Monday, October 13, 2014

The Singing Fool (1928)

This wildly popular follow-up to THE JAZZ SINGER is probably the best of the Al Jolson vehicles made at Warners. The story -- about a nightclub singer who rises meteorically to the top, loses his wife to another man and his son to illness, and hits rock bottom before finding redemption through his music -- is pure schmaltz, but it undeniably works thanks to Jolson's charismatic performance and energy. The charming Betty Bronson appears opposite Jolson here, and four-year-old Davey Lee is a standout as the tragic "Sonny Boy".

Despite the heavy-handedness of the material (strains of "Vesti la guibba" play on the soundtrack as the broken-hearted Jolson applies his blackface makeup), the film features some of Jolson's best and bounciest tunes, including "There's a Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder" and "I'm Sittin' on Top of the World", though extant prints of the film are missing the delightfully corny "The Spaniard That Blighted My Life", which was cut shortly after release for copyright reasons. The hit song from the film, "Sonny Boy", is sung no fewer than three times, most dramatically at the film's climax, when the melodrama reaches a fever pitch as Jolson is forced to perform the tune before an audience just moments after his son's death.

With its winning combination of Jolson's dynamic screen presence, first-rate songs and the novelty of sound, the film was a wild hit when released  in 1928, and went on to become the highest-grossing American film until GONE WITH THE WIND eleven years later.

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