Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Open, general discussion of music during the era of classic/nitrate movies
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Phillyrich
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Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by Phillyrich » Sat Sep 07, 2013 1:34 pm

Anybody want to offer up a favorite piece of bad singing in a classic-era motion picture...that works anyway?

I was thinking of that while watching Lauren Bacall sing "How Little We Know" (Hoagy Carmichael) and part of "Am I Blue" in "To Have and Have Not." It seems that Howard Hawks decided to let her use her own untrained voice rather than have a professional dub for her. Her just so-so voice is good enough, and fits the character. A polished singer would have been out of place here. (The story that a young Andy Williams was used as her vocal double never made much sense to me.)

Katherine Hepburn does a little warbling of the great tune: "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" in "Bringing Up Baby." And there's always Groucho.....

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by miltonebx » Sat Sep 07, 2013 1:40 pm

Rod Steiger in Oklahoma
Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin in Paint Your Wagon--if not dubbed
Kirk Douglas in several of his movies

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by boblipton » Sat Sep 07, 2013 1:46 pm

Lee Marvin is a good choice, although I don't consider that a "classic era" film. For me, the worst is probably Jimmy Stewart, who got to introduce the Cole Porter standard "Easy to Love" in Born to Dance.

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by earlytalkie » Sat Sep 07, 2013 2:57 pm

Charles Farrell in any of his musicals for Fox. Frank Richardson's loud screeching in the same.

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by filmnotdigital » Sat Sep 07, 2013 6:27 pm

One of my favorites is Claudette Colbert in "The Gilded Lily," where she gets a job at Nate's Cafe (presided over by Luis Alberni) and proceeds to embarrass herself and others with her poor performance, but she wins over the audience, people like her attempt to succeed and she becomes a hit! The film is charming in its own right and worth rediscovering.

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by greta de groat » Sun Sep 08, 2013 12:04 am

There is always Alfalfa.

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by daveboz » Sun Sep 08, 2013 2:31 am

And the winner is... George Jessel in LUCKY BOY [1929]!

Hear for yourself:

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by entredeuxguerres » Sun Sep 08, 2013 10:33 am

boblipton wrote: For me, the worst is probably Jimmy Stewart, who got to introduce the Cole Porter standard "Easy to Love" in Born to Dance.

Bob
I think so too, but it seems useful to make a distinction between singers the audience was never intended to take seriously as vocalists, such as Jimmy, whose off-key warbling was supposed to be "charming," I'm assuming, and those whose performance was expected to be fully professional. Can't think of any really good examples of the latter, although Alice White's singing in Showgirl In Hollywood does not inspire me to buy the soundtrack. (And I LOVE everything else about Alice White!)

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by bobfells » Tue Sep 10, 2013 11:47 am

Adolphe Menjou in BROADWAY GONDOLIER (1935). Granted, since he's subbing for Dick Powell he's supposed to sound bad. No question - there was no dubbing!
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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by Rick Lanham » Tue Sep 10, 2013 1:49 pm

I will mention Claire Trevor in KEY LARGO. TCM has played an interview with her in which she states that she had expected to be given a chance to practice her singing, but that that was not what was wanted. She was supposed to be bad.

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by syd » Tue Sep 10, 2013 4:21 pm

Clark Gable singing (and dancing to) Puttin' on the Ritz from Idiot's Delight (1939)
Rex Harrison speaking with music in My Fair Lady
Jack Albertson singing in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Lucille Ball croaking in Mame.

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by Rollo Treadway » Wed Sep 11, 2013 6:40 am

Ralph Bellamy's immortal "Home on the Range" in The Awful Truth.

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by Lostintime » Thu Sep 12, 2013 12:21 am

Even though Joan Crawford had a beautiful voice, her singing skills were not enough for "How Long Will It Last?" in Possessed (1931) but she appears so magnetic and alluring that you forget it.

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by Christopher Jacobs » Thu Sep 12, 2013 12:56 am

How about almost anything by Nancy Carroll? She's always cute, perky, and charming, but her untrained singing voice always sounds like a rough rehearsal by someone sight-reading, or someone not quite sure if she knows the music, even though she gives it her all and sometimes conveys an irresistible charm no matter how off-key she is.

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by entredeuxguerres » Thu Sep 12, 2013 7:05 am

Christopher Jacobs wrote:How about almost anything by Nancy Carroll? She's always cute, perky, and charming, but her untrained singing voice always sounds like a rough rehearsal by someone sight-reading, or someone not quite sure if she knows the music, even though she gives it her all and sometimes conveys an irresistible charm no matter how off-key she is.
The above is quite true save on one crucial point: not "sometimes," but ALWAYS! She also illustrates the distinction I made between a singer doing her dead-level best, but failing, and one, like Ralph Bellamy, executing an acoustic gag by trying to be bad.

(Nancy wasn't much of a dancer, either, but who cares?)

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by BixB » Thu Sep 26, 2013 10:44 am

Lillian Miles singing The Continental in THE GAY DIVORCEE.
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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by bradleyem » Sun Sep 09, 2018 4:25 pm

earlytalkie wrote:
Sat Sep 07, 2013 2:57 pm
Charles Farrell in any of his musicals for Fox. Frank Richardson's loud screeching in the same.
Not everybody is crazy about Frank Richardson, but he was an interesting fellow. I write about him, as well as the Paramount semi-horror thriller THE WITCHING HOUR (1934), in my latest posts at earlysoundguy.com.

https://earlysoundguy.com/2018/09/06/fr ... y-of-song/
https://earlysoundguy.com/2018/09/09/th ... last-time/

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by Donald Binks » Sun Sep 09, 2018 5:21 pm

W.C. Fields was evidently never meant to sing but I remember (unfortunately) him croaking out something or other to do with "The Wabash".
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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by FrankFay » Sun Sep 09, 2018 7:42 pm

Arthur Lake in CHEER UP AND SMILE (1930) "Whispering" Jack Smith (an actual crooner) gets hit on the head and Lake is forced to go on in his place. The notion that the radio audience finds his nervous singing (at gunpoint) to be entertaining is an amusing joke. His later serious effort at crooning is indeed pretty bad, but very clever staging and his evident earnestness helps to make it passable.

A bit off topic, but Olga Baclanova shows why her sound career wasn't destined to be long.
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Dean Thompson
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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by Dean Thompson » Tue Sep 11, 2018 1:06 pm

I'll nominate June Allyson's rendition of "Thou Swell" in Words and Music. She's not that much of a singer (I have a distant memory of someone's writing that hers was a voice crying for cough drops), but this may be her best moment on film. It's irresistibly charming.

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by Jim Roots » Tue Sep 11, 2018 2:10 pm

Donald Binks wrote:
Sun Sep 09, 2018 5:21 pm
W.C. Fields was evidently never meant to sing but I remember (unfortunately) him croaking out something or other to do with "The Wabash".
"The Wabash Cannonball"? What film did he sing that in? Anybody remember?

Jim

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by boblipton » Tue Sep 11, 2018 2:53 pm

Jim Roots wrote:
Tue Sep 11, 2018 2:10 pm
Donald Binks wrote:
Sun Sep 09, 2018 5:21 pm
W.C. Fields was evidently never meant to sing but I remember (unfortunately) him croaking out something or other to do with "The Wabash".
"The Wabash Cannonball"? What film did he sing that in? Anybody remember?

Jim
He sings —within a very loose definition of the verb — “On the Banks of the Wabash” in The Man on the Flying Trapeze.

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by ajabrams » Tue Sep 11, 2018 2:54 pm

That would be "On the Banks of the Wabash" in Man on the Flying Trapeze.
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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by zigguraticus » Sun Oct 21, 2018 3:30 pm

Hands (or arms) down: Adolph Menjou in "Two White Arms" (1932). One of the most delightfully dreadful off-key warblings ever. Worth playing at parties.

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by brendangcarroll » Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:19 am

Cary Grant in "Suzy" (1936) trying to ing "Do I remember?"

Joan Crawford in Mannequin (1937) "Always in Always"

Any of Ruby Keeler's efforts .....but especially "By a Waterfall" in 'Footlight Parade' (1933) which is akin to dragging your fingernails down a blackboard!

Bette Davis in 'Thank Your Lucky Stars" (They're either too young or too old) - amusing but....
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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by William D. Ferry » Fri Oct 26, 2018 4:05 pm

Is it just me, or is Ruby Keeler's voice deeper than Dick Powell's in that number?😂 I will say she's cute as a button in "Pettin' in the Park".
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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by countryslicker » Sat Oct 27, 2018 12:02 am

William D. Ferry wrote:
Fri Oct 26, 2018 4:05 pm
Is it just me, or is Ruby Keeler's voice deeper than Dick Powell's in that number?😂 I will say she's cute as a button in "Pettin' in the Park".
I reckon you're right!. Thoroughly enjoy her acting dancing and singing in all her films. Would NEVER :evil: consider her a "bad" singer.

I have the 9 Film Busby Berkeley DVD set. Some of the films are a bit tedious in their plots , but luckily this set has a bonus DVD "The Busby Berkeley Disc" with just the 21 musical numbers.

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by Brooksie » Sat Oct 27, 2018 12:53 pm

brendangcarroll wrote:
Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:19 am
Any of Ruby Keeler's efforts .....but especially "By a Waterfall" in 'Footlight Parade' (1933) which is akin to dragging your fingernails down a blackboard!
This is why 42nd Street (1933) never quite works for me. The plot hinges on Ruby's character being some great undiscovered talent. She was a good hoofer, but she sure as heck wasn't a singer.

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by Scott Eckhardt » Wed Oct 31, 2018 4:21 pm

Brooksie wrote:
Sat Oct 27, 2018 12:53 pm
brendangcarroll wrote:
Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:19 am
Any of Ruby Keeler's efforts .....but especially "By a Waterfall" in 'Footlight Parade' (1933) which is akin to dragging your fingernails down a blackboard!
This is why 42nd Street (1933) never quite works for me. The plot hinges on Ruby's character being some great undiscovered talent. She was a good hoofer, but she sure as heck wasn't a singer.
She was no Bebe Daniels, but I didn't mind her singing. In fact, in the film, Ginger Rogers says: "Her voice might not panic "em, but she can dance rings around Brock." The fact that her singing was marginal at best was no secret.

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Re: Best "bad" singing in a classic era film?

Unread post by maliejandra » Fri Nov 02, 2018 8:49 am

Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus singing a lullaby to Dickie Moore always seemed sweet to me. How she ever became known as a singer is beyond me.

What about Audrey Hepburn singing Moon River in Breakfast at Tiffany's? It borders being excellent because it was used so effectively, but her voice isn't technically perfect.

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