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  Sing as We Go! On Yer Bike, Gracie!
Year: 1934
Director: Basil Dean
Stars: Gracie Fields, John Loder, Dorothy Hyson, Stanley Holloway, Frank Pettingell, Lawrence Grossmith, Morris Harvey, Arthur Sinclair, Maire O'Neill, Ben Field, Olive Sloane, Margaret Yarde, Evelyn Roberts, Norman Walker, James R. Gregson, Muriel Pavlow
Genre: Musical, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: There's trouble at t'mill, in fact the mill is closing down leaving the locals in this area of Manchester out of work. Gracie Platt (Gracie Fields) is one of those who has lost her job, and if anything she is more upset about the works stage show being cancelled, because she was due to sing in it and hoped for this occasion to open up brighter opportunities for her. But all that seems to be at an end, and now she must either go on the dole or seek employment elsewhere, and with the Great Depression blighting the globe, that is easier said than done. However, she gets an idea that Blackpool might be the perfect destination...

The only star to rival Our Gracie in British cinemas of the nineteen-thirties in popularity was George Formby, a similarly musically-inclined Northerner with a line in pomposity-deflating humour. If they had equivalent films, then surely Gracie was doing for Blackpool in this what George did for The Isle of Man in No Limit, presenting a magnet for working class amusements, in his case the world-famous TT Races, and replicating the thrills of actually visiting there with plenty of jokes and catchy tunes. The key to these was to present the leads as one of the little folk, one of us, bumbling through life and having the luck we would wish for ourselves.

Blackpool did not particularly need a boost from Gracie, it was still one of the biggest tourist destinations in the country with its Pleasure Beach, illuminations and countless sideshows and amusements, a perfect place to sink the hard-earned cash of the visitors into for the fun of going on a ride or getting your fortune told. To an extent, it retains that appeal, though there was always a seedier aspect that Sing as We Go! does not delve into, well, not too much, as it was trying to advertise the location as a desirable dreamland where a nobody like Gracie could go and find all sorts of entertainment and appeal, as long as they had been prepared to work for it.

Of course, Fields was not a nobody at all, she was a major celebrity, and come the end of the decade she was deemed to have let her adoring public down by upping sticks and emigrating to America for an abortive Hollywood career, this regarded as a betrayal - Formby didn't make that mistake, he stayed and wisely entertained the troops. But in 1934, as the seeds of the Second World War were sown, it was movies like this that kept the nation's spirits aloft, its central image of a huge crowd of citizens all singing with one voice, led by Gracie, obviously resonating as a symbol of national identity. Not that many were thinking that at the time, as the script, penned by the much-respected J.B. Priestley, emphasised the jokes and gave the heroine ample opportunity to show off her vocal range in song.

The title song may be difficult to take entirely seriously now, of course, post-Monty Python. One on of the comedy troupe's albums, Graham Chapman had recorded it with drastically altered lyrics to become "Sit on my face and tell me that you love me!", and as the tune was exactly the same, if you have that version squirreled away in your mind, it can be hard to think of anything else whenever the ditty crops up in this film, which is often. But there were more intentional laughs to be gained here, even if it's something of a museum piece in the following millennium, for Gracie was an agent of organised chaos, putting anyone who tried to take advantage of her in their place, and orchestrating the innocent love affair between secondary leads John Loder (impeccably turned out as always) and Dorothy Hyson (vaunted in her day as one of the most beautiful women in the world). It was somewhat ramshackle, Gracie cycled fifty miles in two minutes, Stanley Holloway showed up unrecognisably as a policeman, beauty contests were staged, Crunchy Wunchy was sold, it was all completely ridiculous but oddly admirable.

[Network release this as part of The British Film on Blu-ray with a vintage programme, trailer, gallery and subtitles as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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