SUBJECTS — Cinema; U.S./1913-1929, Diversity & New York; Music/Popular;



AGE: 12+; No MPAA Rating;

Drama; 1927; 89 minutes; B & W. Available from

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TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students’ minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie.

Film Study Worksheet for a Work of Historical Fiction and

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.

Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.


A cantor is a person who leads religious songs and chanted prayers in a synagogue. This movie tells the story of a young Jewish boy from a long line of cantors who decides to break with family tradition to become a jazz singer.


Selected Awards: 1929 Academy Awards: Warner Brothers was given a special award for producing the pioneer talking film. 1929 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Effects; Best Adaptation; This film is listed in the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress as a “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” film. This film is ranked #90 on the American Film Institute’s List of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (2006).

Featured Actors: Al Jolson, May McAvoy, Warner Oland, William Demarest, Eugenie Besserer, Myrna Loy.

Director: Alan Crosland.


This movie was the first talking picture ever made. Jolson’s prophetic opening line, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” were the first words spoken by a movie actor on a widely distributed film. The movie contains a number of famous songs, including “Mammy,” “Toot Toot Tootsie Goodby,” and “Blue Skies.” It also contains two beautiful scenes of the Yom Kippur service of Kol Nidre.


MINOR. This film is mixed silent and talkie. Jolson’s mannerisms are at times dated but if children can get beyond these, it is an enjoyable movie. There are some stereotypical portrayals of Jewish men who live in New York. Jolson was, for much of his career, a minstrel singer. He puts on black face for his final performance.


The is the first talkie and it is in black and white. The acting style is dated. Therefore, usually, only children interested in the history of film or who have a strong Jewish background will be interested in this film. However, there are still important lessons to be learned for those children who do watch the movie. Ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question.


The Kol Nidre prayer is the height of the Yom Kippur service, the most solemn service of the Jewish religion.

“Cantors” are the men (and now women) who lead the chants and songs during Jewish religious services. The post of Cantor is one of prominence and honor in the temple. The position was sometimes handed down from father to son, as it had been for generations in the Rabinowitz family. However, more often a cantor’s son would take a position as a cantor in another temple.

Before the 1960s, many Jewish stage performers anglicized their names.

The United States has been referred to as a “melting pot” in which the various traditions of Europe and some from Africa and Asia were combined to produce a uniquely “American” culture. This movie shows the “assimilation” of Jake Rabinowitz into the American mainstream.

It was said that a good Cantor had a voice with “a tear” in it. It was a tradition on the stage before the 1940s for white performers to appear in black face and impersonate black minstrel entertainers.


1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.


2. It was said that a good cantor had a voice with “a tear” in it. Did Jack Robin have that kind of a voice? Did that help him in his show business career?



1. Did Jackie do the right thing to abandon the life of a cantor, the life his family wanted him to lead, and become a jazz singer?


2. What did Cantor Rabinowitz mean when he accused his son of “debasing the voice God gave you?”


3. Was Jackie’s father right to throw him out of the house when he refused to be a cantor?



4. Was there any way that Jolson could develop his talent but remain within the confines of his family’s traditions?


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.



(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)


1. Jackie was torn by his sense of obligation to his family and his need to live his own life according to his own lights. Analyze the decision that he made using Principled Decision Making or the Ethical Decision-Making Model suggested by the Josephson Institute of Ethics. See Making Ethical Decisions. Include in your analysis description of the stakeholders in the decision. Discuss which of The Six Pillars of Character Jackie would honor by staying within the fold and being a cantor all his life and which Pillars would he comply with by developing his talents to their fullest through a career as a jazz singer. Describe any important factors involved in the decision that are not based on ethical principles. Finally, answer the question, “Did Jackie make the right decision?”



(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)


2. Compare this film to Fiddler on the Roof. Cantor Rabinowitz and Tevye faced similar problems with changing traditions and assimilation. What were the differences in the way that they handled these situations?


3. Who were the stakeholders in Cantor Rabinowitz’ decision to disown his son? Did Mr. Rabinowitz appear to think about the affect of his decision on the other stakeholders?


4. Did the ethical principle of caring play any role of caring in Jackie’s decision to leave home and become a jazz singer? If it didn’t, should it have?


Bibliography Here.

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