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  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • None
  • Theatrical trailer
  • 3 Cast/crew biographies - Neil Diamond, Lawrence Olivier, Lucie Arnaz
  • Photo gallery

The Jazz Singer

Universal/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 111 mins . G . PAL


I was cruelly starved as a child. Whilst others had funky parents who weaned them on the likes of The Beatles, The Kinks, the Rolling Stones and The Who, I got lumped with Englebert Humperdinck, Tom Jones, The Seekers and... Neil Diamond. I absolutely adore my mother, but yoi if her love of what was basically musical plop didn’t suck big time. Still, thankfully I lived to tell the tale, and mercifully had the savvy to embark upon my own quest for musical satisfaction. Perhaps that's how I ended up loving ABBA and the Sex Pistols in equal parts - at the same time?

So considering Neil's AOR, MOR or simply BOR(ing) pedigree, why on earth is this film entitled The Jazz Singer? Well, it is based upon the play that inspired the '20s Al Jolson flick of the same name - there's your answer - even though this film is pretty much as basic and predictable in the plot department as any flick of this type comes. This kind of gives away the main purpose for its existence, that of a vehicle for Mr Diamond's music, and as much as the film was no raging box office success, the accompanying soundtrack most certainly was, managing to shift more than six million units, which would make for a mighty nice zero-enhanced APRA cheque.

The Jazz Singer is a simple tale of the quandary a young(ish) musician, Yussel Rabinowitz (rock name Jess Robin), faces - a choice between pursuing his talent and dreams, or of upsetting his very religious and happy in their own little world wife, Rivka, and father (played curiously well by Laurence Olivier). Papa wants Jess to follow him as the fifth generation of family cantors, as does his wife, whilst he just wants to SING! After being pulled in as a ringer for his friend Bubba's all black quartet, and one of the silliest western-style bar room brawls ever committed to celluloid ("That ain't no brother, it's a white boy!"), Jess gets the chance to jet off to LA and help in the recording by another artist of one of his songs, very much to the chagrin of his family. A stereotypical bad-boy English rocker (you HAVE to have the English accent, it's a Hollywood law), he spits the dummy good and proper when Jess tries to demonstrate how Love on the Rocks is actually not a thrash song, and gets himself, and his four buddies, fired from the gig.

Meanwhile production assistant Molly (Lucy and Desi's daughter Lucie) sees the talent Jess possesses, and convinces him to stay a while and try his luck with her help. As screenplay would have it he finds success, and is visited at one of his gigs by his wife - who, realising they will never have the same aspirations, and happily ensconced in her little JAP world, promptly dumps him. Hey, that's OK though, for Jess is doing the wild thang with Molly even before Rivka's perfume has had the chance to waft away from the immediate vicinity. Jess' father eventually visits, lays a massive guilt trip, discovers the pending divorce of his son, utters this film's immortal line...


...and leaves, considering his son dead. This makes Jess a pain in the arse Prima Donna grump, and he eventually walks out of the studio and starts hitching his way across America, morphing into the Marlboro Man as he goes. He lands himself a bar gig impersonating a good ol' boy, until Bubba catches up with him months down the track with a few snippets of interesting news. I'm sure you can all pretty much guess what else happens...


To say this won’t be winning any awards for transfer of the year would be an understatement, however things aren’t as bad as they could have been, and indeed are nowhere near as shocking as some may have you believe. You get all the staples you come to expect from a twenty year old film that was never a blockbuster - a fair share of film grain muddying things up, titles that do a little wonky dance around the screen, some noticeable edge enhancement, black and white artefacts and that dreaded haze of dinginess, but to be honest I have seen much worse, and on more recent films, too.

Whilst presented in 1.78:1 (not the film's original 1.85:1 - tsk tsk), this is not anamorphically enhanced, so anybody other than the select few rich people who have televisions to support the feature won’t be able do any future proofing justification in purchasing this disc. Some of us will probably be dead by the time we could afford such tellies anyway, so if you're a fan of the film I can’t see it being a terribly huge deal.


Call the cops, it isn’t in Dolby 5.1!!! No, just good old Dolby Stereo. Sure it's not what everybody would desire, but hey - it's better than mono. Generally the sound is OK, although there are occasional bouts of distortion, and the dialogue can get a little lost at times.

The soundtrack is a feast for any fan of Mr Diamond, or a famine if you can’t stand him. As well as his usual typically schlocky and schmaltzy fare you get to hear him croon some fabulous traditional Jewish hymns, and even get treated to a delightfully rousing rendition of the ultimate party song, Havah Nagilah.


Well, I'm afraid there isn’t much to soil the knickers over here. A static menu (although it at least has musical accompaniment) leads to...

Song selection: Links to seven of the film's songs.

Biographies: A limited selection of bios that contain brief filmographies as well. Two pages for Neil, two for Lucie Arnaz and, not surprisingly considering his history, six pages for Larry.

Photo gallery: Twelve stills from the film/production photos.

Trailer: You may wish to avert your eyes from these three and a half minutes of ick. Served up in 1.85:1 at least, this is a perfect demonstration of how bad something can actually look and sound on DVD when no effort goes into giving it a spit and polish. Regardless of landing on the disc in Dolby Stereo it has that hideous mono sound thing going on, is grainy, washed out, wobbly, has dreadful colour and is even slightly squished. Anybody who thinks that the film itself suffered a dodgy transfer should take a look at this to see how infinitely worse it could have been.


Whilst this is far from the greatest film to DVD transfer ever, it is at least refreshing that a not-that-successful movie such as this, with appeal to a fair amount of fans, has been released at all. If you are in that fan category then it won’t come much better than this in a hurry.

Film-wise I found this more captivating than I expected (OK, I admit it - it was the Rabbi Krustofsky connection that made me put my hand up for this review), with a hackneyed almost paper-thin story that still managed to conjure forth a few blubs, and loads of captivatingly phlegmy Yiddish to feast your ears upon (when they came up with this language they sure did it right). As an actor Neil Diamond makes a fine singer, possessing thespian skills roughly equitable to those of a ham sandwich. Well, perhaps I'd better make that a chicken loaf sandwich...

As much as I've endured more of Neil Diamond's music than any girl should ever be subjected to in one lifetime, the mixture of tunes on offer here isn’t completely sanity snuffing. I do have one big complaint though - what Neil Diamond experience is complete when he never once goes all Crunchy Granola and screams, "GOOD LORD!"?!

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      And I quote...
    "As an actor Neil Diamond makes a fine singer..."
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Speakers:
          Home Built
    • Surrounds:
          No Name
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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