We’re nearly through the end of the our lengthy countdown of the worst films ever. With Ponty’s #1 pick in the books, there’s just my #1 pick to go on Monday.
Fortunately, Audre Myers is back again with some midweek levity and positivity, moving away from the acerbic wit of negative reviews. The object of her praise this week is 1946’s The Jolson Story, the slightly fictionalized account of the life of Al Jolson and his insatiable appetite for applause. There’s also a poignant love story, one that doesn’t quite turn out as we’d hope.
But I’ll leave that to Audre. Here is her review of The Jolson Story (1946):
A little while back, The Portly Politico featured a fun movie review by a contributing writer, 39 Pontiac Dream. It was a fun review because our friend 39 is at his best when he hates a movie and the movie he hated was Love Actually (2003). You can read his very fine (and funny!) review here https://theportlypolitico.com/2022/08/01/monday-morning-movie-review-pontys-top-ten-worst-films-2-love-actually-2003/
In his write-up, 39 gives a brief synopsis of the subplots and characters and as I read the article a thought occurred to me and it has prompted me to write a couple of reviews, but about movies I love. The thought that occurred to me is how life can sometimes take love and shape it into something else. We’ve seen it in friends and families. Maybe even in ourselves.
There are times when Hollywood hits the nail on the head and produces something that touches us deeply. The movie The Jolson Story is one such film. The movie was released in 1946 and stars Larry Parks, although Jolson himself does all the singing. It’s one of those movies that just make you smile as you watch – there’s so much America in this film, the kind of people we are and where we were in 1946 when the boys were home from war.
There is some fictionalization of the early facts of Jolson’s career but we get a distinct feeling about how he was raised. And the talent that was already there just awaiting discovery. He was, even according to other sources than the film, one of those people with boundless energy. That energy and that talent drove him to the top of success, both as a singer and an actor. In the film, Al Jolson is in his late twenties, early thirties and meets the love of his life (in real life, Ruby Keeler) and marries her. He’s at the top of his form and introduces her to film making and she becomes famous on her own. He’s go, go, go and after several years of living in Jolson’s tornado, she wants to settle down and start a family but he’s driven – he has to perform; small crowd, big crowd, day or night – he has to perform.
Julie (his movie wife) finally has to tell him if they can’t find a way to balance work and a private life, that they should make other arrangements. He loves her and seeing her cry brings home to him how unhappy she is. Because he loves her, he tells her he’ll retire and they can live happily ever after in their house in the country. They spend a couple of years at the cottage and he has been true to his word. He isn’t singing and entertaining til all hours of the morning like he used to. As a matter of fact, he’s not singing at all.
In celebration of an anniversary, Julie and Jolson’s manager (played by William Demarest) conspire to bring Jolson’s mother and father to California and surprise Jolson. After the anniversary dinner, Jolson’s father (a Jewish cantor) asks Jolson to sing the “Anniversary Song” with him while he dances with Jolson’s mother. Jolson starts slowly but the dam bursts and there’s life in his face as he sings this most beautiful song (it is my favorite rendition of this song and moves me to tears to this day). Julie is watching his face and his body language as he sings. She knows now what she’s been feeling all along. Other guests at the anniversary dinner invite everyone to a nightclub to show Jolson’s parents a good time. Of course, (and I forgive Hollywood for this contrivance), the people at the nightclub recognize Jolson and beg for him to sing. He tries to say no but after a little encouragement, he gets up, goes to the band and sings. Even then, because he loves her, he tries to sit down after one song but the folks in the nightclub ask for more. He is in his element. He’s been so stifled for so long he’s sailing on clouds with the joy of singing in front of people where he can see their faces.
At the table, Julie never takes her eyes off him. She knows the end of the story. She explains herself to her father-in-law and to Jolson’s manager that Jolson has an intrinsic need to entertain and she doesn’t want to make him unhappy. She gets up and leaves – for good.
Sometimes, life takes love and twists it out of shape. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how deeply or completely loved we may be, life comes along and changes the face and the facts of love.
You can watch the movie free on YouTube. These are old songs, folks, but we know them because our parents knew them and they have passed the test of time and are still enjoyable. Please enjoy one of my favorite movies: