The Singing Fool (1928)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Melodrama, Musical Drama  |   Run Time - 105 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

Enormously popular in its day, The Singing Fool has dated badly over the ensuing decades, but it still is worth watching for reasons other than its historical significance. Technically, of course, the film is almost unbearably crude, which makes it difficult for audiences used to clear, crisp sound and inventive cinematography to sit through it. The script is mawkish and manipulative, filled with soap opera set-ups that today are overly obvious and unconvincing, and neither the dialogue nor the title cards contains much of substance. At 105 minutes, it's too long for the story it has to tell, and Lloyd Bacon's direction is static and uninteresting. (To be fair, Bacon was badly limited by the immobility of the new sound cameras.) Fortunately, there's still Al Jolson and some memorable songs, including "I'm Sitting on top of the World." Viewed through contemporary eyes, Jolson tries too hard and over-emotes at the drop of a hat; yet there's still something compelling about him. One watches him in Fool and is aware that much of what he is doing is technically poor, but it holds a real fascination nonetheless. This is especially true during "Sonny Boy," a song with which Jolson is forever associated. In its time, this number (sung three times in the film) moved audiences to tears, whereas today the result is more apt to be laughter; yet it's impossible to not be impressed by Jolson's unselfconscious commitment to selling himself in every note. The star's vitality and overpowering chutzpah make for a unique viewing experience.