Song o' My Heart (1930) Fox Film Corporation. Presented by William Fox. Director: Frank Borzage. Continuity: Sonya Levien. Story-Dialogue: Tom Barry. Photography: Chester Lyons, Al Brick. Grandeur Camera: J. O. Taylor. Art Director: Harry Oliver. Editor: Margaret W. Clancey. Recording engineer: George P. Costello. Assistant Director: Lew Borzage. Costumes: Sophie Wachner. Cast: John McCormack, Alice Joyce, Maureen O'Sullivan, Tom Clifford, J. M. Kerrigan, John Garrick, Edwin Schneider, J. Farrell MacDonald, Effie Ellsler, Emily Fitzroy, Andres De Segurola, Edward Martindel. 9 reels, 7,740 ft.
This film was originally released in three versions. There was a full sound version, a silent version with sound effects and an expanded version of the concert sequence (with full sound, of course). Both of these are 35mm. There was also a 70mm "Grandeur" versions, but apparently no copy of this version survives. UCLA Film and Television Archives has a copy of the 35mm version, though I am not sure which one. A video version was made by combining the full sound version with the extended concert sequence from the silent version, and this was formerly availble from the Bel Canto Society. Fox has recently released a box set of films by F.W. Murnau and Frank Borzage, and this set has both the full sound and silent versions of the film.
|A striking picture of Joyce with crop marks for use in a newspaper or magazine, plus a nice still of Alice with John McCormack, both courtesy of Derek Boothroyd|
|Front and back of a herald for the film, also from Derek|
Fox production and release. Starring John McCormack. story by J.J. McCarthy, adapted and dramatized by Tom Barry. Direction, Frank Borzage. Cameraman, Chester Lyons; sound, G. P. Costello. At 44th St., New York, for $2 twice daily starting March 11. Running time, 85 mins.
|Aunt Elizabeth||Emily Fitzroy|
|Guido||Andres de Segurola|
This is not merely a matter of John McCormack singing 11 songs, but a film that's going to reap. Fox studio has and will surprise many in the trade by the manner in which it has molded what might easily have become so much sentimental sop into a charming background for the Irish tenor. It is spiced by more interwoven legitimate comedy than any talker to date. Boiling it all down leaves two basic factors, McCormack's voice and J.M. Kerrigan.
McCormack's first screen effort is going to be a delight for two of the three present generations. That means a strong draw also in the rural districts. And as for the British possessions it can't miss. Sitting through "Song o' My Heart" is no hardship.
Original story as outlined by J.J. McCarthy, who also picked the title, had no other aim than the heart. There was never any thought of trying to make a romantic screen figure of McCormack, nor would the singer's dignity permit that he be made to look ridiculous in his own eyes by any twist in the scenario. Between trying to turn out a sentimental, yet not too sentimental, story and preserving the McCormack wishes it amounted to something more than the ordinary problem. Considering or ignoring these factors, as you choose, "Song o' My Heart" is a remarkable piece of work.
The common sense apparent in this one as it unreels should do something to throttle that, superior skeptical faction which only refers to or speaks of the screen sarcastically if at all. And that's the smallest of the worries for the studio, in that it expects not less than a $2,000,000 gross rental from this effort. But it will top that figure, and it looks a certainty that McCormack will make another feature for Fox.
To take care of McCormack in the story form the script trifles neither with his age or figure in drawing him as a prominent singer in his native land colored by interference, with an unsuccessful love affair, the subject of which, Mary, has wed elsewhere by command. Her death leaves him to look after her two children. The build-up to the "I Hear You Calling Me" climax comes when Mary dies and a cable so informs McCormack's accompanist as the tenor is in the midst of an American concert. Story's only continuity gap appears to be no designation of the singer's occupation until somewhere in the last three reels when it is hinted that he will sing in public "again." Up to that time the audience must accept him as a man of apparently moderate means, devoted to his voice.
Meanwhile, there are the two village cronies--Kerrigan and Farrell Macdonald. Almost as good as Kerrigan's comedy is Macdonald's "straight." Between them it's superb, a matter of two legitimate actors giving strictly legitimate performances. Not simply a matter of being just two clowns mugging for the hoke laughs. The picture has none of that. Everything they do and say fits, and Kerrigan's work is a study for performers either on the stage or screen. He'll probably never see footlights again if the studio has it's [sic] way, and a report is that Fox has a long string of options to his contract.
Kerrigan is a former legit actor of note, who also was director of the Abbey Players, Dublin, for a number of years. His personal effort here is bound to rank among the greatest in talking pictures to date. Actually a superlative contribution.
Cast blends throughout both Irish importations, Maureen O'Sullivan and the lad, Tommy Clifford; impressing favorably. Effie Ellster, the late A.L. Erlanger's first star, makes a small part stand out, while Alice Joyce is always easy to gaze upon. De Segurola makes a bit connect and John Garrick, opposite Miss O'Sullivan as the direct love interest, mildly suffices. Emily Fitzroy plays again a tyrannical and cold faced relative about the wreck the life of Eileen, as she did that of the latter's mother, Mary.
McCormack plays easily and well, occasionally flashing a sense of humor. His singing, of course, stands by itself and due to that it is the spotting and selection of songs which are so important for this picture. The numbers unfold a satisfying change of pace with "Ireland, Mother Ireland," perhaps the top thrill of the premier.
"Song o' My Heart" is a credit to everyone concerned in its making. The recording on McCormack is excellent, as is the judgment evidence by the handling of all the component parts. Its unsophistication, simplicity, and warmth are what they'll like.
Besides John McCormack and 11 McCormack songs for 75 cents.
This film, shot in Ireland, is a vehicle for John McCormack who, though not handsome by any means, displays the same charm and easy naturalness before the camera as he does before the microphone. And there is a lot of singing, including an extended concert sequence. For Alice Joyce fans, however, the film is a trifle disappointing because of the pathetic, downtrodden character she plays who gives up and dies in the middle of the film. Her silent film experience stands her in good stead, though, since much of her relatively small part consists of her listening to McCormack's singing (including her death scene). Maureen O'Sullivan, one of the Irish cast who soon made her way to Hollywood, is nervous in her first scenes but soon relaxes into her usual charming and lovely self--a worthy screen daughter to Alice Joyce. This is a sweet film and is incredibly generous with the amount of screen time given over to McCormack's singing. For his still numerous fans, this film is a treasure.
Prints viewed: Video formerly available from the Bel Canto Society, plus the silent and sound versions from Fox.
Last revised November 24, 2011