Sing and Like It: ZaSu Pitts & troubled gangsters
When a tough but simple-minded gangster – while in the middle of a bank heist – overhears an off-key singer rehearsing a “mother song” for an amateur group, a hilarious comedy ensues.
In William A. Seiter’s Sing and Like It, handsome, muscular, but oh-so-dumb Nat Pendleton plays gang leader Fenny Sylvester, who suffers from a type of Mommy Complex. Zasu Pitts (right) is the squawky singer Annie Snodgrass, Edward Everett Horton is the high-strung stage director Adam Frink, and Pert Kelton is Ruby, Pendleton’s showgirl gun moll. In Marion Dix and Laird Doyle’s wacky screenplay (from a story by Aben Kandel), they are all brought together by a sappy ditty about a child missing his mother.
Tough gang leader Fenny becomes obsessed with Annie’s (egregious) performance, forcing her to become the leading lady in the reluctant Adam Frink’s new Broadway show. At Fenny’s insistence, Annie is convinced into staying with him and Ruby while she prepares for her “stage debut.” When Annie’s virtue is questioned, Ruby wisecracks, “She’d be safe on a battleship.” (Ruby also refers to Annie as a cartoon character look-alike – possibly Olive Oyl?)
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 the cast of quirky characters. As a plus, Pendleton, Pitts, and Horton play beautifully off of each other. For instance, Zasu Pitts trying to play a romantic leading lady in the show under Horton’s unwilling direction is a perennial source of delight. He quips, “She’s as stiff as a poker, but not as useful.” In fact, everyone insults her gawky, old-maid appearance, except the devoted Oswald. (A funny scene right out of 42nd Street takes place when Pendleton gives Pitts a pep talk before the show, just like Warner Baxter mentoring Ruby Keeler.)
And of course, there’s that trite “mother song” – which makes big, tough Pendleton cry every time he hears Zasu sing it. (In my opinion, Nat Pendleton, right photo, was one of the sexiest and most handsome actors of the 1930s. In Sing and Like It, I especially like the way he calls Edward Everett Horton “Dearie” and “Honey.”)
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 acceptable.
Needless to say, the show is a great success and everyone cheers for Pendleton’s “Mudder Song” – just as his own mother is released from prison. I would have loved to see what she looked like.
© Danny Fortune.
Sing and Like It (1934). Director: William A. Seiter. Screenplay: Marion Dix and Laird Doyle; from a story by Aben Kandel. Cast: ZaSu Pitts, Nat Pendleton, Edward Everett Horton, Pert Kelton, Ned Sparks, Richard Carle, John Qualen.