The effervescent Sing, Baby, Sing bends over backwards to fulfill the cheeky promise of its title, despite seeming as if it was conceived by throwing darts at random ideas posted on a wall (a few monkeys at typewriters may have been involved, as well). Elements from Hollywood, Radio, Borscht Belt, and Vaudeville mash together in the plot to this jumpy 1936 B-musical, in which a talented, unknown nightclub singer gets involved in a faux-romance with a boozed-up older actor.
A new offering from Fox's Cinema Archives collection of made-to-order DVDs, Sing, Baby, Sing follows the pleasant, jazzy formula well-utilized in other 20th Century Fox musicals such as Thanks A Million (1935) and Wake Up And Live (1937). Although this effort fails to reach the same heights as those two films, it does contain some good moments from Fox's apple-cheeked, honey-voiced powerhouse Alice Faye, along with an outsized, change-of-pace turn from dapper Adolphe Menjou. Faye's girl-next-door placidity gets set off by a hyperactive assortment of supporting characters - including the priceless Patsy Kelly, Gregory Ratoff, Ted Healy (sans Stooges), and - in their film debut - The Ritz Brothers.
Speaking of The Ritz Brothers, Sing, Baby, Sing actually kicks off with four minutes of nothing but Al, Jimmy and Harry Ritz mugging their way through an elaborate, puzzling song-and-dance number with the trio in Renaissance costumes. While it's true that the Ritzes' athletic, grab-'em-by-the-lapels physical comedy hasn't aged too well, their uninhibited segments pretty much define what this movie is about: damn any sense of logic or propriety, full speed ahead. Following that bit of anarchy, Faye's character Joan Warren faces the indignity of getting fired from her gig at Manhattan's posh Ritz nightclub. Seeking the help of eccentric theatrical agent Nicky Alexander (Ratoff), Joan gets to audition for a radio station bigwig on the lookout for singing debutantes - under false pretenses ("She's one of the Warrens of Virginia."). Rejected again, Nicky and Joan find another opportunity via a chance encounter with Bruce Farraday (Adolphe Menjou), a famous if over-the-hill Shakespearean actor. Taking advantage of the man's perpetually drunken state, Nicky works with his secretary Fitz (Kelly) and Fitz's dim brother, Al (Healy), to concoct a story that Joan is the "Juliet" whom Farraday's "Romeo" has finally found. The heavily publicized fake-affair does exactly what Nicky intended, landing Joan a spot singing in a radio program at the very station which turned her down for being too ordinary. Before the broadcast can begin, however, Farraday and his revenge-minded business manager do everything they can to expose sweet Joan as a gold-digging sham.
Pitched to a shrill, manic pace by director Sidney Lanfield, Sing, Baby, Sing nevertheless can't shake the feeling of being more of the same-old, same-old. A few pleasures are to be had here, though - the appealing Faye gets to warble a few buoyant, forgettable tunes (one of which, shockingly, received an Academy Award nomination), Kelly does her wisecracking broad shtick to perfection, and there are enough random, only-in-musicals moments to keep it intriguing (Tony Martin's tacked-on appearance; an uncredited all-girl band jamming to "Tiger Rag"). Though Adolphe Menjou approaches his role with relish, the Farraday character seems distractedly tailored to John Barrymore. It wasn't until later that I discovered the script was inspired by Barrymore's own whirlwind romance with a smitten 19 year-old fan, Elaine Barrie. Unlike Bruce Farraday and Joan Warren, Barrymore and Barrie's fling wasn't a publicity stunt and the pair eventually married. Whether The Ritz Brothers were involved in any of this, I cannot confirm.
Fox has sourced their m.o.d. edition of Sing, Baby, Sing from an unrestored but relatively decent-looking print containing isolated instances of specks, dust and wear. The soft photography tends to look muddy at times, but generally it's a pleasantly done disc.
An unvarnished mix of the film's original mono soundtrack sports a few pops, clicks and signs of age. The musical numbers tend to get hissy and distorted, but it's an agreeable listen. No subtitles are provided.
None. As with other Fox Cinema Archive discs, chapter stops are inserted every ten minutes in the film.
Fans of Alice Faye's smooth-as-butter singing and/or Patsy Kelly's wisecracking ought to get some pleasure out of Sing, Baby, Sing. And, hey, do you enjoy wildly implausible plotting and shrill overacting? By all means, check this one out. A thoroughly average production, even by 20th Century Fox's lower standards. Rent It.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and dilettante-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's seen are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.