There’s No Doubt: Harry Chapin Definitely Did Something

In between the bubblegum pop that ruled the early 1970s and the corporate rock that dominated the second half of the decade came Cat’s in the Cradle, the commercial peak for the man who was, at the time, folk rock’s top troubadour. While the No. 1 single became a defining moment in Harry Chapin’s career, it was far from his only highlight.

 It was, however, a song that reverberated through Chapin’s life, as he struggled to balance the demands of his career, his passion for activism, and his personal life as a husband and father to a blended family. While he wasn’t always successful in achieving that balance, he usually put forth a 110% effort in trying, a fact that is often lamented and celebrated in a new documentary, Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something.

 The fact that his family is heavily involved in the film doesn’t mean it shies away from his shortcomings. His ex-wife, Sandy, talks about the strain Harry’s schedule placed on their marriage; in one telling sequence, we see a handwritten note promising her a certain number of nights at home, a promise she says he was not able to keep.

 But what those moments do is remind us of the fact that Harry Chapin was flawed and human, though he lived a life of almost superhuman proportions. The film reminds us that, by the age of 33, Chapin had been nominated for an Oscar (from his early career as a filmmaker), a Tony (for a Broadway play he’d written), and a Grammy. A bidding war had earned him what was, at the time, the biggest record contract in history. And he had a president’s ear.

After filling us in on Chapin’s early life story, complete with a generous helping of home videos and old family photos, and his career’s rapid rise, the film turns to his activism. With partner Bill Ayres, Chapin launched World Hunger Year, an organization dedicated to wiping out world hunger. As he became more and more passionate about the cause, he started to bend the ears of politicians. He struck up a friendship with Senator Patrick Leahy (who speaks at length about their relationship in the film), which eventually earned Chapin a meeting with President Jimmy Carter. That meeting led to the formation of Presidential Commission on World Hunger.

A large portion of the film is dedicated to Chapin’s charity work and legacy. Sir Bob Geldof acknowledges Chapin’s influence in the creation of Band Aid and Live Aid. Chapin’s manager, Ken Kragen, speaks about how Chapin’s spirit drove him to become the guiding force behind the USA for Africa and Hands Across America projects.

But even as the documentary veers into celebrating Chapin’s charitable achievements, it never forgets the music. Artists like Billy Joel and Pat Benatar share stories about their encounters with Chapin, and they share their appreciation for his music. Through performance clips and montages, we’re treated to more than a dozen of Chapin’s most significant songs, and one entertaining interlude looks at the lasting impact of Cat’s in the Cradle on American culture.

Chapin’s death, in an automobile accident in 1981, was a tragedy that robbed the world of one of its great crusaders and one of its great artists. Nearly four decades later, we’re left to speculate about what he might have been able to accomplish had he lived. But we’re also left to ponder the possibility that his death may have also been the catalyst for some of the changes he’d been fighting for. Either way, Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something is an overdue and enjoyable tribute to a man who made a real difference in the time that he had.

Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something  is now playing in theaters and virtual theaters and will be available on VOD October 30th.

Related articles


Share article

Latest articles

Sure, Bill Murray Had The Ambition. But Did He Have The Drive?

Caddyshack is like the Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, and Arnold Palmer of golf movies all rolled up into one -- it's doubtful that anyone...

‘Parenthood’ Has Always Been A Part Of Ron Howard

Ron Howard got quite a bit of mileage out of Parenthood. The 1989 film, with an all-star cast headlined by Steve Martin, was not...

While Working On ‘Back To The Future,’ Time Was A Blur For Michael J. Fox

There are fans of the Back to the Future movies who can recite most of the trilogy's scenes by heart. As it turns out,...

She May Be Funny At Times, But Kaley Cuoco’s Glad ‘The Flight Attendant’ Is No Airhead

After 12 years on The Big Bang Theory, Kaley Cuoco was ready for a challenge. While she could have easily settled into a new...

Elizabeth Berkley: ‘Saved By The Bell’ Reboot Touches All The Bases

For a generation of kids growing up, Saved by the Bell was more than just a TV show -- it was a way of...

New Trailers

Epix Releases ‘Pennyworth’ Season 2 Trailer

A year after the explosive events of last season, England finds itself embroiled in a devastating civil war, with the powerful, neo-fascist Raven Union,...

Apple TV+ Unveils Trailer For New Docuseries ‘Becoming You’

Apple TV+ today shared the trailer for the upcoming docuseries "Becoming You," narrated by Academy Award-winning actress, Olivia Colman. Told through the eyes of...

Vince Vaughn’s ‘Freaky’ New Movie Not Only Slashes, But Hyphens

The new film Freaky is a hybrid, mixing the venerable "body swap" genre (Freaky Friday, 18 Again) with the serial killer horror genre. Vince...

CBS All Access Takes A ‘Stand’ With Stephen King Miniseries

CBS All Access, ViacomCBS’ digital subscription video on-demand and live streaming service, revealed the official trailer and key art for the highly anticipated limited-event...

HBO Max Releases The West Wing Reunion Trailer

With less than a month remaining until the general election, HBO Max has revealed the trailer for A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote,  which...