powered by AFI
In his "Four-to-a-Bar" saloon, Lippy Brannigan reminisces about the old days when many major song writers used to frequent the New York saloon. As the newly revived song "Peg O' My Heart" plays on the juke box, Lippy tells a reporter about the song's composer, Fred Fisher: Back in the early 1900s, a young song-plugger, Larry Kelly, comes into Lippy's recently opened saloon with promotional materials for one of the songs he is plugging, "Oh, You Beautiful Doll," currently being performed by Marie Carle at a local vaudeville house. Another customer picks a fight with him, but Larry throws him out onto the sidewalk, where he collides with passing classical musician Alfred Breitenbach. Alfred is on his way to attend a luncheon being given for Gottfried Steiner, conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra, which is about to leave on a European tour. At the luncheon, Steiner invites Alfred to play some selections from his new opera, but he is interrupted when Zaltz, another guest who has been showing off a ring that once belonged to Johann Strauss, suddenly discovers it is missing. When each guest is asked to turn out his pockets, Alfred gets up from the piano and leaves the dining room. He explains to Steiner that he could not turn out his pockets as he is so impoverished that he had food from the luncheon in them. Steiner, whom Alfred's father had once helped, promises to help him when he returns from his tour. At home, Alfred tells his wife Anna, who takes in sewing to help make ends meet, that the performance at the luncheon was a great success. Soon after, Larry comes to return a letter Alfred dropped in the confusion outside the saloon and also to recover a pawn ticket he had mistakenly given him. Larry meets Alfred and Anna's daughter Doris, who later attends a performance at the theater where "Oh, You Beautiful Doll" is being promoted and, from the audience, joins in the singing. Larry spots her and invites her to join him for a meal. He learns that she is a classical violinist and pianist and suggests that one of her father's compositions might be adaptable for the popular music market. Doris becomes very interested in Larry, but discovers he is very friendly with Marie Carle. After Doris plays part of her father's operatic score for Larry on a piano, she tells her father that Larry is going to write lyrics for his music. Doris and Larry perform the first song in front of her parents at Volk's Casino. When music publisher Ted Held tells Alfred and Larry that the song will be a big hit, Alfred does not want it published under his real name and chooses a pseudonym, Fred Fisher, from a brewery calendar. Larry and Alfred continue to collaborate, and the earnings from their songs enable the Breitenbachs to move to a larger house. Later, at a small dinner party, Larry arrives with Marie but later explains to Doris that he and Marie are simply business associates and that, when Doris is a little older, he intends to marry her. Steiner then returns from Europe and tells Alfred that he is looking forward to seeing his opera performed. Embarrassed, Alfred explains his new prosperity by saying that his wife's uncle left them some money. Although Larry has written several more songs based on Alfred's operatic score, Alfred refuses to work on any more on popular music. Later, in an effort to get his new song in front of the public, Larry phones Al Jolson and convinces him to introduce it. Larry then is arrested for breaking street lights to plug the song, "There's a Broken Heart for Every Light on Broadway." When Alfred goes to help Larry, he, too, winds up behind bars and a photo of them appears in a newspaper. Alfred disappears, leaving Anna a note that he is going to rewrite his opera and forget "Fred Fisher." Doris and Larry try to find him, but he is hiding out in a hotel in Hoboken. Desperate, Doris goes to see Steiner, who offers to perform Alfred's music as a way of drawing him out. Meanwhile, Alfred has broken the window of a music store whose loudspeaker was featuring his songs, and among the shattered remains, Alfred sees a poster for Steiner's Mayolian Hall concert featuring his music. Lippy and Held patrol the front of the hall and spot Alfred arriving late, and although Alfred doesn't identify himself he is given a special box seat. Steiner introduces Alfred's music by telling the audience that they may not recognize the name Breitenbach, but that he is known to all of them as one of America's greatest melody writers, Fred Fisher. As the orchestra performs a potpourri of his popular music, Anna joins Alfred in the box, while Doris and Larry join the orchestra. Afterward, Alfred takes a bow.