Say It with Songs

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Say It with Songs
theatrical release poster
Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Written by Joseph Jackson
Darryl F. Zanuck
Harvey Gates
Starring Al Jolson
Music by Dave Dreyer
Billy Rose
Cinematography Lee Garmes
Edited by Owen Marks
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • August 6, 1929 (1929-08-06) [1]
Running time
105 minutes
95 minutes (extant)
CountryUnited States
Budget$470,000 [2]
Box office$2,266,000 (worldwide rentals) [2] [3]

Say It With Songs is a 1929 American Pre-Code musical drama film, directed by Lloyd Bacon and released by Warner Bros.. The film stars Al Jolson and was a follow-up to his previous film, The Singing Fool (1928).



Joe Lane, radio entertainer and songwriter, learns that the manager of the studio, Arthur Phillips, has made improper advances to his wife, Katherine. Infuriated, Lane engages him in a fight, and the encounter results in Phillips' accidental death. Joe goes to prison and soon insists that Katherine divorce him, for her and their son's sake, and marry her employer, Dr. Merrill, since Joe has learned the doctor has feelings for Katherine and would provide for them well. When Joe is released he visits his son, Little Pal, at school and they embrace during outdoor recess. Joe says goodbye when recess is over, but Little Pal follows Joe downtown and is soon struck by a truck, causing the paralysis of his legs and loss of his voice.

Joe takes the boy to Dr. Merrill, who long ago proposed to Katherine, but she had politely declined and told the doctor that she still loved Joe. Dr. Merrill says he will either operate for free if Joe relinquishes Little Pal to his mother's care or charge a large fee if Joe insists on keeping the boy to himself. Joe panics and leaves with the boy, but soon realizes his mistake and brings Little Pal back for the surgery. After obtaining Joe's promise that he will return Little Pal to his mother, Merrill operates and restores the use of the boy's legs. Little Pal's voice is regained later when Katherine plays a recording by Joe, "Little Pal", at his bedtime and Little Pal dreams of a tender visit with his father holding him in his arms and singing to him. Joe returns to work, singing and also sending personal messages over the airwaves to his wife, who, along with their son, await Joe at their lovely home.



Say It With Songs reunited Al Jolson with the boy actor, Davey Lee, of The Singing Fool fame, who had enthralled audiences in 1928. This, Jolson's third feature film, contains several firsts in his movie career: His first full length talkie (unlike his previous two efforts which were Part-Talkies with long sections of an essential silent picture – with a synchronized score and sound effects added – in addition to talking and singing sequences); his first to not present him singing a song in black-face; and the first Al Jolson movie to flop at the box office. It was also one of the few films in his career in which his on-screen character isn't named Al, and the second and last to cast him as a married man.


Reviews from critics were mostly negative. Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times wrote that in "later episodes it lapses into sentimentality that makes it somewhat tedious, except for the singing of Mr. Jolson. Even the lines in some of Mr. Jolson's songs detract from their value, for his tuneful exhortation to a group of convicts is by no means inspiring." [4] John Mosher of The New Yorker called it long and "blatantly sentimental", adding, "Even the fantastically happy ending, when the sound of his voice cures the child of aphasia, does not eradicate the general impression of dreary and specious tragedy." [5] "Story mawkish and over sentimental", agreed Film Daily . "It can't miss and yet, as a picture, Jolson's latest is indifferent stuff." [6] Variety ran a positive review, calling the film "a marked advancement for [Jolson] as a screen player...He plays more naturally and looks the human Al Jolson on the screen, even in the betterment of his make up, than previously." [7]

Although word of mouth did not travel fast enough to completely sink the film at the box office, its $1.7 million gross in the United States was considered a flop by Jolson's standards. [8] [9] It was received so badly in Los Angeles that the Warners Theatre closed it after only forty-eight hours. [8]

According to Warner Bros records it earned $1,715,000 domestically and $551,000 foreign. [3]

Preservation states

About ten minutes of film have been lost. Two musical numbers, "I'm Ka-razy for You" and "Back in Your Own Back Yard", are missing from the prints currently in circulation. It is unknown whether these sequences still survive. The sound to these sections survive on Vitaphone disks.

Home media

The film has been released by The Warner Archive on DVD.

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  1. Slowik, Michael (2014). After the Silents: Hollywood Film Music in the Early Sound Era, 1926–1934. Columbia University Press. p. 284. ISBN   9780231165822.
  2. 1 2 Glancy, H Mark (1995). "Warner Bros Film Grosses, 1921–51: the William Schaefer ledger". Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television. 15: 55–73. doi:10.1080/01439689500260031.
  3. 1 2 Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 7 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  4. Hall, Mordaunt (August 7, 1929). "The Screen". The New York Times . Retrieved March 14, 2015.
  5. Mosher, John (August 17, 1929). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker : 63.
  6. "Say It with Songs". Film Daily : 8. August 11, 1929.
  7. "Say It with Songs". Variety. New York: 18. August 14, 1929.
  8. 1 2 Bradley, Edwin M. (1996). The First Hollywood Musicals: A Critical Filmography of 171 Features, 1927 Through 1932. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 52. ISBN   9780786420292.
  9. Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence; McNeilly, Donald (2006). Vaudeville old & new: an encyclopedia of variety performances in America, Volume 1. Routledge. p. 577. ISBN   9780415938532.