The Jazz Singer
The Jazz Singer stars entertainment legend Al Jolson in a story that bore a few similarities to his own life story. Jolson portrays a would-be entertainer whose show-business aspirations conflict with the values of his rabbi father (Warner Oland).
Jolson found the challenge of conquering the screen via the new VITAPHONE technology irresistible, so he headed to Hollywood and began work on The Jazz Singer at a fervent pace. Only a few months later, his labors resulted in the creation of an indelible piece of motion picture history.
While a few earlier sound films had bits of dialogue, they were all shorts. The first Warner Bros. Vitaphone feature film, Don Juan (1926), starred John Barrymore, and was a handsomely mounted epic. It was a silent film, but one that featured a synchronized instrumental score and sound effects.
Like Don Juan, The Jazz Singer was initially conceived as a silent feature film, with synchronized underscore and sound effects, but this film would have synchronized singing sequences built around Jolson performing as only he could. There was never any intention to have dialogue in the film, but during his first vocal performance, Jolson improvised the words: "Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothin' yet!"
In actuality, The Jazz Singer contains a total of only two minutes of synchronized talking, most of it improvised, while the rest of the “dialogue” is presented through the typical standard “title cards” found in all silent movies of the era. But after Jolson uttered his now famous line, the rest was history.
Less than two years later, nearly 8,000 theaters were wired for sound. Fueled by Jolson’s charisma and Vitaphone, The Jazz Singer created the momentum for “talking pictures” that couldn’t be stopped and silent films would soon become virtually extinct.