The Jazz Singer (1980) – Richard Fleischer (Friday’s Finest)

I watched this movie a lot in my youth and played the soundtrack on cassette to death. I watched The Jazz Singer again a few years ago and thought it held up well. Neil Diamond holds his own in the acting department at least as far as this film is concerned. The film is not an auto-bio of Neil rather a fictional Yussel Rabinovitch; a young Jewish cantor who strives to make a career outside the synagogue as a popular musical artist – Jess Robin.
I think it was my first encounter seeing the traditional Jewish faith portrayed on screen. At the time I most likely had no idea what the faith signified; culturally or religiously other than it was seemingly orthodox as presented in the movie. Many of my favourite music artists, comedians, actors and commentators are Jewish.

The movie The Jazz Singer was developed as a starring vehicle for Diamond. It was a critical and commercial disappointment, although it did make a substantial profit, doubling its $13 million budget by making $27.1 million. I don’t know why it was disliked so much by the critics. Lucie Anaz who played Molly Bell in the movie spoke about the audience love for the movie in this interview.
I thought it was a solid feature. I can understand their dislike of Sir Laurence Olivier’s meak performance, but Neil did a pretty good job. The soundtrack eventually reached multi-platinum status, becoming Diamond’s most successful album to date and one of the more successful film soundtrack albums in history.

According to wikipedia: During a scene set in a recording booth, Diamond was having trouble conveying anger during an argument with Arnaz’s character. Director Fleischer said that Diamond would go into the adjacent music recording stage where his band was gathered to await his cue and then enter in a supposed rage. During one of the lulls in filming to reset the shot, Fleischer saw him pacing nervously and then suddenly bursting into anger, throwing chairs and smashing equipment. Not wanting to miss an opportunity, the director called “Action” and Diamond stormed in and delivered his lines in a very convincing performance. After the scene ended, Fleischer asked the singer what had set him off. He replied that he was upset he couldn’t give the desired performance and asked his band to play something to make him angry. “And what did they play?” Fleischer asked. “A Barry Manilow number,” replied Diamond.

The score is superb in The Jazz Singer. It’s what makes the movie what it is. The songs fit the mood in every scene, and are all well-placed. The acting, while not the best I’ve ever seen, isn’t nearly as bad as made out to be by critics. Let’s face it. Neil Diamond is not an actor. He is a singer, a performer. And yet, he manages to pull off his character, Yussel Rabinovich. Watching Neil perform in this movie would be like seeing one of his concerts. He’s all-show, and not a bit shy. When he picks up a guitar, you know you’re in for a treat, and he does music as only he can. It’s a good story, well-told.

Below is the ending scene of his live performance which elevates him from modest success to stardom:

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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Posted in Movies and TV
2 comments on “The Jazz Singer (1980) – Richard Fleischer (Friday’s Finest)
  1. Though I was a pretty big fan of Neil Diamond from the late 60s through the early 80s, and also liked Lucie Arnaz, I’ve never seen this film.

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