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The Jolson Story

4.8 out of 5 stars 187 customer reviews

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(Oct 21, 2003)
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Editorial Reviews

A pure delight, THE JOLSON STORY is classic Hollywood biography at its best; a fast-paced, tune-filled extravaganza following the meteoric rise of legendary performer Al Jolson. THE JOLSON STORY was nominated for six 1946 Academy Awards , winning two, (Best Musical Scoring and Best Sound Recording). Asa Yoelson (Larry Parks) is a talented cantor's son determined to succeed in show business. From humble beginnings in vaudeville to the pinnacle of success on stage and in motion pictures, Asa, wholater changed his name to Al Jolson, struggled to balance the demands of his personal life with theswelling adoration of millions of fans. As Jolson's star ascends, his single-minded pursuit of stardom takes its toll on his relationship with his wife, Broadway legend Ruby Keeler (called Julie Benson in the film and portrayed by Evelyn Keyes), and the support of life-long friend and mentor Steve Martin (William Demarest). Featuring lavish, show-stopping musical numbers (actually sung by Jolson and

Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Actors: William Demarest, Bill Goodwin, Evelyn Keyes, Ludwig Donath, Larry Parks
  • Directors: Alfred E. Green, Joseph H. Lewis
  • Producers: Sidney Skolsky
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Subtitles: English, Japanese
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: Region 1 encoding (US and Canada only)
    PLEASE NOTE:
    Some Region 1 DVDs may contain Regional Coding Enhancement (RCE). Some, but not all, of our international customers have had problems playing these enhanced discs on what are called "region-free" DVD players. For more information on RCE, click .
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: October 21, 2003
  • Run Time: 130 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (187 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0000C23T2
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,289 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Jolson Story" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By William G. Edwards on September 29, 2004
Format: DVD
As a music historian in general, and as a performer of many of the pieces that Jolson made famous (piano for my part), and also as the son of an actor from radio and film that worked in Hollywood during Jolson's reign there, and as a collector of ancient recordings from the pre-vinyl era plus sheet music, I have had a lot of exposure to Jolson and his personna outside of these films. The view from inside is a bit sanitized, but not horrid.

Larry Parks is more than adequate for the role. Unfortunately, due to the limitations of the film media from 1946 (lack of widescreen and loss of ambience without surround sound and fx), the true essence of how BIG Jolson was on stage is lost to a degree. Jolson was not the best singer. He was not the best of lyricists. He was not the most humble of people. He had flaws that were both visible and invisible. But... HE WAS A GREAT ENTERTAINER. My Sheet Music Collection, which currently numbers over 7000 pieces, will validate that. Jolson saw his face on more sheet music covers than the bulk of many smaller publishers total output. You don't get there through simple coercion - it was his magnitude as a STAGE (not film) entertainer that got him there and kept him on top for two decades.

To some degree, while there is whitewashing and Hollywood sanitizing (such as the odd omission of Ruby Keeler's name in conjunction with her character), some of the personal flaws of Jolson are most certainly presented on screen. A more personal look from this decade would show a very troubled man with blatant insecurities, yet still quite likable. At the very least, this biopic was certainly better than some of that time, including the nearly totally fictitious Cole Porter mishap (discussed in D'Lovely).
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Format: VHS Tape
The young Asa Yoelson (Scotty Beckett) runs away from home to join Steve Martin (William Demarest) in vaudeville against the wishes of his parents. They find him and realising how much he wants to get into show business they reluctantly agree for him to join Martin on tour. As he grows up he changes his name to Al Jolson (now played by Larry Parks) and becomes a big Broadway star. He meets Julie Benson (Evelyn Keyes) and they get married. However, all that Jolson really cares about is to get in front of an audience and sing so his marriage suffers because of it. He stars in one successful Broadway show after another and then is invited to go to Hollywood to take the lead in the first ever talking picture "The Jazz Singer". In later years his popularity declines and he finds it harder to get work. He does in fact make a sensational comeback and is in even bigger demand than ever which was portrayed in the sequel "Jolson Sings Again".
When I first saw "The Jolson Story" I had never heard of its star Larry Parks although I had bought a few Jolson records prior to seeing the film. Parks gave a magnificent portrayal but apart from appearing in "Jolson Sings Again" three years later he made very few films after that due to the McCarthy communist "witch hunt" which was a shame.
Some favourite lines from the film:
William Demarest: "Give that boy a spotlight!".
Tamara Shayne (to Ludwig Donath): "Papa, Asa isn't Asa any more!".
Larry Parks (to orchestra leader): "Oscar, what are you doing with that phone - this is no time to call up women!".
Parks (to audience in theatre): "Settle back folks - you ain't heard nothin' yet!".
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Format: VHS Tape
There are few words that can accurately describe the magnificent performance of Larry Parks in "THE JOLSON STORY". With Larry's performance, Morris Stoloff's Orchestra, and the great Al Jolson's voice, this movie is easily hands down, the best musical biography ever made. Along with it's sequel, "JOLSON SINGS AGAIN", it stands in a class of it's own. Sure reviewers of today have deemed it a little hoaky, but that is how wartime Hollywood movies were. In addition, although the movie is obviously fictionalized, the facts of Jolson's accomplishments are TRUE, and cannot and should not be denied with regard to their historical importance as it relates to the evolution of American Entertainment and the great American Songbook. Jolson was the KIng of Showbusiness for more than four decades, and his accomplishments are legendary. For those who have not yet seen this movie, take note of some of Al Jolson's achievements: 1st million selling record; 1st million selling album; 1st to take a Braodway show on the road; 1st to go overseas and entertain the troops in the USO; and the list goes on and on. Do yourself a favor...watch this movie...see history...discover America's Greatest Entertainer.
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Format: DVD
This comment is for those so offended by blackface that they would like to see it edited out of The Jolson Story. It will never happen, of course. Aside from rewriting history, it would sacrifice half the songs and make nonsense of the plot. Still, there's good reason to feel repelled. Jolson put on blackface and sang Dixie nostalgia at a time when lynching and the Ku Klux Klan were in revival and blacks were fleeing the South for their lives. Yet there is another side to it.

Imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery. Artists don't copy styles they despise, only those they admire. We can see how that works when it comes to more recent performers. We don't think of Eminem, or white gospel singers, as denigrating African-Americans. Elvis' first record, It's All Right, had such a black sound that many assumed he was black. Elvis was born and raised in the segregated Mississippi of the 1930's and 40's, yet his imitation of black sound was homage, not mockery.

But blackface was different, right? Or was it?

To understand Jolson, you have to go back to Stephen Foster. America's first great writer of popular songs, born in the 1830's, Foster was a northerner who visited the South, very briefly, only once in his life. Yet he was steeped in minstrel music and would black up as a child to perform it. In his day, black and white songs styles were perceived as different in kind. If you were trying to sound black, it made sense to try to look black. Foster wrote only two hits in white "parlor" style: Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair and Beautiful Dreamer. But he wrote dozens in black styles ranging from tragic laments to comic ditties.

Jolson's songs abound in allusions to Foster: Weep no more, my lady, Old Black Joe, Old Folks at home, Swannee River.
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