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Though legendary entertainer Al Jolson was a highly visible presence on the U.S.O. circuit during World War II, he was generally regarded as a relic of an earlier time until his movie comeback in 1945's Rhapsody in Blue. Showing up 30 minutes into this biopic of George Gershwin, Jolson literally stopped the show with his robust rendition of "Swanee." Suddenly, every Hollywood studio was negotiating with Jolson to film his life story. Warner Bros., the studio that skyrocketed to the top ranks via the 1927 part-talkie Jolson vehicle The Jazz Singer, seemed to have the inside track, but it was Columbia's Harry Cohn who made the deal that Jolson couldn't refuse. An attractively appointed fabrication, the Technicolor The Jolson Story distorts and glosses over the particulars of Jolson's life, but the results are so darned entertaining that nobody really paid attention to its inaccuracies. The story begins in turn-of-the-century Washington, D.C., where young Asa Yoelson (Scotty Beckett), son of an immigrant cantor (Ludwig Donath), ignores his religious studies in favor of popular music. Asa is hired as an "extra added attraction" boy tenor by a vaudevillian; when his voice breaks, the boy wins over the audience with his whistling ability. Growing into manhood, Asa Yoelson -- now "Al Jolson," and now played by Larry Parks -- becomes fascinated with African-American jazz music. He breaks away from his initial vaudeville assignment by joining Lew Dockstader's (John Alexander) blackface minstrel troupe, then goes on to success as a "single." Ascending to Broadway, Jolson establishes a reputation as an inveterate ad-libber, as well as an indefatigable singing performer, frequently holding an audience in thrall until the wee hours of the morning. Along the way, he falls in love with singer Julie Benson (Evelyn Keyes), a character based on Jolson's third wife Ruby Keeler, who refused permission to have her name used on screen. As Jolson attains superstardom, his ego assumes gargantuan proportions, alienating many of those around him, including his wife Julie.

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CO00901 Jolson Story DVD (1946/Larry Parks) $14.95