On Dec. 30, 1952, Warner Bros.’ The Jazz Singer made its world premiere in Technicolor at Hollywood’s Fox Beverly Theatre, the final gala debut of that year. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
A fine mixture of song and sentiment, this modern version of The Jazz Singer has all the heart quality of the original, emerging as a tender, poignant film given added entertainment value by the warm singing and comedy routines of Danny Thomas and the enjoyable warbling of Peggy Lee.
Following pretty much the storyline of the Al Jolson starrer, the tale has been brought up to date, successfully maintaining the emotional quality of the always timely drama of the son who refuses to follow in his father’s footsteps, the impact being stronger here because of the generations of tradition being broken by the boy who wants to go on the stage.
Thomas gives a vibrant sincerity to the role of the sergeant who returns from Korea and is expected by his father, Eduard Franz, to carry on as the seventh generation of the family to serve as Cantor of the Sinai Temple in Philadelphia. But Danny is set on show business and, aided by his mother’s understanding, gets his father’s unhappy blessings. He is given a featured spot in a show starring Peggy Lee, but the musical is a complete flop, closing after one night.
Danny keeps plugging away, encouraged by Peggy, who is in love with him, but can’t get a break. Discouraged, and wanting to please his father, he returns home and agrees to become the new Cantor. He tries hard to be at peace in his work but is tormented by his love for show business. Finally he realizes he can’t go through with it and returns to the entertainment world, his heartbroken father now regarding him as dead.
Danny becomes a night club star and then lands a co-starring role in a musical with Peggy. On opening night he is called home by the critical illness of his father. There is a reunion between the two men, Franz having realized he has no right to order his son’s way of life. Story closes on a happy note with Franz recovering and, with the family, proudly watching his son starring on the stage with his girl, Peggy.
Thomas does three of his popular routines, “Man on a Bus,” “Life of a Lobster” and “South Pacific Islander,” all good for laughs and leaving one wanting more. His singing is genuinely exciting, coming over with a sincerity and feeling that carries a wallop. His renditions of “The Birth of the Blues” and Sammy Fain and Jerry Seelen’s “Living the Life I Love” are worth the admission tab by themselves while his singing of the Jewish sacred hymn Kol Nidre is deeply moving.
Peggy Lee socks over her numbers in wonderful style, particularly Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things” and her own “This Is a Very Special Day,” a very tuneful melody. Eduard Franz is splendid as the tradition-proud Cantor, playing him with a dignity and understanding that is tremendously effective.
Mildred Dunnock is excellent as the mother torn between her husband and son, understanding each and recognizing the motivations behind their stands. Also standing out are Tom Tully as a big league umpire and friend of the Cantor’s, Alex Gerry as Danny’s understanding uncle, and Allyn Joslyn as a show producer.
Michael Curtiz’s sensitive direction brings out the full emotional qualities of the story without ever allowing it to become maudlin. Louis F. Edelman’s production is a handsome one, embellished by the soft, Technicolor photography by Carl Guthrie and by Leo K. Kuter’s attractive settings. Edelman’s general supervision is top quality, reflecting credit on his showmanship.
Musical numbers are staged in enjoyable fashion by LeRoy Prinz. Other new songs by Fain and Seelen are “I Hear the Music Now” and “What Are New Yorkers Made Of,” both pleasant numbers. — Staff review, originally published on Dec. 31, 1952