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".

Plot summary[edit]

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. But on the side, he writes songs for a black singing group, and when a member of the quartet gets in trouble with the law, Yussel is forced to cover for him at one of their engagements by wearing blackface. The nightclub engagement (where the selection "You Baby" is performed) is a success, but a patron at the nightclub (an unknown Ernie Hudson, four years before his Ghostbusters role) notices that Yussel's hands are not black and incites a riot. A fight ensues and the band is arrested. Cantor Rabinovitch comes to the jail to bail them out, but finds there is not a Yussel Rabinovitch there, only a Jess Robin. His son explains it is just a stage name he uses when performing. Cantor informs him that his singing voice was to be used for God's purposes, not his own. Yussel/Jess decides to relent and do whatever his father least for now.

Yussel's best friend, a member of the "Four Brothers" singing group, Bubba (Franklyn Ajaye), informs him that the band has received work in Los Angeles performing backup vocals for Keith Lennox (Paul Nicholas). Shortly after Bubba leaves, Yussel begins writing and composing a song that will eventually become "Love on the Rocks". Rivka notices him writing and composing the song in his free time and senses that Yussel yearns for a bigger stage for his voice, but her values keep her grounded to the home life they have built together. Bubba calls from Los Angeles to inform him that Keith Lennox really loved "Love on the Rocks" and wants to record it, but they need Yussel to come out for two weeks to oversee the recording session. This is the opportunity he has been waiting for, but Yussel's wife and father are opposed to him going. At a party at their synagogue, his father relents and bids him a tearful goodbye. In his professional identity as "Jess", he is met in L.A. by music agent Molly Bell (Lucie Arnaz). She takes him to the studio where Keith Lennox is recording, and Jess is shocked to find out that his ballad is being recorded as a hard rock song. During a break in recording, Jess asks the producer and Lennox if he can perform the song as intended. They allow him to do so and while recording, Molly realizes that Jess's performance is the proper way. Not easily swayed, Lennox dismisses the group--and eventually Molly as well.

Molly gets a tip from a friend as to where booking agent Eddie Gibbs (Sully Boyar) is having lunch. She asserts herself in his car as a mugger (holding the tape in her jacket pocket as though concealing a gun) and makes him listen to a recording of Jess's "Love on the Rocks". When Eddie asks who it is, Molly tells him that it is the new opening act for comedian Zany Gray's (Mike Pasternak) new television special. Gibbs is not amused. He says he cannot book anyone sight unseen and promptly throws Molly out of his car. However, she persuades Eddie 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 and leaves. Jess thinks he has blown it. Molly tells him, "He hates loud music. You he loved! You open for Zany Gray next week." Meanwhile, back in New York City, Cantor Rabinovich confronts Rivka about Jess going to California and reminds her that her place is by her husband's side. If she travels to California, then maybe she can bring him home. She relents and goes.

On Jess's opening night, he begins with a small harmonica intro and is heckled by someone in the crowd who yells, "Is that all you can play, turkey?!?" But he endures and performs "Summer Love". The audience applauds and Jess decides to perform a song everyone can get in on, "Hey Louise". Rivka shows up and meets Molly. Rivka tries to explain that their Jewish values are so tightly adhered to that Jess cannot possibly stay. She also senses Molly's attraction to her husband. Molly tells Rivka that she is not the problem; the audience is. Jess ends his set and is given a standing ovation. He heads backstage and is reunited with Rivka. Molly makes herself scarce. At the aftershow party in Jess's dressing room, Jess is given a recording contract. However, he and Rivka have an argument outside his dressing room where his wife warns him that it is either her or his new life. He tries to convince her to stay, but Rivka feels she has lost him permanently and runs off.

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. The two make love and he writes "Hello Again" for her. His father comes to see Jess where he is living with Molly in Venice, California to get Jess his son to come back to New York where he belongs. Jess tells him he and Rivka will be divorced. They are interrupted when Molly enters and Jess introduces her. Anguished, his father then performs keriah, the tearing of a piece of clothing over the heart, and says, "I have no son." Molly asks Jess why his father tore his clothing and Jess explains that the act is one of mourning someone who has just died. Molly asks, "Who's dead?" Bitterly, Jess replies, "I am."

In the recording studio, Jess, along with Bubba and the Four Brothers, are recording the selection "Jerusalem". But Jess, distracted by the incident with his father, takes his anger out on the band. During a break, Bubba finds out from Molly she is pregnant. He warns her not to tell Jess right now. The recording session goes from bad to worse. Jess grows so upset that he leaves the studio and drives off in anger. Bubba tries to follow, but Molly tells him to just let Jess work things out on his own. Jess keeps driving until his car runs out of fuel. He hitchhikes and winds up spending the next several months on the road. He ends up at a small country bar, where he is hired to sing. Bubba tracks him down and tells Jess of the birth of his son, Charlie Parker (Chaim) Rabinovitch. Jess returns to Venice Beach and to Molly. Hoping to revive Jess's career, Molly again sneaks into Eddie's car. He is not easily swayed, even though Jess's debut album did go gold and "probably paid for this car", Molly reminds him. Eddie gives in and allows Jess to perform one number at "Zany Gray's Autumn in New York" concert.

In New York City at the rehearsals, Jess is met by a friend of his father's, Leo (Mike Kellin), who explains that the doctors refuse to allow Cantor Rabinovitch to sing the Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur due to his high blood pressure. He asks if Yussel could come to the service to be cantor, in hopes that it will breach the distance between father and son. Jess initially says no, but is convinced by Molly that he should. On Yom Kippur, a time for atonement, Jess steps in aside the synagogue cantor to sing the Kol Nidre. His father looks up in shock, but seems still hardened by past events. After the service, Jess confronts his father and shows him a picture of his grandson. With that, 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]