Terry Rooney (James Cagney) is working as a band leader in New York. He puts on unique performances in which he not only leads the band, but shows off his stellar dancing skills as they play.
Terry will be leaving the Big Apple behind to seek stardom in Hollywood. He has been invited to star in his very first film.
When he arrives in Hollywood, Terry finds none of the respect he was treated with as a popular New York performer: he’s treated like any other newcomer, though studio boss Bennett Regan (Gene Lockhart) and PR man Hank Meyers (William Frawley) think he’ll be a big screen success.
Rather than boosting Terry’s ego, the bosses keep their suspicions about his screen talent to themselves, and he becomes pessimistic about his chances of making it. He decides to leave town, eloping with his singer girlfriend Rita (Evelyn Daw, in her screen debut) on a steamer ship. Will fame or failure be waiting for him when he returns?
Victor Schertzinger directs 1937’s Something to Sing About. Schertzinger also wrote the film’s story and songs, and the screenplay was written by Austin Parker.
James Cagney is plenty of fun to watch in this film. Though his sinister gangster characters are some of my favorites, I love seeing him in these lighter roles as well, especially when he’s given the chance to dance and sing. He excels in every type of role, making every film of his a reminder of why I consider him to be one of my favorite actors!
He and Evelyn Daw also make a very sweet pair. Her performance is quite good, especially considering that this was her first film! Daw was discovered by Schertzinger, and only made one other film aside from this before returning to the stage. Coincidentally, while Daw starred in two pictures total, this was one of two pictures that Cagney made with Grand National while he was feuding with Warner Bros.
Despite Cagney’s magnetism and his chemistry with Evelyn Daw, what we’ve got here is a fairly standard peek behind the Hollywood curtain. It’s a tale of new-found fame and the frenzy that comes along with it, from the obsessive fans to the oppressive contracts and the dishonest PR machine.
There is one surprising subplot to the story which I was very happy to see, though it plays a small part in the film. It revolves around a character named Ito, a Japanese man who is assigned as Terry’s servant by the studio.
In conversation, Terry discovers that Ito has been faking a thick accent while he works at the studio, because his boss wants him to speak that way. In reality, he speaks perfect English and originally moved to Hollywood to become an actor. He was never given the chance to prove himself as an actor, simply because of his ethnicity. By the end of the film, he gets fed up with the studio’s poor treatment and quits, declaring that he didn’t come to Hollywood to be treated this way and that he’ll never set foot near the studio again.
Ito is portrayed by Philip Ahn, a Korean-American actor who faced his own share of struggles for not fitting into the stereotyped box that Hollywood wanted to keep him in. (Famously, he was almost rejected from Anything Goes because director Lewis Milestone thought he spoke English too well.)
Something to Sing About is an enjoyable film. The performances are strong, the songs are delightful, and it’s certainly worth a watch for those interested in portrayals of minority characters in classic film as well. Cagney takes this opportunity to satirize the industry he works in, but he isn’t the only one throwing punches in Something to Sing About‘s take on Hollywood! The score: 4/5