Until this very day I did not even know  that  the Irish tenor John McCormack starred in a movie way back in 1930.   It seems so, so strange, after listening to him over these many  years on red label Victor records, vinyl records, and even today on YouTube, that I can all of a sudden see him as he sings The Rose of Traleee  and Plaisir d’Amour  and other beloved songs of old.

It all happened because my son, Dan,  gave me a TV at Christmas-time with a bigger screen, and took away my old TV that was able to play VHS tapes and DVD recordings.   I suddenly realized that I was now unable to play my collection of VHS tapes which meant I would be unable to watch The Passion of the Christ on Good Friday, as has been my custom.  I wailed and moaned until my good friend Dolores said she had a VCR that had never been unwrapped and son  Johnny installed it for me.  Going through my VHS recordings I came across two that I had never listened to — I have a vague recollection of  their being given to me some years back — one was Ferrucio Tagliavini in the opera Cavalleria Rusticana and the other something called Song O’ My Heart.   I must have been busy at the time and they were long recordings so I tucked them into my library and forgot about them.  Until today.

You need to know that my husband loved John McCormack and his songs are engraved on my heart.    When I finally played Song O’ My Heart  there was John McCormack singing (and singing and singing) in a sentimental movie written just to display his talent.   It is really quite quaint, with the horse-and-buggy, the clothing of the twenties, the Irish brogues and those funny old telephones.  Part of it is set in Ireland and it is said McCormack  was paid $500,000 to do it.  That was real money way back then.

Here is what one reviewer of today had to say about Song O’ My Heart.

This is not a great movie. It isn’t really a very good one, frankly. I can’t imagine any reason to watch it other than to see John McCormack. If you like McCormack, however, it is not to be missed and, while he’s on screen, very enjoyable. Unlike so many other opera singers who have taken a turn on the silver screen, McCormack is very natural and relaxed. He’s fun to watch and, when he sings something good – which is too often not the case, alas – a joy to hear.

Much of what he sings is, in fact, forgettable. But there are two numbers that make time stand still. The first is the Rose of Tralee. It’s not great music, perhaps, but McCormack makes each note a perfectly polished gem in one perfectly arranged necklace. It is nice music elevated by great art to a very moving moment.

And then there is I hear you calling me, the most successful of all McCormack’s many successes. This is beautiful music set to a perfect text. And then performed as no song has ever been performed before or since. Yes, perhaps one of his 78 rpm versions is even better, but the version in this film is already great enough to make time, and breath, stop. The song tells a story, and you follow it as it unfolds. In the last verses, when he goes up to the suspended high note on “I hear you CALLING me,” you would think that you in fact heard his beloved calling him from beyond the grave. It makes you understand why Caruso envied McCormack his pianissimos.

So here we have  John McCormack in Song o’ My Heart singing  I Hear You Calling Me.  It was recorded in Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium, 5th and Grand, with Edwin Schneider at the piano.  This was the second talkie, after Jazz Singer.

The VHS recording that  I have was apparently videotaped from a Visual Artists International presentation of Firestone Classic Performances.  It can also be purchased in a 1991 release on Amazon.