- Sing and Like It (1934) movie review: A capable ensemble of below-the-title names is put to good use in William A. Seiter’s Damon Runyon-esque B comedy mixing show business and mobsters.
Sing and Like It movie review: Entertaining B comedy has wiry vocalist enmeshed with mom-fixated gangster
While in the middle of a bank heist, a tough but simple-minded gang boss overhears an off-key singer rehearsing a “mother song” for an amateur group. The result is a hilarious “B” comedy: William A. Seiter’s 1934 romp Sing and Like It.
Nat Pendleton plays handsome, muscular, and dumb gang leader Fenny Sylvester, who suffers from a sort of Mommy Complex; Zasu Pitts is squawky singer Annie Snodgrass. The other key cast members are Edward Everett Horton as high-strung stage director Adam Frink and Pert Kelton as Fenny’s showgirl gun moll Ruby.
And to think that Marion Dix and Laird Doyle’s wacky screenplay (from a story by Aben Kandel) brings these disparate characters together by way of a sappy ditty about a child missing his mother.
Due to his “condition,” Fenny becomes obsessed with Annie’s (egregious) rendition of the “Mudder Song,” forcing her to become the leading lady in the reluctant Adam Frink’s new Broadway show.
At Fenny’s insistence, Annie stays with him and Ruby during preparations for her stage debut. When Annie’s virtue is questioned, Ruby – who refers to Annie as a cartoon character look-alike (Olive Oyl?) – wisecracks, “She’d be safe on a battleship.”
But as it happens, Annie has a boyfriend, Oswald (John Qualen), who kidnaps her before the show and holds her for ransom.
The funniest thing about Sing and Like It is its cast of quirky characters. As a plus, Nat Pendleton, ZaSu Pitts, and Edward Everett Horton play beautifully off of each other.
For instance, Pitts/Annie trying to portray a romantic leading lady in the show under Horton/Frink’s antagonistic direction – “She’s as stiff as a poker, but not as useful” – is a continuous source of delight. In fact, everyone insults Annie’s gawky, old-maid appearance, except for the devoted Oswald and the obsessed Fenny, who, in a humorous scene à la Warner Baxter mentoring Ruby Keeler in 42nd Street, gives Annie a pep talk before the show.
Sentimental hunk Nat Pendleton
And of course, there’s that trite “mother song,” which makes Fenny cry every time he hears it.
I must add that Nat Pendleton, an Olympic wrestler seen in supporting roles in countless movies of the 1930s (The Sign of the Cross, Lady for a Day, etc.) was one of the sexiest and most handsome actors of that era.
In Sing and Like It, I especially appreciate the way Pendleton calls Edward Everett Horton, hardly the most masculine of actors, “Dearie” and “Honey.”
No like it
Now, there’s one thing that bothers me in Sing and Like It: The violence.
There is nothing funny about striking people in the face or abusing women. But then again, this was 1934, a time when brutish slapstick was commonly accepted.
As for Annie and Frink’s show, needless to say it turns out to be a great success. Everyone cheers Fenny’s “Mudder Song” – just as his own mother is released from prison. Too bad we don’t get to see what she looks like.
Sing and Like It (1934)
Director: William A. Seiter.
Screenplay: Marion Dix & Laird Doyle.
From Aben Kandel’s story “So You Won’t Sing, Eh?”
Cast: ZaSu Pitts. Pert Kelton. Edward Everett Horton. Nat Pendleton. Ned Sparks. Richard Carle. John Qualen. Stanley Fields. Joe Sawyer. Roy D’Arcy.
“Sing and Like It (1934): Riotous ‘B’ Actors’ Showcase” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“Sing and Like It Movie (1934) Review” endnotes
Pert Kelton and ZaSu Pitts Sing and Like It movie image: RKO Radio Pictures.
“Sing and Like It (1934): Riotous ‘B’ Actors’ Showcase” last updated in October 2021.