JOLSON STORY, THE (PLUS: JOLSON SINGS AGAIN): DVD
Depicting the life of one of America's most successful performers, Al Jolson (Larry Parks), The Jolson Story takes us into the life of this incredible singer's career, highlighting his years as a struggling performer through to his time as the king of Broadway and star of the motion picture industry. A workaholic, often sacrificing everything for the show, Jolson became the biggest entertainer in America in the 1920s and 30s and remained so for the best part of 30 years.
Review by Craig Miller
Arguably the greatest entertainer to grace Broadway, Al Jolson is given the presidential treatment in this semi-biographical film which delivers a wonderful version of this talented singer's musical career and life, and remains one of the best and most successful biographical films ever produced.
Although it is extremely liberal with a lot of the facts, dates and events, taking bits from here and there, The Jolson Story manages to capture the true spirit of the man who just couldn't help but entertain.
Tracing Jolson's career from the early years of the 20th Century through to the 1940s, we are shown the true making of a legend as he battles against his parents' wishes, goes on the road in early musical acts and enjoys massive success on Broadway and in the early motion picture industry (Jolson starred in the very first "talkie", The Jazz Singer .....as if you didn't know!).
Made while Jolson was still alive, The Jolson Story was the highest grossing film for the year for Columbia pictures, which can be attributed to the performance of Larry Parks, who absolutely steals the show as the irrepressible Jolson.
Parks dazzles with his portrayal, mimicking the mannerisms of Jolson to perfection and his lip syncing to the more than twenty Jolson tracks in the film is near flawless - the film's creators brought Jolson in especially to record the tracks for the movie and the magic really shines through. There is also a brief cameo from Jolson as himself during the long shots of the performance of Swanee.
This unforgettable performance from Parks earned him a much deserved Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor in 1946, and is without doubt the shining light in his brief career.
Also included on this DVD is the 1949 sequel to The Jolson Story, Jolson Sings Again. Continuing on from where its predecessor left off, this time around we experience the latter part of Jolson's career including his life in celebrity nowhere land and his tours of US army bases during the second world war, through to the resurgence of his career in the later part of the 1940s just before his death.
Parks and most of the supporting cast return to their well established roles, and the film is worth viewing if only to see Parks again. There is also an extremely clever cameo from Parks playing himself during one of the film's latter scenes, which has Parks meeting Jolson played by Parks. Confusing, not really, but it is a wonderfully delivered scene and notable for its 1940s inventiveness.
Obviously the transfer of these movies to DVD is little more than a straight copy over from its original film format, with no DTS soundtrack here or any ironing out of any metaphoric creases. But that's the magic of films from this technicolour era, all the wonder is in the story, not hidden in deafening effects soundtracks and shiny, perfect visuals.
As a biographical account, The Jolson Story and Jolson Sings Again are not the greatest sources to find accurate information on this journeyman of stage and screen, but as musical entertainment they are immensely enjoyable, rich in 1940s song and dance and capture the best (and some of the worst) times of this unforgettable performer's life.
Published May 6, 2004
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JOLSON STORY, THE (PLUS: JOLSON SINGS AGAIN): DVD (G)
CAST: Larry Parks, Evelyn Keyes, William Demarest, Bill Goodwin, Ludwig Donath, Tamara Shayne
DIRECTOR: Alfred E. Green
SCRIPT: Stephen Longstreet
RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes
PRESENTATION: Full Frame, Dolby Digital Mono
SPECIAL FEATURES: Trailers only
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia Tristar
DVD RELEASE: April 14, 2004