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 date
  • 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".


Yussel Rabinovitch is a young Jewish cantor performing at the synagogue of his imperious father. Yussel is married to his childhood friend, Rivka, 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 takes ill, Yussel covers for him at one of their gigs by wearing blackface. The nightclub engagement is such a success but one of the patrons at the nightclub notices that Yussel hands are white and calls him out. A fight ensues and the band is arrested. Yussel's father comes to the jail to bail them out but finds out that there is not a Yussel Rabinovitch there but a Jess Robin. Later his father questions him about that and Yussel tells him it is just a professional stage name he uses when performing. His father reminds him that his singing voice was to be used for God's purposes not his own.

Yussel/Jess' best friend and member of the "Four Brothers" signing group, Bubba, informs him that the band got a gig in Los Angeles performing back up vocals for Keith Lennox. Shortly after Bubba leaves Yussel begins composing a song that would eventually become Love On The Rocks. His wife Rivka notices him writing 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 Jess from LA and informs him that Keith Lennox really loved Love on The Rocks and wants to record it but they need Jess to come out for two weeks to oversee the recording session. Jess finally sees this as the opportunity he has been waiting for but his wife and his father are opposed to him going. But later at a bar mitzvah his father relents and tearfully lets him go.

When Jess arrives in LA he is picked up by music agent Molly Bell. She takes him to the studio where Keith Lennox is recording and Jess is shocked to find out that his ballad is now being recorded as a hard rock song. During a break in recording Jess asks the Producer and Keith Lennox if he can perform the song as a ballad as intended so Lennox can get an idea of the framing of the song. They allow him to do it and while recording the song Molly realizes that Jess' performance is the correct way the song should be done. However Lennox is not so easily swayed and fires the group.

Later Molly gets a tip from a friend as to where booking agent Eddie Gibbs was having lunch and she asserts herself in his car and has him listen to a recording of Jess' Love on The Rocks. When Eddie asks her who it is Molly tells him that it is the new opening act for Zane Gray's new television special. Gibbs is not amused and says he can't book anyone from just a tape recording sight unseen and promptly throws Molly out of his car. However she manages to get Eddie to come to a club where Jess has managed to get a gig playing, thanks to Bubba who was working there as a waiter. Eddie comes in and watches for a moment and then leaves. Jess thinks he has a blown it and Molly tells him, "..he hates loud he open for Zane Gray."

Meanwhile back in New York Cantor Rabinovich confronts Rivka about Jess going to California and reminds her that her place is by her husband sides and if she goes to California maybe she can bring him home. She relents and goes to California.

On Jess' opening night he begins with a small harmonica intro and is heckled by someone in the crowd but he endures and performs the song "Summer Love". He finishes his first song and the audience applauds and Jess decides to perform a song everyone can clap to and performs "Hey Louise". Rivka shows up and meets Molly and Rivka tries to tell Molly that their Jewish values are so tightly adhered to that Jess cannot possibly stay. Molly tells Rivka that she is not the problem but the crowd is. Jess ends his set and the audience gives him a standing ovation. He heads back stage and is reunited with Rivka. At the after party in Jess' dressing room Jess is met by a receptive crowd and his given a recording contract. Rivka realizes she has lost him and runs off before Jess can catch her.



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 soundtrack album was very successful and made more money than the film itself.[1]


Unlike the original, the film received mostly negative reviews. 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 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.[3]

Diamond was nominated for both a Golden Globe Award and a Golden Raspberry Award for the same role in this movie, winning the latter. The only other time an actor was nominated for both awards for the same performance was Pia Zadora, who uniquely won both in 1981.

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


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:



  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. 
  4. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-07-30. 

External links[edit]