exercise in hucksterism barely stops short of canonizing Al Jolson, star of the first commercially released ‘talking picture’ and one of the most popular entertainers of the 20th century. Unexpectedly it was a huge box-office hit.

Unknown contract player Larry Parks, who looks nothing like the singer, plays Jolson with exuberance but is incongruous every time he mimes the songs (Jolson who wanted to play the role but was in his sixties at the time, dubbed his voice). Jolson was an important figure in the development of popular American music, being one of the first white singers to introduce Negro ‘jazz’ music into the mainstream (albeit in blackface).

Fans of the singer will appreciate the film as it features many of his hits including Mammy, California, Here I Come, You Made Me Love You (Morris Stoloff won an Oscar for scoring) but anyone else will have trouble sitting through such highly-processed, sentimentalised fare. Three years later Columbia made a sequel Jolson Sings Again that somewhat bizarrely, continues the Jolson story, including the success of the original film, and has Larry Parks as Jolson meeting Larry Parks, the actor. The thrill had gone however and film did not do well commercially although qualitatively it is not inferior with numbers such as Sonny Boy and Back In Your Own Backyard.




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