Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.
USA, 1980. EMI Films. Screenplay by Herbert Baker, adaptation by Stephen H. Foreman, based on the play by Samson Raphaelson. Cinematography by Isidore Mankofsky. Produced by Jerry Leider. Music by Leonard Rosenman. Production Design by Harry Horner. Costume Design by Albert Wolsky. Film Editing by Maury Winetrobe. Golden Globe Awards 1980.
Neil Diamond makes an ill-advised acting debut in this unnecessary second remake of the corny 1927 original. He plays a musician looking to make it as a singer/songwriter but is held back by his traditional father (Laurence Olivier), who wants Diamond to take his place in their family as the next in a long line of cantors. When an opportunity comes up to go to Los Angeles and have a song he recorded by a popular singer, our hero leaves dreary New York for sunnier shores despite the fact that his eternally frowning wife (Catlin Adams) is worried that he will lose touch with who he is. Almost upon arrival, Diamond shoots straight to the top, helped by a lovely Lucie Arnaz who begins as business partner and ends up a lover, putting his marriage in as much jeopardy as he’s already in with his father. The plot doesn’t stray that much from the original, but the fact that the title no longer makes sense seems to go unnoticed (as none of the music that Diamond makes is anything near what you could call jazz), while the inclusion of a blackface scene to “update” its existence in the original film is a very strange item to retain. Critically lambasted upon release, this film is almost as bad as you’ve heard it is, stuck between a desire to appeal to old-fashioned taste and what is obviously the inspiration of Streisand’s version of Star Is Born that was a hit only four years earlier, but it’s made somewhat palatable by a number of the songs on the soundtrack that Diamond performs live. Unable to deliver dialogue with the slightest bit of noticeable energy, Diamond always seem to have just woken up whenever acting is required, but his tunes are a genuine highlight and the concert scenes (once he’s made it big, about ten minutes after his plane landing in Los Angeles), are wonderful. Olivier is dedicated to the point of hilarity in a performance that is sort of the Looney Tunes version of Orthodox Jew, with an accent that is out of control, while Arnaz, who unfortunately never got the film career she deserved, doesn’t need much to act circles around her co-star but is a thorough delight all the same.