US Release Date: 09-30-1937
Directed by: Victor Schertzinger
- James Cagney, as
- Terry Rooney
- Evelyn Daw, as
- Rita Wyatt
- William Frawley, as
- Hank Meyers
- Mona Barrie, as
- Steffie Hajos
- Gene Lockhart, as
- B.O. Regan
- Philip Ahn as
James Cagney and Evelyn Daw in Something to Sing About.
Of the 63 theatrical features James Cagney made from 1930 to 1981, there were only a handful of musicals. Something to Sing About was the second of only two that he starred in during the 1930's (the other was 1933's Footlight Parade). Cagney had gone on strike against Warner Bros. to protest the limited roles he was being offered; they retaliated by putting him on suspension. This movie was made during his brief foray to Grand National Pictures. He soon made-up with Jack Warner, however, and went back to his home turf.
Cagney plays Terry Rooney the toughest bandleader ever. He has a successful gig in New York but accepts an offer from Hollywood. He makes a musical that just happens to have a bar fight scene in it. When the extra that punches him really connects, Cagney - er Rooney goes berserk and beats the crap out of him and another extra that was in the scene. Like I said he's a tough bandleader.
Anyway Rooney walks off the set and figures he's washed up in Tinsel Town. He marries his sweetheart, the singer from his band, and they head off on their honeymoon on a tramp steamer bound for the South Seas. In the meantime Gator Pictures releases Rooney's movie to great acclaim. He becomes an overnight star and the headlines scream, Where Is Terry Rooney?
Upon their return Rooney and his bride learn that there is a bachelor clause in his contract so they agree to keep their marriage a secret. Enter Steffie Hajos, the reigning siren of the studio. The plot culminates in all the predictable ways.
Cagney has only three dance numbers. One opens the movie, one closes it and the best one of all takes place on the tramp steamer. Cagney dances a jig, of sorts, with two members of the ship's crew while his bride and the captain look on. It is the highlight of the picture.
The other thing worth mentioning about this mostly forgettable movie is the character of Ito, Rooney's Japanese man-servant. In reality he speaks fluent English and came to Hollywood to be an actor. He ended up playing the part of the passive house-boy. Rooney is the only one around whom he speaks properly, until his big scene that is. To others he plays dumb by repeating phrases such as, "No sir, please" In a thick Japanese accent. This character was decades ahead of its time. Unfortunately the movie itself hasn't aged nearly as well, although Cagney displays his usual cocky charm and charismatic dancing.
Evelyn Daw and James Cagney in Something to Sing About.
I agree with Patrick that Something to Sing About is definitely not one of James Cagney's better films. He plays his usual gangster with all his standard energy but he can't salvage what is essentially a very manipulative plot. Everything just happens to work for him, and then against him, then for him and then back again etc...
Although she has a small part, I liked Stephanie the diva. "I? Stephanie Hajos, the Great Star, condescend to have my name linked with this - this HOOFER, and HE OBJECTS? HE OBJECTS! I won't speak to him again! I won't even finish making the picture! Tell my public I am through!"
This movie features the first Queer Eye For the Straight Guy episode. When Cagney first arrives at the studio, a team of men prance around him trying to decide how to make him over to be more appealing. It never says they're gay but they camp it up just enough to be obvious. Simply putting poofs in a scene with Cagney is a joke in itself.
James Cagney in Something to Sing About.
While watching this movie I was struck by how much Hugh Jackman reminded me of James Cagney. They both became famous playing tough guys, but at heart were song and dance men. In the same way that Warner Bros. and audiences wanted to see Cagney as a gangster rather than a dancer, so today, you're more likely to see Jackman playing Wolverine again than you are likely to see him taking his Peter Allen to the big screen.
I think both of my brothers are too harsh on this little movie. Sure, it's no classic, and I agree the songs aren't very memorable, but overall I rather enjoyed it. Cagney is his usual charming self and there's plenty of humor to help things along, much of it provided by the supporting cast.
Patrick mentioned Philip Ahn as the Japanese servant, Ito, and Eric brought up Mona Barrie as the diva, both of whom are quite good and do provide some laughs. I am surprised that neither of you commented on William Frawley. The prolific character actor, who would achieve immortality as Fred Mertz, Lucille Ball's landlord in I Love Lucy, does a great job in his small role. And he's playing opposite Gene Lockhart as the studio head, who he would famously reunite with 10 years later in the Christmas classic, Miracle on 34th Street. Their dynamic here is very similar to what it would be in that later film.
Cagney made this movie for the poverty row studio, Grand National, as Patrick mentioned, during his brief exile from Warner Bros. With that in mind, I'm sure Cagney enjoyed the scenes that poked fun of the studio machine. His Terry Rooney character is brought to Hollywood because they see talent in him, but then upon arrival, is immediately set upon by handlers who wish to change everything about him. Even the name Gator Pictures seems to imply a ravenous studio eager to devour whatever comes its way.
Unfortunately for Grand National, this movie went so far over budget that it went bankrupt and Cagney went back to Warner Bros., where he may have lacked creative input, but he was guaranteed a paycheck. Ironically, the next film that Grand National had planned for Cagney was Angels with Dirty Faces, which Warner Bros. ended up buying the rights to after the little studio folded, which would go on to become one of Cagney's most iconic pictures and would earn him an Academy Award nomination.
Cagney did make a tough band leader. In fact, when this movie was re-released 10 years later, it was renamed The Battling Hoofer. Sure, it's not a classic, but reportedly, when at 80 years of age, Cagney was asked which of his films - besides Yankee Doodle Dandy - he would like to see again, this is the one he named.
Photos © Copyright Grand National Pictures (1937)