Evelyn Keyes and Larry Parks in The Jolson Story (1946)


(director: Alfred E. Green; screenwriters: Sidney Buchman/Harry Chandlee/Stephen Longstreet/Andrew Solt; cinematographer: Joseph Walker; editor: William Lyon; music: Saul Chaplin/George Duning/Hugo Friedhofer/Arthur Morton/Marlin Skiles/Morris Stoloff; cast: Larry Parks (Al Jolson), Evelyn Keyes (Julie Benson), William Demarest (Steve Martin), Bill Goodwin (Tom Baron), Ludwig Donath (Cantor Yoelson), Tamara Shayne (Mama Yoelson), Scotty Beckett (Asa Yoelson), John Alexander (Lew Dockstader), Eddie Kane (Florenz Ziegfeld); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Gordon Griffith/Sidney Skolsky; Columbia; 1946)

“It has the music alright, but the dramatics are corny, tiresome and not reliable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A curio trip down memory lane musical biopic of the then iconic relic Al Jolson. It has the music alright, but the dramatics are corny, tiresome and not reliable. The gaudy fictionalized biopic whitewashes some of the ugly marital problems Jolson had, as it instead makes the most of the old-fashioned songs that its star Larry Parks brings to new life by accurately getting the Jolson mannerisms and his essence just right as he mimics him while the real Jolson’s voice is used. Alfred E. Green (“Top Banana”/”Sierra”/ “The Fabulous Dorseys”) directs the pic, but Joseph H. Lewis directed the more important musical numbers.

In 1927 Al Jolson starred in The Jazz Singer, which rang in the era of talking pictures and was an enormous success.

The real Jolson sings on the soundtrack “Avalon”, “Toot, Toot, Tootsie!,” “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” “Kol Nidre,” “On the Banks of the Wabash,” “Ave Maria,” “When You Were Sweet Sixteen,” “After the Ball,” “By the Light of the Silvery Moon,” “I Want a Girl–Just Like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad,” “My Mammy,” “I’m Sittin’ on Top of the World,” “Swanee,” “California, Here I Come,” “Rock-a-bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody,” “About a Quarter to Nine,” “The Anniversary Song,” and “Liza.” It topped off as third best money pic in the box office of 1946, as the public took a new look at the passe Jolson and liked what they saw. But critics gave the pic mixed reviews.

It tells the story of the youngster Asa Yoelson (Scotty Beckett), son of an immigrant cantor (Ludwig Donath) in the turn-of-the-century Washington D.C., who leaves the temple for showbiz against his father’s wishes and is reborn as Al Jolson (Larry Parks). He becomes a great entertainer, the greatest singer of the 1920s after hooking up with vaudeville comedian Steve Martin (William Demarest)—a fictional composite character of several of Jolson’s friends. Jolson does an act in black-face (a political no-no for modern times), and lives only for audience approval. He falls in love with musical comedy star and hoofer Julie Benson (Evelyn Keyes)—in reality it was Ruby Keeler—and they marry, but the marriage is on the rocks because the star lives only for applause.


REVIEWED ON 12/30/2007 GRADE: B-