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Jolson on the Silver Screen

Film historians and Jolson devotes have known for years that Al Jolson, who starred in the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer, was a shining star of the early silver screen. Here is a visual catalog of Jolson's eleven starring film contributions.

The Jazz Singer
Click the picture to celebrate this movie's 75th anniversary in 2002!

1927 The Jazz Singer

Starring Al Jolson, Warner Oland, May McAvoy, Eugenie Besserer
The Jazz Singer is more than a movie. It's history -- the first feature with spoken dialogue. Audiences at the October 6, 1927, premiere were electrified by what they could now see and hear when star Al Jolson, in the film's best-remembered line, proclaimed: "Wait a minute, you ain't heard nothing yet!" To watch The Jazz Singer today is to relive that exciting event.

1928 The Singing Fool

Starring Al Jolson
The movies truly hadn't heard nothing yet. After The Jazz Singer, there was The Singing Fool! Meet singing waiter Al Stone, who, on the way to the top, wore out eight pianos, rhymed mammy with Alabamy 981 times and did more for Dixie than Robert E. Lee. Stone is The Singing Fool -- and he's played by the man who did more for the Sound Era than any other star: Al Jolson.
The Singing Fool
Click the picture to celebrate this movie's 70th anniversary in 1998!

Click the picture to celebrate this movie's 70th anniversary in 1999!

1929 Say It With Songs

Starring Al Jolson, Davey Lee, Marian Nixon and Fred Kohler
Behind bars... but still belting out a song! In Say It With Songs, fate rolls snake eyes for dice-playing family man, Joe Lane (Jolson). He does time for manslaughter, then returns home where new heartaches await. Through them all, Joe relies on his gift of song to express his pain and ultimate triumph.

1930 Mammy

Starring Al Jolson, Louise Dresser, Lowell Sherman, Lois Moran and Herbert Bosworth
A bygone American entertainment form -- the traveling minstrel show -- is the setting for "one of Jolson's better musicals" (Halliwell's Film Guide). In Mammy, Jolson plays minstrel end man Al Fuller, who's set up for an attempted murder rap when someone slips real bullets into the gun he uses in a gag routine. Irving Berlin's Let Me Sing And I'm Happy, from this movie, became one of Jolson's theme songs.

Click the picture to celebrate this movie's 70th anniversary in 2000!

Click the picture to celebrate this movie's 70th anniversary in 2000!

1930 Big Boy

Starring Al Jolson, Claudia Dell, John Harron and Franklin Batie
With songs and a fast horse, Jolson brings home a winner with Big Boy. The dynamic entertainer puts on his trademark blackface makup to portray sunny-natured Gus, a stableman-turned-jockey who overcomes adversity and wins the Kentucky Derby after gamblers conspire to have him fired from Bedford Stables.

1933 Hallelujah, I'm A Bum

Starring Al Jolson with Madge Evans, Frank Morgan, Harry Langdon and Chester Conklin.
Quite a different movie, Jolie plays Bumper, a hobo whose close friend just happens to be the mayor of New York. The interesting sidenote to this picture is the title, itself, which was changed to Hallelujah, I'm A Tramp for release in England, where "bum" has a more vulgar meaning.

1934 Wonder Bar

Starring Al Jolson, Kay Francis, Dolores Del Rio and Ricardo Cortez
Bon soir, Wilkommen. And howdy! The welcome mat is out at the posh Parisian night spot Wonder Bar. Here you'll find willing ladies, eager gents, lots of musical razzmatazz, even an on-stage murder and shady cover-up. It all happens in one night -- and it all happens at Al Jolson's Wonder Bar.

1935 Go Into Your Dance

Starring Al Jolson, Ruby Keeler, Glenda Farrell, Barton MacLane, Patsy Kelly, Akim Tamiroff, Helen Morgan
Abour a quarter to nine -- or any time -- is right for this backstage extravaganze, starring Jolson as a down-and-out Broadway star and Ruby Keeler as a hoofer who helps him launch his own show. With seven zippy Harry Warren - Al Dubin tunes and famed splashy production numbers showcasing "About a Quarter to Nine" and "A Latin from Manhattan," Go Into Your Dance is true entertainment.

1936 The Singing Kid

Starring Al Jolson, Sybil Jason, Beverly Roberts, Allen Jenkins and Lyle Talbot.
In The Singing Kid, Jolson's a kid at heart with a heart full of song! His belt-it-out singing meets jazz-baby jive in this story of a Broadway star who loses his fortune and voice yet rallies to knock 'em dead in the aisles again. Supporting Jolson is a fun-time combination of hepcat skidoo and ace comic talents.

1939 Rose Of Washington Square

Starring Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, and Al Jolson, with William Frawley
Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again. Jolson was dropped to third billing, and his character is clearly not the star, but the scenes in which he sings Rock-A-Bye, Toot Toot Tootsie!, California, Here I Come, and My Mammy have to be seen and enjoyed! Jolie may have lost top billing, but he was still a star.

1939 Swanee River

Starring Don Ameche, Andrea Leeds, and Al Jolson
This Technicolor film features Don Ameche playing songwriter Stephen Foster against Jolson's portrayal of E. P. Christy of the original Christy Minstrels in this fictionalized biography of Foster. Jolson sings many of Foster's more popular songs, including Oh! Suzanna, De Camptown Races, and Old Folks At Home.

Many of these reviews are from the liner notes of The Al Jolson Collection, laser disc copies of eight classic Jolson movies.

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This listing and material Copyright © 2002 Marc I. Leavey, M.D. Baltimore, Maryland
Updated 14 Apr 02