Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 17
October 6, 1927
The Jazz Singer has NYC premiere

On October 6, a day before Yon Kippur, Warner Brothers premiered what would become a breakthrough in film history––the first sound film with both musical and talking parts. The film was the collision of two separate movements. On the one hand, Warner Brothers, who had dabbled in sound pictures for the last few years, was being pushed by brother Sam to make an all talking, all musical film. Previously sound had being restricted to vaudeville shorts and to the musical background of features like Don Juan. On the other hand was the popularity of the stage musical The Jazz Singer, which George Jessel was starring in on Broadway. The two were brought together in the idea of a sound film version of The Jazz Singer. The story of a young Jewish cantor wanting to abandon his father’s tradition of sacred liturgical music for popular song was a story of a generational clash. That same clash was embodied in the idea of a sound film. As the film moved forward, changes occurred.  George Jessel would be out of the film, and the lead would go to the Al Jolson, the man on whom the character in The Jazz Singer was partially based. Just before it was to premiere, Sam Warner, the film's strongest proponent, died. But when the movie screened for the first time at the Warner Brothers theater in New York, it surpassed all expectations. Hardly an exceptional piece of movie making, the film created an uproar, especially when Jolson ad libbed at the start, “Wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothing yet,” Within months, the film had broken all sorts of box office records and forced the film industry, both studios and theaters, to face the future of sound film.


More Flashbacks
Dec. 17, 1946
Eugene Levy born

Whether it's as Jim's dad in the American Pie movies, Max Yasgur in Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock or the dastardly Walter Kornbluth, one of the scientists out to nab Daryl Hannah in Splash, Eugene Levy has become instantly recognizable to movie audiences.

Read more »
December 17, 1982
Tootsie Not a Drag for Hoffman

26 years ago today, when Tootsie was released in the U.S., Dustin Hoffman went from being one of the most respected dramatic actors working in film to, well, something very different. Hoffman, who had his breakthrough role in Mike Nichols' wry charmer The Graduate in 1967, had never truly shown his comic side on screen, despite the fact that he played Lenny Bruce in Bob Fosse's biopic of the controversial comedian, Lenny. Instead he had carefully picked roles, in films like Little Big Man, Midnight Cowboy and All the President's Men, which played to his incredible skill as a committed method actor. As a result, he was incredibly nervous about his idea to make a movie about a struggling actor who drags up as he pretends to be an actress in order to get a role in a soap opera. The film had a troubled and prolonged history, taking four years to reach the screen, during which time directors Dick Richards and Hal Ashby dropped out of the project, to be replaced by Sydney Pollack. The film, however, was a huge success: Hoffman's female foils, Jessica Lange and Teri Garr, excelled in their roles while Charles Durning (ala Joe E. Brown in Some Like It Hot) gave a killer supporting turn as the man who falls for Hoffman's “Dorothy.” And Hoffman himself was a revelation, displaying impeccable comic instincts and brilliant timing in a role that could easily have been his undoing and the source of infinite mockery from his peers. Tootsie was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Screenplay, while Lange beat out Garr for the Best Supporting Actress award. Most importantly for Hoffman and Columbia, the studio that bankrolled the movie, Tootsie was a box office titan, rapidly passing the $100 million mark and ultimately racking up nearly $180 million.

Read more »