Thursday, February 16, 2012
Sing and Like It - 1934
Sing and Like It (1934) is one of the best examples of parody in an era probably remembered more for melodrama, serious social commentary, gangster flicks, and the beginning of the Production Code. A few Busby Berkeley chorus numbers may have turned our heads with either suggestiveness or silliness, but most movies of the day were products of an industry that took itself pretty seriously. In Sing and Like It, we see a movie of unexpected sophistication in the way it gently mocks the movies’ most treasured lead characters.
She of the Olive Oyl demeanor takes herself utterly seriously. She casts her large eyes to the heavens, wrings her fluttery hands, and declares her passion for the art of acting.
“No woman that has known the triumph that I knew when I played Lady Windermere’s Fan in the Fall River High School Senior Play can ever get theatre out of her blood.”
First of all, what a choice for a high school play.
John Qualen, that terrific character actor we once discussed here, plays her shy, but devoted fiancé. He wants to take her away from the sordidness of life as an actress in the Union Bank Little Theater Players (I love that name). He plans a quiet life growing tomatoes.
But, she must see her dream through, first. She gets help from an unlikely source.
Pendleton listens, and tears form in his eyes and roll down his mobster cheeks. Da song is jus’ be-oo-ti-ful.
He decides the world must hear this voice and this song. He threatens theatrical producer Edward Everett Horton to put ZaSu in the lead of his newest production. Or else.
If you’ve only seen an older Pert Kelton in The Music Man (1962) as the Widow Paroo, tossing around her lusty Irish accent while little lisping Ronny Howard spits at her, you may find her sexy, other-side-of-the-tracks routine here as quite a shock. And funny as heck.
She tosses verbal hand grenades to ZaSu, but is ineffectual against the protective wall of ZaSu’s own marvelous stupidity. ZaSu imagines that Pert is jealous of her beauty and talent, fearful of having the gangster boyfriend lured away. ZaSu is a parody of the worldly actress.
Pert sees the only way to communicate with ZaSu is to join her in her fantasyland. She delivers the capitulation ZaSu expects in a flat voice and a kind of sarcasm ZaSu will never understand, “You’re a voluptuous siren and an artist, but deep underneath somewhere, I know there’s a good woman. Yes, Annie, I understand.”
This movie must have been such fun to do. There are a lot of very wry, funny lines, a little racy here and there, and bits of business, that it takes at least a couple of viewings to catch it all.
Pert Kelton gets herself appointed ZaSu’s understudy, and of course tries to do her in, finally resulting to kidnapping. John Qualen is a faithful, stubborn swain, and Pendleton has a heart underneath the gun in his inside coat pocket.
He is shocked in a rather Puritan, un-gangster-like way. “I ain’t that kind of heel. What I done was for art!”
Some cute bits include Pendleton’s complaining of Pert Kelton always chewing gum and leaving her old gum stuck all over the place. Once she kisses him and he is startled to find her gum transferred to his mouth. At the end of the film when he makes up with her (after a couple of un-PC but very funny black eyes he has given her), he takes out a stick of gum, breaks it in half for them to share. He pops hers into her mouth.
It is purely a matter of coincidence, I’m sure, that Miss Pitts’ character’s home town of Fall River (Massachusetts), established its own little theater two years after this movie was made, in 1936. The Little Theater of Fall River is still going strong, even without the help of ZaSu’s warbling of “Your Mother”.