The Jazz Singer (1980 film)

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The Jazz Singer
Jazz singer.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Richard Fleischer
Sidney J. Furie
Produced by Jerry Leider
Written by Herbert Baker
Starring Neil Diamond
Laurence Olivier
Lucie Arnaz
Catlin Adams
Franklyn Ajaye
Paul Nicholas
Music by Gilbert Bécaud
Neil Diamond
Leonard Rosenman
Richard Bennett
Alan E. Lindgren
Cinematography Isidore Mankofsky
Edited by Frank J. Urioste
Maury Winetrobe
Distributed by Associated Film Distribution
Release dates
  • December 19, 1980 (1980-12-19)
Running time
115 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $27,118,000

The Jazz Singer is a 1980 American drama film and a remake of the 1927 classic The Jazz Singer, released by EMI Films. It starred Neil Diamond, Laurence Olivier and Lucie Arnaz and was co-directed by Richard Fleischer and Sidney J. Furie.

Although the film was a critical flop, the soundtrack was enormously successful, eventually reaching multi-platinum status and becoming Diamond's most successful album to date. It resulted in three hit songs, "America", "Love on the Rocks" and "Hello Again".


In New York City, Jess Robin (Neil Diamond), whose real name is Yussel Rabinovitch, is an Orthodox Jewish cantor performing at the synagogue of his imperious father Cantor Rabinovitch (Laurence Olivier). Yussel is married to his childhood sweetheart Rivka (Catlin Adams) and has settled down to a life of religious devotion to the teaching of his faith; as a sideline, he writes songs for a black vocal quartet, "The Four Brothers". One night after Maariv, Yussel is recruited by the group to cover for one of the members who is in trouble with the law and must wear blackface and an Afro wig as it is a strictly all-black venue. The group performs "You Baby" and the engagement is a success, but an audience member (Ernie Hudson) notices that Yussel's hands are white, sparking a riot in which the band is arrested. Cantor Rabinovitch goes to the jail to bail them out but finds there is not a Yussel Rabinovitch there, only a Jess Robin. Yussel explains his use of a stage name, but his father informs him that his singing voice is to be used for God's purposes, not his own. Yussel/Jess decides to relent and do whatever his father wants, at least for now.

Yussel's best friend Bubba (Franklyn Ajaye), who is one of the Four Brothers, informs him that the band has received work in Los Angeles performing backup vocals for various artists, including British rock star Keith Lennox (Paul Nicholas). Shortly after Bubba leaves, Yussel begins writing and composing a song that will eventually become "Love On The Rocks" and sends a demo to Bubba. Through it all, Rivka senses that since her husband has been spending a lot of his free time writing and composing songs, he yearns for a bigger stage for his voice. However, her values keep her grounded to the home life they have built together.

A few days later, during preparations for a party celebrating Cantor Ravinovich's 25th year of service to the synagogue, Bubba calls Yussel from Los Angeles to inform him that Keith Lennox really loves "Love On The Rocks" and wants to record it, but they need him to come out for two weeks (starting the next day) to oversee the recording sessions. This is the opportunity he has been waiting for, but Rivka and Cantor oppose it. At the party that night, Yussel's father relents and bids his son a tearful goodbye; Yussel cheers him up with a rousing rendition of "Hava Nagila".

The following day, "Jess Robin" is met in L.A. by music agent Molly Bell (nee Bellengocavela) (Lucie Arnaz) who takes him to the studio where Keith Lennox is recording. He is shocked to see that his ballad is being recorded as a hard rock song. During a break in recording, Jess asks Lennox if he can record the song as intended and Lennox obliges. Molly realizes that Jess's performance is the proper way, but Lennox cannot be easily swayed and dismisses Jess and The Four Brothers -- and eventually Molly as well. That evening, to temporarily forget their problems, the out-of-work group has a party at Molly's beach condominium which overlooks the Pacific Ocean in Venice Beach. After lifting everybody's spirits with "On The Robert E. Lee", Jess slips outside and contemplates going back home already. Molly hands him a tape of his recording from earlier in the day and convinces him to stay. During this time, Jess introduces another one of his songs, "Hello Again".

Later, Molly gets a tip from a friend as to where booking agent Eddie Gibbs (Sully Boyar) is having lunch. Pretending to be a mugger by holding the tape in her jacket pocket (as though concealing a gun), she jumps into Eddie's car, makes him listen to Jess's recording of "Love On The Rocks" and tells him that he is new opening act for comedian Zany Gray's (Mike Pasternak) new television special. However, Eddie cannot book anyone sight unseen, so Molly persuades him to come to a club where Jess has managed to obtain an engagement, thanks to Bubba who was working there as a waiter. Eddie watches for only a few moments, exits the club and drives off, but not before telling Molly that Jess is hired to open for Zany Gray at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. Molly tells Jess the great news and they celebrate at a nearby pizzaria where Jess calls home to tell his wife and father of his good fortune. Rivka is anything but thrilled for her husband, especially since he will have to stay in California longer than the intended two weeks; she also senses that Molly has become attracted to Jess. Her father-in-law reminds her that her place is by her husband's side and she should go out to California to see him perform, suggesting that she may be able to bring him home. A reluctant Rivka relents and goes.

Jess's opening night finally comes and he performs two songs. Heckled at first about the small harmonica introduction to "Summer Love", he endures and is applauded. For the second song, Jess decides to perform something everyone can get in on, "Hey Louise". During Jess's set, Rivka shows up backstage and introduces herself to Molly. Although impressed by her husband's performance, she explains to Molly that their Jewish values are so tightly adhered to that Jess cannot possibly stay. As Jess receives a standing ovation at the end of his set, Molly points out to Rivka that the audience is the problem and not her. As Jess heads backstage, Molly leaves so that he can be alone with his wife. The couple's happy reunion turns sour when he refuses to go back to New York with her, especially since he has just been given a recording contract. Convinced that she has lost him permanently with his new life, Rivka runs off in tears.

Over the next several weeks while working on his first album, Jess finds he has developed feelings for Molly. A montage ensues that shows their relationship developing, including a comedic scene where Molly makes Jess a nice ham dinner, completely forgetting that he is Jewish and does not eat pork products. Jess finally moves in with Molly and the two make love. Days later, Jess is paid a surprise visit by his father. After some small talk, Cantor Rabinovich tries desperately to get Jess to go back with him to New York where he belongs, but Jess stuns him with the news that he and Rivka are divorcing. Only a moment later, Molly enters and Jess introduces her. Anguished at this turn of events, his father performs keriah by tearing off a piece of clothing over the heart and declares "I have no son". After he is gone, Jess explains the ritual to Molly, meaning that he is now dead to his father.

A few months later, Jess and the Four Brothers are back in the recording studio cutting "Jerusalem". However, Jess is still distracted by the incident with his father and takes his anger out on the band. During a break, Bubba finds out from Molly she is pregnant and he warns her not to tell Jess right now. When the recording session goes from bad to worse, a flustered Jesse leaves the studio and drives off. He is relegated to hitchhiking when his car runs out of fuel in the middle of nowhere and spends the next several months on the road throughout the Southwest. At a small country bar, Jess impresses the owner with his rendition of "You Are My Sunshine" and is hired to sing there. Soon, he is tracked down by Bubba who tells him that he is now a father with the birth of his new son, Charlie Parker (Chaim) Rabinovich. Despite being completely unaware of Molly's pregnancy until now, Jess is thrilled and returns to Venice Beach, hoping to be forgiven for being away so long. Finding them on the beach outside of their condo, he shares a tender moment with Molly and their new son.

Several days later, Molly sets out to revive Jesse's career and again sneaks into Eddie's car. This time, he adamantly refuses to take Jess back for deserting Zany Gray, but Molly reminds him that Jess's debut album went gold and "probably paid for this car". Eddie gives in and allows Jess to perform one number at "Zany Gray's Autumn In New York" concert. During the rehearsals in New York City, Jesse learns from longtime family friend Leo (Mike Kellin) that his father has recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure and, under strict doctor's orders, will be unable to sing the Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur. Leo asks Yussel to sing at the service, hoping that it will breach the year-long estrangement between father and son; Jess initially refuses but then is convinced by Molly that he should. On Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Jess enters the synagogue, takes his place next to the appointed cantor at the bimah and starts singing the Kol Nidre. His father looks up in shock, but seems still hardened by past events. After the service, Jess confronts his father and tells him that he is the grandfather of the first sixth-generation Rabinovich and gives him a picture of his grandson. Looking hard at the photo and seeing his deceased wife's smile and Yussel's eyes in his grandson, Cantor Rabinovitch forgives his son and the two embrace. At the concert, Jess opens the show with "America" accompanied by a full orchestra. He basks in the glow of a standing ovation he receives -- including from Cantor Rabinovitch, who is sitting next to Molly.

This latest version changes the ending considerably by allowing Olivier's character to live rather than die of a broken heart, and allowing a genuine face-to-face reconciliation between Jess and his father.



Box office[edit]

Lew Grade who invested in the film said the box office "results were disappointing and we weren't able to recoup our prints and advertising costs". However, since the movie had been presold to American television for $4 million the losses were minimized. Also, the album was very successful and made more money than the film itself.[1]


Unlike the original, the film received mostly negative reviews. Based on 20 reviews, Rotten Tomatoes listed it with a 15% "Rotten" rating (61% less positive than the 1927 film). Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun-Times, awarding it one star out of four, said that the remake "has so many things wrong with it that a review threatens to become a list".[2] Another negative review came from Janet Maslin of The New York Times who stated: "Mr. Diamond, looking glum and seldom making eye contact with anyone, isn't enough of a focus for the outmoded story." Time Out London called the appearance of Neil Diamond "the most cautious soft-rock superstar movie debut you'll ever get to see." The only top critic to give a positive review of the film (according to Rotten Tomatoes) was Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader. He wrote that "Richard Fleischer's direction is appropriately close-in and small, and Diamond himself, while no actor, proves to be a commandingly intense, brooding presence." The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John J. B. Wilson's book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of the The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.[3]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Subject Nominee Result
Grammy Awards Best Album Neil Diamond, Gilbert Bécaud, Alan E. Lindgren, Richard Bennett and Doug Rhone Nominated
ASCAP Awards Most Performed Feature Film Standards Neil Diamond for "America" Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Original Song Neil Diamond and Gilbert Bécaud for "Love on the Rocks" Nominated
Best Supporting Actress - Musical/Comedy Lucie Arnaz Nominated
Best Actor - Musical/Comedy Neil Diamond Nominated
Golden Raspberry Awards Worst Actor Won
Worst Supporting Actor Laurence Olivier Won
Worst Picture Nominated
Worst Director Sidney J. Furie and Richard Fleischer Nominated
Worst Original Song Neil Diamond for "You Baby" Nominated


  1. ^ Lew Grade, Still Dancing: My Story, William Collins & Sons 1987 p 252
  2. ^
  3. ^ Wilson, John (2005). The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0-446-69334-0. 

External links[edit]