Sing, You Sinners (1938)
Not only does this engaging Paramount production give us an opportunity to see Bing Crosby croon a few songs alongside Fred MacMurray but it serves as a reminder that Donald O’Connor was a child actor clearly headed for bigger things in the studio era though not under the Paramount banner. It would be MGM and Universal Studios where he would find his greatest successes.
The trio star here as brothers for producer/director Wesley Ruggles. On Sundays you’ll find them singing in church leading the congregation in song with Elizabeth Patterson as their Mother and Ellen Drew as the gal slated to marry the steady Fred. Fred’s the oldest brother and the one who carries the responsibility of paying the bills and keeping a roof over the family’s head. Bing on the other hand can’t stand still long enough to hold down a job. He’s out to make a fast buck any way he can as long as it’s legal. Good thing his name isn’t Cagney. He’d be crossing over to the wrong side of the tracks to make himself some real dough.
Then there’s the youngest brother, Donald. He’s a hyper kid who proves to be the talented hoofer when the trio earn a few extra dollars bringing their singing trio to a nightclub. I couldn’t help but think of Hermie the Elf from the Rudolph Christmas special when looking at the young O’Connor. It’s as if the cartoon had come to life in the guise of a 13 year old O’Connor.
Hanging in the balance is the hand of Miss Drew. Fred’s pride is getting in the way of his marriage plans. He wants to make sure Mom, Bing and Donald can make it on their own and with Bing’s refusal to find steady work, his relationship with cute Ellen is suffering. It’s at about this point you can’t help but think she’s going to find her real love with Bing. After all he’s top billed and Fred looks like a sure thing for a Ralph Bellamy replacement this time out. When Fred gets tied up late at work and has little brother Bing take her out on the town, I’d say my hunch was right. A couple romantic songs from the legendary Bing and Fred might be losing his gal.
Bing decides the best thing is to head off to L.A. in search of his fortune before he really ruins Fred’s romantic life. It’s at this point that the script from Claude Binyon morphs into a horse racing movie. Binyon and Ruggles had already teamed on a 1933 Crosby movie titled College Humor. He’d pen a number of Crosby productions including Mississippi, Holiday Inn and Dixie. With this turning towards the horses, a popular topic to this day in the movies, it’s a wonder Paramount didn’t attempt to pry Mickey Rooney from MGM on a loan out in O’Connor’s place.
Yes Bing’s bound to buy a horse and who better than little brother Donald to ride Uncle Gus in the big race. Problem is the horse looks good in training and mobsters are taking notice. Do the boys take a sure thing in the form of a payoff or go for broke? Yeah this one covers all the bases. Girls, mobsters, Mom’s cooking, songs, horses and gambling. Oh yeah, and a happy ending.
While the singing trio entertain at various points in the film, Fred can seen playing the clarinet. Not sure if he was really playing but he did play the saxophone in real life so might not be stretch to know a thing or two about the clarinet. Bing and Fred’s career paths had already crossed back in the early thirties in the music field, Fred played saxophone in the Gus Arnheim and his Coconut Grove Orchestra when Bing Crosby was the lead vocalist.
Bing and Donald would reteam years later in the 1956 musical, Anything Goes along with Mitzi Gaynor. One name in the credits that jumped out at me is that of Hoagy Carmichael. He’s the credited writer on the song Small Fry. A comical number performed in costume by the starring trio. Fred in drag! And who says we can’t learn anything from watching too much TV? I knew who Hoagy was by the time I was 7 or 8 thanks to reruns of The Flintstones where he appeared in an episode as himself singing one of Fred’s numbers. Yabba Dabba Do!!!!!
Sing, You Sinners was released on DVD as part of a Crosby collection that encompasses a total of 24 films from 1933 to 1949. A worthwhile collection for us fans of Mr. Crosby’s acting and singing talents.