Without a doubt, Sing You Sinners is probably the most bizarre movie in Universal’s The Bing Crosby Collection.
Bing is a bad boy in this movie. He’s the wayward brother in this film, directed by Wesley Ruggles (who also helmed the first and worst film in the set so far, College Humor) and released in 1938. Yes, Universal decided to jump a few years following Mississippi. We’re now at a new part of Bing’s career at Paramount, where he seems to be more interested in showing off acting skills than just using films to sell records.
While Bing still has a few years to go before Going My Way, when he would really shine as an actor, he shows some surprising range here. Finally, we discover that Bing can play drunk and he’s pretty funny throughout. He frequently outdoes Fred MacMurray, who plays the straight-laced brother. The musical brother trio is completed by a 13-year-old Donald O’Connor.
The three brothers are desperately hoping for better lives, but Joe (Bing) is too much of an idealist to keep a job. He thinks he can swap his way to the top. That really annoys David (MacMurray) who thinks he can’t get married to sweetheart Martha (Ellen Drew) until Joe gets his life in order. Joe decides to head out to Los Angeles, where he opens a successful swap shop and sends for Mom (Elizabeth Patterson) and Mike (O’Connor). So, David and Martha head out there, thinking Joe has finally made good, only to discover that the swap shop is gone and Joe bought a race horse! Can that horse win to save the family?
Sing You Sinners, which actually has very little singing – aside from the brilliant performance of Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser’s “Small Fry” – is the best definition of an entertaining movie that has no higher aspirations. MacMurray is still a few years away from Double Indemnity and it shows. He really struggles at some of the dramatic points. But overall, this isn’t one of the terrible movies in the set. I’ve got one more to go!