Film Title: Sing, Sinner, Sing
Studio: Majestic Pictures
Silent or Talkie: Talkie
- Paul Lukas
- Leila Hyams
- Ruth Donnelly
- Joyce Compton
VISIT THE QUEEN OF JOY. Dining! Dancing! Diversions! Phil Carida presents Lela, Glamorous Girl of the Golden West. Beautiful Floor Show and Harry Coomb’s Jazzmaniacs. Thus proclaims a billboard in the first image shown in the film. The Queen of Joy is a floating casino anchored offshore of Los Angeles to which merry revelers make their way by water taxi. One such reveler is Ted Renden (Don Dillaway), millionaire playboy and big-time drunk. He’s not there for the gambling however; he’s after Lela Larson aka “Torchy” (Leila Hyams), the beautiful torch singer employed to entertain the customers. But Lela is involved with the casino’s owner, Phil Carida (Paul Lukas), although their arrangement seems to be somewhat on the rocks. In our first glimpse of him in the picture he’s stealing a smooch from a chorus girl. Also onboard is Maggie Flannigan (Ruth Donnelly), a hoofer whose dogs are always barkin’. Lela wants to get away, but Phil says “next week”. “You said that last week,” she tells him. When Phil goes off to take care of some business, Ted sneaks into Lela’s dressing room to drunkenly plead his case. “I wonder what you’d be like sober?” she asks him. “Say, I . . . I’ll try it! I . . . I . . . I’ll try anything for you.” is his reply. Lela tells Ted that he’d better be gone by the time she gets back, and she leaves to sing “He’s Mine”.
Meanwhile a couple of hoods have snuck aboard. They are in cahoots with one of Phil’s employees, and they intend to rob the joint. This subplot is complicated and hard to follow. But Phil finds out about the plot and shoots the traitor, which Lela sees through a porthole. She rushes back to her dressing room to throw some clothes together and make an escape but finds Ted again. This time he’s proposing marriage. Lela needs to get away fast and accepts. As they speed away, Phil declares that he’ll get revenge. But first he has to thwart this robbery. He goes back to his office and the hoods appear but someone turns out the lights and many shots are fired. There is the sound of slamming doors and Phil pulls the cord to turn on his desk lamp and then faints. We never do find out who won, Phil or the hoods?
Life with a drunken millionaire playboy is not all it’s cracked up to be, or so Lela finds out. With Ted out partying with his tarty girlfriend Gwen (Joyce Compton), Maggie stops by for an extended visit. She tries to convince Lela to divorce Ted and take him for a fortune. Lela though feels some compassion and thinks she owes him her loyalty for taking care of her and rescuing her from Phil. Things spiral out of control and one night Lela bursts in on Ted who is intent on killing himself. She tries to take the gun away from him but he threatens to kill her too, so she locks herself in the bathroom. Unbeknownst to either Ted or Lela, Phil has snuck into the house intent on getting his revenge. Lela hears a gunshot and races out of the bathroom, sees Ted’s body on the floor, and faints, but unfortunately when she falls her hand lands on Ted’s gun. Phil has left the building without being spotted by anybody. Lela is arrested for Ted’s murder! We do find out later how Ted actually died. But it seems to me that a little basic forensics at the scene of the crime could have cleared this up mighty quickly. Phil was behind Ted across the room, so did the fatal bullet enter his back? We know that Lela didn’t kill him as she was in the bathroom when the shot was fired, and Ted had the gun. We see Ted lift the gun up to his temple, but maybe he changed his mind and shot himself elsewhere. And Ted’s gun is tiny and Phil’s gun is big. Anyway, I’m not going to tell you how this ends, because it really needs to be seen to be believed, or not.
By no means can anyone claim that Sing, Sinner, Sing is a classic film. But it is interesting in many ways. It was produced by Majestic Pictures Corp., a small-time production company that between 1930 and 1935 produced twenty-four pictures. Sing, Sinner, Sing was their sixteenth release. It is rare that this film has survived; most pictures produced by these short-lived production companies of the era have long since disappeared. IMDb does state that an incomplete print (missing the last reel) is housed in the UCLA Film Archive. With this title we can compare a film produced by one of the little guys to those produced by the major studios at that time. The production values on Sing, Sinner, Sing are good if not lavish. There are not a lot of different sets: I count eight with a couple of process shots of people driving cars and boats. The picture runs only 73 minutes but that’s not unusual for the period. The script is pretty clunky with plotlines veering from the absurd to the ridiculous. The film was directed by one “Howard Christy” as listed in the film’s titles but listed on IMDb as “Howard Christie”. IMDb has no listing for a “Howard Christy”. If this is the same man, and IMDb has all the other credits for this film listed correctly, then Sing, Sinner, Sing is his only directing credit and his earliest credit of any kind. Howard Christie’s career lists him as an actor for a short time, then as an assistant director for 23 films from 1937 – 1945, then as a producer for both films and television from 1945 – 1970. He produced 71 episodes of the television series Wagon Train (1958 – 1964). So how did 21 year-old Howard Christy get to direct a film, even for a small time outfit like Majestic before he did anything else? And if Christy and Christie are not the same man, then who in the world was Howard Christy?
One must also ponder how both Leila Hyams and Paul Lukas ended up in a Majestic picture. Neither had the star stature of a Norma Shearer or a Clark Gable, but both were popular stars with extensive credits at this point. Hyams had been under contract to both Paramount and MGM previously. Lukas’ Oscar for Watch on the Rhine was still ten years in his future but he’d been working in Hollywood since 1928 and would star opposite Katharine Hepburn in the prestigious Little Women that same year. Why the heck was either of them making a picture for Majestic?
Leila Hyams was second billed to Lukas, but it’s really her film. She is very lovely and possesses a charming screen presence. She gets to sing a few songs, or should I say, parts of songs. The film has an annoying habit of cutting away from her singing to some obscure plotline and then cutting back again. The film gives Hyams her best musical moment with “He’s Mine,” words by George Waggner, music by Howard Jackson. It’s a pretty silly song in the vein of similar, better, songs such as Helen Morgan’s “Bill” and Fanny Brice’s “My Man”, but Hyams gives it her all. Lukas is fine, but he has a role that just isn’t very well written. Don Dillaway is an actor with whom I was not previously familiar. His leading man period in films was brief, but he continued to work often in films and television, usually unbilled, from 1930 – 1967. His character Ted is very drunk throughout most of the film, but he gets to sober up a few times. And in those moments we can see what Lela sees in him. Ruth Donnelly plays Lela’s comedic sidekick as she would in so many films of the twenties, thirties and forties. Sing, Sinner, Sing is only one of the 15 films she appeared in 1933! She was very busy indeed throughout most of her career from 1914 until 1965. Her Maggie in this film is very broadly written and does not have the wit that many of her other characters would display. Still, she’s game and does the best with what she’s given.
Sing, Sinner, Sing has been released to DVD by Alpha Home Entertainment. The DVD case states that the print comes from the Samuel M. Sherman Archive. The copyright on the film has long since expired and was never renewed so it now resides in the public domain. The print presented here appears to be from a 16mm source, probably produced for television release in the 1950’s and squirreled away by a collector. It’s pretty scratchy and grainy, but as I mentioned previously, we’re lucky to have even that. There are a few missing frames from time to time throughout, but no jumps that impede following the plot, such as it is. The sound is okay, and the whole thing is watchable.
Although not a classic by any means, Sing, Sinner, Sing is a rare relic of the kind of film production of which we have very few surviving examples. It’s certainly worth a look by fans or students of the pre-code era in Hollywood. Leila Hyams is a lovely screen presence, and this is one of only a few of her films that have been released to DVD. Alpha Home Entertainment specializes in cheap DVDs, and a purchase by those interested won’t hurt your wallet. I enjoyed the film.
Click HERE to purchase this DVD!