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Sing As We Go! (1934)

Courtesy of Canal+ Image UK ltd

Main image of Sing As We Go! (1934)
35mm, 80 min, black & white
DirectorBasil Dean
Production CompanyAssociated Talking Pictures
ScreenplayJ.B. Priestley
CinematographyRobert G. Martin
EditorThorold Dickinson
LyricsHarry Parr-Davies

Cast: Gracie Fields (Grace Platt); John Loder (Hugh Phillips); Dorothy Hyson (Phyllis); Stanley Holloway (policeman); Lawrence Grossmith (Sir William Upton)

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After losing her job at a Lancashire cotton mill, a high-spirited young woman has various adventures in Blackpool before returning to the mill when a new business deal enables it to re-open.

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The most famous and fondly recalled of Gracie Fields' British vehicles, Sing as We Go! captures vividly the sights, sounds, slang, customs and attitudes of the working classes in 1930s industrial Lancashire, while at the same time conveying a genuine sense of joyousness and delight. The effect is something akin to a George Formby film directed by Humphrey Jennings.

Unusually for a variety-to-film crossover performer, Fields has tremendous ease and expansiveness before the camera (though she never really enjoyed making films). Her comic persona may have the simplicity of the music hall turn, but she conveys an authenticity that made her beloved by her public to a degree enjoyed by few celebrities before or since. (The Daily Telegraph described the effect of her death on her birthplace of Rochdale as like "having a bit of the old town knocked down".)

Scripted by playwright and novelist J.B. Priestley, the film is incredibly fast moving, basically a series of sketches linked by songs, romantic complications and the all-pervading reality of the mill closure.

The presentation of working life, though clearly hard, is striking for its total lack of cynicism. In particular there is not a trace of class antagonism. The Boss, invariably a suspicious or curmudgeonly presence when George Formby works for him, is here charming, young, personable and caring. Out of work hours he enjoys a relaxed and affectionate friendship with Gracie (though the character of Phyllis seems to be there mainly to stop us worrying about that friendship going any further).

Fields herself serves as a kind of halfway figure between the workers and the middle classes, accepted unconditionally by both. It is telling, therefore, that she is not reinstated in her old lowly job at the end but is instead appointed Welfare Officer, a function symbolic of good industrial relations. Whether trooping dejectedly out or marching happily back through the gates of this most un-satanic mill, the workers sing as they go each time.

One could add that the film also unconditionally embraces modernity. We never learn the secrets of Sir William's revolutionary artificial silk, but its beneficial effect upon the manufacturing industry and those who rely on it for their livelihood is never doubted. The Man in the White Suit (d. Alexander Mackendrick, 1953) is still over fifteen years away, and everything in Sing As We Go! exudes optimism.

Matthew Coniam

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Video Clips
1. No work (2:14)
2. Cycling to Blackpool (2:25)
3. My little bottom drawer (4:14)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Man in the White Suit, The (1951)
Dean, Basil (1888-1978)
Dickinson, Thorold (1903-1984)
Fields, Gracie (1898-1979)
1930s Writers and Directors