Archive for the ‘Lucie Arnaz’ Category

The Jazz Singer

09 Mar

The Jazz Singer – directed by Richard Fleischer. Musical. A Jewish cantor is cursed by his father for going into popular music. 114 minutes Color 1980.

This is the third version I have seen of this and the best. It was originally cobbled up by the great screenwriter Samson Raphaelson for Al Jolson, and became the first talking picture. Jerry Lewis played it; then (with Mildred Dunnock and Arthur Franz) with Danny Thomas, who is no more Jewish than my cat and certainly not a singer (Peggy Lee supplied the deficiency), and now with Neil Diamond who certainly is both. Samson Raphaelson thought it was the cheapest piece of crap he’s ever written, but it’s not. In fact, the versions get better over time.

I didn’t see it when it came out, but I hear that Neil Diamond’s version was much maligned when it came out, which probably had to do with the nature of Neil Diamond’s singing or his music or both. I had never heard him sing before this movie. His energy, in the rock and roll era, rolls but does not rock, true. For his natural beat is settled and steady, not volatile and Bacchanalian. His voice is one of those reassuring male voices like Dick Haymes’. It’s a romantic alto inhered with a pleasant crack and a good yearning. Everything he does with it is simple, straightforward, and straight. There is no gender question here. He is always honest.

As to the songs, I cannot judge; it is not my era. I have long since been inured to the doxologies of popular music. I like “Hello, Again,” though it’s rather witless. But that none of the songs speak to me particularly is no gauge of their charm and of their excellence.

Certainly as an actor Neil Diamond is beyond reproach. In his late thirties at the time it was made, Diamond is 20 years too old for the part and looks it. I guess it doesn’t much matter, though; every actor I have seen do it was too old for it. It’s his first acting job and he’s just dandy. He plays firm, focused, and fluid opposite Laurence Olivier, a trixey actor if there ever was one. They have replaced Mildred Dunnock and Arthur Franz with Olivier, who gives us one of his sweet old dears. Unfortunately Olivier does it behind the oddest pair of spectacles, big square jobs that reflect and screen his eyes. Olivier was a poor technician with American accents, and, while he makes much of his Jewish one here, it also makes little of him.

And Olivier is certainly not slumming. For the film is beautifully produced by Jerry Leider, who provides an amiable commentary. And beautifully acted by Sully Boyer, Mike Kellin, and Franklyn Ajaye. What a treat they are! But the great discovery for me is Lucie Arnaz as Diamond’s manager. What a charming actress. She’s absolutely on the money, in every scene, a delightful light comedienne. And so pretty, isn’t she? I was an extra in a movie she made in Santa Fe. She was nifty then. She is so here.

If you like musicals this is a good old fashioned one. It’s the old story of the prodigal son who never comes back. Clifford Odet’s Golden Boy is another version of it. So is Humoresque. There are many, and this one will hold you, if it held me.

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