The downtown Colonial Theatre is celebrating its 100th year in 2012 with free nights of movies from the past century, among other events. The series continues in March with films that were part of the transition from silent to “talking pictures.”

Films scheduled to be shown Mondays, March 12 and 26 starting at 7 p.m. are “The Jazz Singer”; “Owl Jolson,” a Looney Tunes cartoon; and the Marx Brothers’ “Animal Crackers.” Admission is free. The same program will be shown both nights.

Although it is famous for being the first talkie, “The Jazz Singer” is really more of a silent movie with sound interludes. And while Al Jolson’s famous rendition of “Mamie” is appropriately over-the-top vaudeville, it was the everyday intimacy of conversation that really made the case for the new medium. The feature-length Warner Bros. movie used the Vitaphone sound-on-disc system. Jolson plays Jakie Rabinowitz, son of a cantor but in love with jazz. Yes, Jackie does perform in blackface.

“The Jazz Singer” was tweaked by one of Tex Avery’s earliest Looney Tunes animated shorts, 1936’s “I Love to Singa.” Owl Jolson follows a similar path to Jakie, from classical to jazz singing. The character was reputedly voiced by Tommy Bond, Butch of the “Our Gang” shorts, and sung by Johnnie Davis.

“Animal Crackers,” like “The Jazz Singer,” is a film adaptation; the Marx Brothers had a successful Broadway run with the original stage show, written by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. The cast features Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo Marx with favorite foil Margaret Dumont and ingénue Lillian Roth. The Bert Kalmar/Harry Ruby song “Hooray for Captain Spaulding,” which went on to be Groucho’s theme song for years, makes its appearance in this film.

The Colonial, which opened on the day the Titanic “set sail,” will be converting from film to digital this year. As part of the 100th year anniversary and to mark the turnover, the Colonial is displaying art objects made with movie film — anyone interested in creating something should ask for some free film. For more information, visit or check out the Facebook page.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email to