Something to Sing About
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By 1936, James Cagney was one of the top ten moneymaking stars in Hollywood. He was also one of Warner Bros.' most versatile stars, equally effective in musicals, gangster films, and comedies. But he was unhappy with the studio's recent choice of material, and its demand that he make five films a year instead of the four his contract stipulated. So he took them to court, won, and walked out, shocking Hollywood by signing with Grand National, a newly formed independent company. His first Grand National film, Great Guy (1936) was well received. His second was Something to Sing About (1937), Cagney's first musical since Footlight Parade (1933).
Cagney plays Terry Rooney, a Manhattan band leader who goes to Hollywood, but takes off for the South Seas with his new bride after completing his first film, convinced he's a flop. Instead, he turns out to be the latest sensation, and the demands of stardom put a strain on his marriage. Playing opposite Cagney was Evelyn Daw, a 20-year-old newcomer from South Dakota with a terrific soprano voice. Daw made only one more film before disappearing from the screen, although she continued to work in theater and opera. Standouts in the supporting cast are William Frawley as a publicist, and Gene Lockhart playing the studio boss, a conniving blowhard who cons Cagney's character into an unfair contract. Some Hollywood insiders noted the resemblance to Jack Warner.
In one musical number in Something to Sing About, set aboard a ship, Cagney dances with Johnny Boyle and Harland Dixon, whom he'd known since his vaudeville days. Boyle had worked with the legendary song-and-dance man George M. Cohan, and had taught Cagney Cohan's cocky, stiff-legged dancing style. Cagney used elements of the Cohan style in his dancing roles, and he would later mimic Cohan superbly when he played him in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). Cagney admired Boyle and Dixon, and even many years later, he would say, "I am pretty sure that there is almost no greater moment for me personally than in the middle of Something to Sing About when I had the great honor, the very real privilege, of doing that number with Johnny Boyle and Harland Dixon."
Critics were glad to see Cagney back in tap shoes, and playing a romantic lead for a change. Otis Ferguson of the New Republic gave Something to Sing About points for effort, saying "much can be done by good people who break away and bring the industry up short by independent accomplishment." But in spite of all the freshness and energy that Cagney and his colleagues brought to the film, they couldn't overcome the fact that the budget for Something to Sing About was skimpy (it was all the fledgling studio could afford), the music wasn't memorable, and the film didn't receive wide distribution. In an era of studio domination, an independent didn't have a chance.
For Cagney's next project, Grand National had purchased a gangster story, Angels with Dirty Faces. But the studio was floundering, and meanwhile, Warner Bros. was wooing Cagney with several properties they'd bought just for him. Finally, they made him an offer he couldn't refuse: $150,000 per film against 10% of the gross. Cagney returned to the fold, richer and more powerful than ever, with Boy Meets Girl (1938). When he left Grand National, the studio dropped its plans to make Angels with Dirty Faces, and the author then sold it to Warner Bros., which made it with Cagney in 1938. Grand National went bankrupt in 1940. Something to Sing About was re-released in 1947 by Screencraft Pictures, under the title Battling Hoofer.
Director: Victor Schertzinger
Producer: Zion Myers, Victor Schertzinger
Screenplay: Austin Parker, based on a story by Victor Schertzinger
Cinematography: John Stumar
Editor: Gene Milford
Art Direction: Robert Lee, Paul Murphy
Music: Songs by Victor Schertzinger, Musical Director C. Bakaleinikoff
Principal Cast: James Cagney (Terry Rooney), Evelyn Daw (Rita Wyatt), William Frawley (Hank Meyers), Mona Barrie (Stephanie Hajos), Gene Lockhart (B.O. Regan), James Newill (Orchestra Soloist).
by Margarita Landazuri