Friday, January 18, 2008


MOOM PITCHER REVIEW! SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT STARRING JAMES CAGNEY (Grand National, 1937)

I usually don't review mooms that I've only recently copped via the tee-vee screen, but here's one I've been curious about for quite awhile. Or shall I say that I've been wondering about this '37 James Cagney song and dance vehicle ever since it ran on WVIZ-TV 25's OLD MOVIES, THE GOLDEN ERA back in January of '75 and I was doing some of the most exquisite antenna juggling in order to try 'n draw that distant PBS station's signal in! And twiddle the rabbit ears I did, in fact long enough to see that great "Grand National" artsy-deco clock opening before the picture fuzzed out into oblivion, and if you don't think that little things like this eat away at my poor fragile "cry at the sight of a broken flower" demeanor then you're a bigger doofus than I ever would've thought in the first place!

Made during Cagney's brief walkout from Warner Brothers, in some ways SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT has a good portion of the major H-wood fare of the day beat-all-hollow from the low-budget look (reminds me of the very-late-era Educational Picture comedies coming out of their Astoria Long Island studios) to the general un-tuned production and overall claustrophobic feel which positively reeks late-movie UHF viewing let alone anything a PBS station such as WVIZ would dare run! In it Cagney plays an En Why See night club song 'n dancer who's bound for moving picture glory, leaving his girlfriend (Evelyn Daw) and band (including the crack-upping bassist Conte Candoli, who has a multi-octave vocalese that Captain Beefheart only bragged of!) far behind for the green pastures of BO pictures with its namby studio head (character great Gene Lockhart) and super-pushy press agent (William Frawley, best known to you as Fred Mertz and Bub) who are bound and determined to make Cagney the next Robert Taylor or Clark Gable, albeit totally straight!



After being given a hard time at BO due to Lockhart's express orders (y'see, he didn't want Cagney to realize just how good an actor he was so Lockhart put the word out for everyone at the studios to make him feel like a grade-A turd!) our hero takes a hike after a fight scene turns too real, hitches up with Daw and heads off for the South Seas only to find out by the time he returns from his honeymoon that he's not only one of the hottest properties in Hollywood, but that his contract expressly forbids him to be married!

And it gets pretty good afterwards, with the slimy Frawley cooking up some hot studio schemes in order to bolster Cagney's popularity while trying to wreck his marriage (mainly by hiding the marriage from everyone and cooking up a fake romance with BO's hot leading lady foreign star) and of course it all gets straightened out in the end, but not before a few more musical numbers that I hope meant more to the people making this film than to pad it out a bit.

And true these various hoof-it-up scenes are at least a good reason to head for the head, but like in those aforementioned Educational comedies they are entertaining enough for those of us empty enough to stick around perhaps because they lack that whole glitzy MGM polish that I so despise. And production numbers aside, this film's really handy either as serious entertaining or light pre-beddy-bye fare especially if you do like these poverty row-styled comedies that still seem to retain a good sense of fifties-through-seventies off-hour movie watching on one hand and a good lesson in film history on the other.

And the rest of the cast is notable enough, including not only Johnny Arthur who's better known as Spanky and/or Darla's fussbudget pop in a number of Little Rascals shorts, but none other than Dwight Fry of Renfield/"juicy flies and spiders" fame! Also standing out is Phillip Ahn as Cagney's Japanese houseboy who fakes his accent only because his previous employers believed it made him more respectable! Many of you old-timey movie fans probably remember Ahn from a number of World War II films where he played Japanese saboteurs and the like (such as in the infamous East Side Kids romp LET'S GET TOUGH!), and sometimes the cynical side of me is just warped enough to think that perhaps the Big One was in reality started up by Ahn and other Chinese and Mexican actors in order to create a demand for movie roles they were just itching to play!

All funnin' aside, I must 'fess up that I'm a wee bit happy (nice warm 'n' toasty feeling inside) that I finally did get to see SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT after a good 33-year (!) wait, but frankly it woulda done me a lot more good if I had watched it back when I wanted to in the first place! Carpe Diem and all that, and besides I really can't say that I'm that much of a fan of TCM host Robert Osbourne's studious intros and outros...I much preferred Stu Levin of the old GOLDEN ERA show with his sports jacket and trousers it looks like he was poured into giving his opines on whatever movie it was in question sitting on a folding chair in front of a cheap backdrop! But still, I guess it's better late than never and I only hope that channel 25 digs out all of those OLD MOVIES shows and puts them out on DVD because I sure miss that good ol' UHF cheapness we sure could use a lot more of these days!

And in closing, here's a neat Youtube treat from the movie where Cagney referees a catfight on the ship which he and Daw are honeymooning on. (There are also some good on-deck hoofers doing their bit in this scene including this weirdie guy dressed up as a lady that's got to be seen to be believed...you'll see a bit of him in the clip!) And when I say catfight I'm not talking about two wimmen in underwear yanking on hair and biting each other but two real cats in a miniature boxing ring tearing at each other in full feline fury! Kinda thought it was a neat scene myself even if the ASPCA would come to a different conclusion! Well at least they put gloves on those pillow rippers because this ain't no San Peckingpah film, so enjoy at your own risk!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Didn't Conte Candoli die earlier this month?

Just about anything Cagney did in the 30s is worth seeing. "Something to Sing About" was Cagney's second and last film for Grand National - after walking out on his Warners contract and signing with Grand National he had starred in "Great Guy", a New Deal era "social melodrama" of the same sort that Warners cranked out regularly in the 30s, in which Cagney was an investigator trying to bring down corrupt politicians in NYC. - Michael Snider

Christopher said...

Come to think of it, I might be mixing up jazz trumpeter Candoli with a man with a similar name whose gimmick in films was his ability to talk and sing in very high and low registers. Since the jazzman Candoli was born in 1927 it definitely is not him in the role! Stay tuned to this comment box for further updates!

Christopher said...

Another mistook on my part...actor Phillip Ahn was actually Korean, something I didn't realize until checking out the wikipedia listing for this film a few minutes ago in order to straighten this Candoli mess out!

Christopher said...

OK, I asked a film historian, mainly my father, who the character was...it was Candy Candito which I guess is close, but not close enough! Sorry for the goof-up (rilly!) and if you wanna see and hear the guy's vocal talents just watch the first clip I have presented in this post...he's the short guy playing the bass!

Anonymous said...

Candy Candido's best known for his work in radio and doing voice overs in animation - he continued to do voice work in animation (e.g. the Ralph Bakshi "Mighty Mouse" and countless Disney films) into the early 90s! He died in '99.