Friday, March 13, 2020

Sing for Your Supper

This is my second entry in Pop Stars Moonlighting Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews

The Jazz Singer started out as a Broadway play, way back in 1925.

It has been made into three separate movies since then.  The most famous one, the one everybody and their mother has heard of, is the noted "First Talkie", a film that came out in 1927 and featured Al Jolson in the title role.

The second iteration of the story was filmed in 1952 with Danny Thomas.

An additional piece was filmed in 1959 for TV with Jerry Lewis.  The show was NBC's TV series  Ford Startime.

In 1980, yet another version of the story hit the big screen with pop star Neil Diamond as the Jewish cantor turned cabaret singer.

At the rate of on version every 25 years or so, we are overdue for another version of this hoary classic story, but I think probably Neil Diamond rang the death knell on the story.  Besides, it requires a bit of a Jewish background to really pull off the believability of the story, and who in the pop world could convince the public they were Jewish?  At least Jolson, Lewis and Diamond came from Jewish backgrounds.  (Thomas was from a Roman Catholic background, but he was believable as a Jew.)

The Jazz Singer (1980):

Yussel Rabinovitch (Neil Diamond) comes from a long line of cantors (singers in the synagogue).  But Yussel prefers to be known as Jess Robin, and has a hankering for more than a career as a religious vocalist.

He and his good buddy, Bubba (Franklin Ajaye), hang out together.  Bubba is part of a black vocal group trying to hit it big in the music industry, and Jess helps by writing songs which the group sings.  Jess' father (Laurence Olivier) is disapproving of his sons musical ambitions.  He wants Jess to stick to being a cantor, a tradition that has been in the family for 5 generations.

Pop is unaware of Jess' sideline until Jess gets arrested during a bar fight.  The bar fight was instigated because Jess agreed to take the place of a missing member of Bubba's singing group (playing in blackface). A riot ensues when it was discovered that Jess was actually white.

Deciding to walk "the straight and narrow" after Pop had to bail Jess out of jail, he watches reluctantly as Bubba and his group head off to the west Coast.  Things come to a head when Bubba calls Jess from Los Angeles and says that Jess may have some chance at the big time.  A singer in a rock band wants Jess to help with the production of a cover of one of his songs.  Upon arrival he finds that the singer is distorting the basic premise of the song by transforming it from a ballad to a punk rock song.  And when Jess tries to correct the interpretation, not only does he get fired, but his friend and the vocal group gets canned too.

But Molly (Lucy Arnaz), a promoter, thinks he has potential, and takes him under her wing as his manager. She gets him a gig as opening act for Zane Gray, an act who is going to have a television special.

At the concert Jess' wife Rivka (Caitlin Adams) shows up.  She tries to convince Jess to forget all this superstar dream hullabaloo and return to New York.  But Jess turns her down and a divorce is imminent.

But on the good side, Jess is falling in love with Molly and with the idea of being a superstar.  The only down side is Jess' obsession with getting it perfect.  During a recording session Jess berates his band and eventually just takes off.  He wanders the southwest and ends up being a singer in a bar band in Laredo, but Bubba tracks him down.

He has news for Jess.  Not only is his album a huge success, but he is also a father.  The ultimate family move is he finally gets a chance to reconcile with his father who had disowned him because he turned down his heritage as a cantor to pursue his superstar dreams.  This accompanies him singing the tradition Kol Nidre song in the synagogue, a song of redemption and forgivenes in the jewish tradition.

There is a lot of similarities with the original story.  It does keep the struggle of Jess to pursue his dreams despite his father's objections.  Of course, the title is now a misnomer, because what Jess sings is anything BUT jazz.

I watched this movie when it came out back in 1980, mainly because I was a fan of Neil Diamond. But unlike Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond is no actor.  Which explains why he wasn't able to transition from a singing career to an acting career.  The film is ranked as one of the worst movies of all time, and he beat out Sam Jones (Flash Gordon), Bruce Jenner (Can't Stop the Music) and Michael Beck (Xanadu) to win the first Worst Actor award at the Razzies.  (and Laurence Olivier shared the award for Worst Supporting Actor.... You have to see his take on a Jewish father , which is pretty bad.  He did a better job of a Jew in The Boys from Brazil).

Tastes change as time goes by.  I kind of liked the movie when I saw it the first time.  It's not horrible even now, but I wonder what actually appealed to me the first time.  Other than the music, which is still good.  (I would definitely have taken Caitlin Adams over Lucy Arnaz, that much is certain...)

Time to head to the house.  Drive safely, folks.



  1. Can’t believe I have never seen this one. Grew up listening to Neil Diamond albums and always marveled at his deep baritone soulfulness! Now I need to give it a look, despite its shortcomings. Had no idea Arnaz was in this...her movie roles are rare indeed though she is a brilliant live performer.
    - Chris

    1. If you liked "america" or "Love on the Rocks", both hits on the radio, they came from this movie. Thanks for reading.

  2. I had no idea this was considered one of the worst movies ever made, so now I have to see it - but I won't go into it with high expectations. As always, though, I enjoyed your review.

    1. Hope you get some enjoyment out of it. Thanks for reading.

  3. Did I read that right that it has Olivier in the cast? Thanks for joining with this review, sounds like one for the to find list.

    1. Olivier took some questionable roles in his late career. Not sure if this one takes the cake, though. There was that role as the senior member of the family in The Betsy. Thanks for reading.


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