20 February 2009 | anthonyrwaldman
Part of a film genre
The Jazz Singer is one of a number of films made in the late 1940's and 1950 about the Jewish experience in the United States. Other than Crossfire(1947) and Gentleman's Agreement(1947) which dealt with anti-semitism they usually had a musical-theatre background. These films included The Jolson Story(1946), Jolson Sings Again(1949), The Eddy Duchin Story(1951), The Eddie Cantor Story(1953),The Benny Goodman Story(1956) and Margorie Morningstar(1958). The leading actors in these "Jewish" films were always played by non-Jews. For example Larry Parks a non-Jew played Al Jolson and Gene Kelly played Noel Airman in Marjorie Morningstar. This casting was probably done to make the Jewish theme palpable to a mainly non-Jewish audience. The Jazz Singer(1952) is no different. Danny Thomas was a devout Catholic and Peggy Lee was certainly not Jewish although she plays a non-practicing Jewess in the film. The clue to her background is when she attends the Golding's family meal before entering she says "I haven't been to a sader (passover service) since I left home".
The film is about a cantor's son who has just left the service after seeing action in Korea. His dilemma is whether to become a cantor, a family tradition or to be a singer in musical theatre. His choice of theatre leads to an inevitable conflict with his father.
However, there is much more to this film than this. This film was made after the Rosenberg trial during the McCarthy whitchhunts and the Hollywood blacklist. Therefore in this film the Jews are shown as good loyal citizens and
are quintessentialy American. The synagogue choir would rather play baseball than practice. The cantors friends also talk about baseball in fact one of them is a Major League umpire. The synagogue itself dates back to 1790 and George Washington is said to have visited. Therefore Jews are presented as part and parcel of American society. Nobody in this film has a Eastern European accent. Peggy Lee appeared in very few feature films. In this film you get to see her sing "Lover" and "Just One of Those Things" wonderful. Danny Thomas is quite credible and he acts and sings the part very well. The comedic routines could have been left out. Yes, the film is schmaltzy and sentimental but it is well worth seeing. I enjoyed it very much.