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No, really -- I defy anyone to name a movie musical more exuberant, more
creative, more romantic, melodic, hilarious, or escapist; not even "Singin'
in the Rain" equals it. From opening shot (a rhythmic ballet-mechanique of
Paris coming to life at dawn) to fade-out (a happy-ending finale that also
parodies Eisenstein), it's bursting with ingenious ideas.
The pre-Code screenplay, rife with double entendres and social satire, is a princess-and-commoner love story written to the strengths of its two stars: Chevalier, never more charming, and MacDonald, never a subtler comedienne. With one foot in fantasy and the other in reality, it manages to sustain an otherworldly feeling even while grounded in the modern-day Paris of klaxons, tradesmen, and class consciousness. The supporting cast is phenomenal, with Myrna Loy as a man-hungry countess, C. Aubrey Smith doing his old-codger thing, Charles Butterworth priceless as a mild-mannered nobleman ("I fell flat on my flute!"), and Blanche Frederici, Ethel Griffies, and Elizabeth Patterson as a benign version of the Macbeth witches' trio.
All are wonderful, but the real muscle belongs to the director and the songwriters. Mamoulian's camera has a rhythm of its own and many tricks up its lens: note the fox-hunt sequence suddenly going into slow-motion; the Expressionist shadowplay in Chevalier's "Poor Apache" specialty; the sudden cuts in the "Sonofagun is Nothing But a Tailor" production number. As for the Rodgers and Hart score, it's simply the best they ever wrote for a film -- maybe the best anybody wrote for a film. The songs are unforgettable in themselves -- "Isn't It Romantic?", "Mimi," "Lover," etc. -- but, and here is where genius enters, they're superbly integrated and magnificently thought out. Note the famous "Isn't It Romantic" sequences, the camera roaming effortlessly through countless verses from tailor shop to taxi to field to gypsy camp to castle, finally linking the two leads subliminally, though their characters have never met. "A musical," Mamoulian once said, "must float." This sequence may float higher than any other in any musical.
Best of all, you can sense the unbridled enthusiasm the authors must have had for this project: Rodgers and Hart seem positively giddy with the possibilities of cinema, eager to defy time, place, and reason as was never possible for them onstage. What a pity that this magnificent movie isn't available on video, so that future generations can't easily rediscover its brilliance.
Yes, it's available from Kino. If not in general distribution, you can
still order it from most Internet-based distributors. Its publication
is coincidental with one of Rouben Mamoulian's other masterpieces of
the sound era, 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' (the Fredric March version,
1931). Although the producers of this last two-for-one DVD (where it is
coupled with Victor Fleming 1941 version with Spencer Tracy, Ingrid
Bergman and Lana Turner) were able to restore most of the parts of
'Jekyll' which were cut away either by the studio (Paramount) or the
censors, the same cannot be said of 'Love Me Tonight'.
Don't get me wrong: it still is a must-own masterpiece reproduced in a pristine print with sound as clear as a bell, but it is still missing songs and scenes that were cut because they were too long or because the censors repeatedly asked for their exclusion. I didn't have time to listen to the whole commentary by Miles Kreuger, who probably explains how these tasty bits were either destroyed or lost to posterity.
What remains, of course, is the version film lovers have always known from television and have recorded on their VCRs for years. What comes out in this print is that the photography by Victor Milner is very reminiscent of the celebrated Brassaï still photographs of Paris, the lighting is extremely rich and complex and the camera movements are unusual for the time (including a discreet use of the zoom lens for comic effects). Two set pieces ('Isn't Romantic?' and ''The son-of-a-gun is nothing but a tailor') are guaranteed to knock the wind out of you. One song, 'Mimi', has Maurice Chevalier singing to Jeanette MacDonald but directly to the camera and Jeanette looking back at him in the same way, which is spine-tingling. Another song (the pre-recorded 'Love Me Tonight') Is sung over a split-screen view of the lovers sleeping each in their own bed. The film even includes a full-regalia deer hunt and a race between a train and a horsewoman worthy of the 'Perils of Pauline'.
The script is based on a French boulevard comedy called 'The Tailor and the Princess' by Armont and Marchand but it has been amplified by a very witty and poetic script by American Samuel Hoffenstein (who also worked on 'Jekyll'), spoken and sung rhymed couplets by Lorenz Hart and, of course, songs and incidental music by Richard Rodgers.
In this gentle lampoon of French aristocracy and the democratic aspirations of the working classes, songs are not mere filler, they announce scenes, introduce characters and propel the action. They also give rise to very cinematic montages which keep the spectator in a perpetual state of expectation. In this respect, Mamoulian was probably paying respect to what René Clair had accomplished in his French musical 'Le Million' a short time before (1931). Its sexual content, however, was clearly inspired (or dictated) by the preceding film Ernst Lubitsch had directed starring the box-office smash duo of Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier ('Love Parade', 1929, followed in 1935 by 'The Merry Widow'). 'Love Me Tonight' in turn inspired the French style of film comedy for decades to come, where the introduction of working class elements in an aristocratic setting became a kind of stock situation (see 'The Rules of the Game', Jean Renoir, 1939).
As Miles Kreuger explains, this is probably the last screen musical where most of the sung numbers were recorded live on the soundstage, with a live orchestra in attendance off-screen (as evidenced in the production photographs), because the complexity of film-making from this point on required the songs to be pre-recorded. This gives the film a unique, spontaneous quality even in the most choreographed numbers.
The inclusion of the three spinster sisters is a particularly fine touch, reminiscent of the famous 'Mesdames' of Louis XVth's court (his three moralizing unmarried daughters), but they also serve as Greek chorus and a benevolent version of the Three Witches or Three Fairies of folk literature.
Luckily, the DVD also includes a complete reprinting of the script pages of the scenes that were lost to censorship or cut by the studio, as well as censorship notes and they make for fine reading.
All in all, this is one of the most important films in cinema's history, a timeless comedy whose enjoyment will never be marred and a fine DVD package.
This is an enchanting film, one of the best musicals of the decade. Maurice
Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald are incredibly appealing in a
rich-girl-poor-boy musical romance.
It's one of those rare films where the girl runs away from the palace to
follow her true love and you *don't* think "wait a minute, you'll never
survive out there", no, you want them to be together. The score is
enchanting (the big hits being "Isn't it Romantic" and "Lover"), Chevalier is
devastatingly attractive, and MacDonald is vulnerably appealing and
completely without the annoying primness that marred her later
It's also a remarkably well made film for 1932, when most films were just getting used to sound and suffered from a horrible stiffness on the part of the actors and the camera. You'd think this movie was made ten years later, it's lively and sparkling, and directed with a smoothness and originality that's still amazing.
This has eluded me for forty years. Yet all I ever heard about it were unqualified raves. Now I have finally found a copy and they are all right, folks - it is a masterpiece - way ahead of its time - one of the freshest, brightest, breeziest musicals ever made and technically state of the art for the forties, not 1932 when it was made. Brilliant, imaginative direction, superlative cinematography, elaborate art direction, full sound capturing the spectrum, a brilliant score by Rodgers and Hart boasting three standards (Isn't It Romantic?; Mimi; Lover)plus six others (Soul of Paree/How Are You?; The Examination; I'm An Apache; Love Me Tonight; Son of a Gun Is A Tailor). About the only quibble one could make is that the highly delightful opening, the rhythmic sounds of a city coming to life, is a direct steal from PORGY AND BESS which premiered a decade before the film. Go out of your way to see this one. Not a single Oscar nom but it deserved six of them: Direction; Cinematography; Art Direction; Score; Sound; Song.
LOVE ME TONIGHT (Paramount, 1932) directed by Rouben Mamoulian, marks
the third teaming of Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald,
following THE LOVE PARADE (1929) and ONE HOUR WITH YOU (1932), as well
as their best collaboration of four musicals together, in fact, the
privilege of being one of the best musicals ever made in the 1930s.
The story focuses on a French tailor named Maurice (Maurice Chevalier) who is swindled out of his fee by the Vicomte DeVarez (Charles Ruggles). He soon sets out for the castle of the Vicomte's uncle, The Duke (C. Aubrey Smith) to collect the fee. While there, at the advice of the Vicomte, who promises to pay him within a few days, to remain at the castle under the guise of a royal Baron. Maurice, who had earlier encountered Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald), a beautiful but lonely princess, immediately falls in love with her, in spite of her resistance. Things start to look bright for Maurice and Jeanette until it is discovered that Maurice is not nothing but a tailor.
The supporting cast consists of Myrna Loy (on loan from MGM) as Countess Valentine; Charles Butterworth as Count DeSavignac, the deadpan character who loves Jeanette as well as his flute; Elizabeth Patterson, Ethel Griffies and Blanche Frederici as the maiden aunts; Robert Greig as Flamond; with Clarence Wilson and Gordon Westcott, among others. The biggest surprise is Myrna Loy, better known for her sophistication rather than her Oriental vamps from her early years, playing an offbeat character as a man-chasing gal who goes for anything in pants, something to the liking of Lillian Roth, who had demonstrated a similar chore in THE LOVE PARADE. Loy even gets some of the film's most witty lines. In a scene where Jeanette becomes ill, and a doctor is needed, her cousin (Ruggles) asks her, "Could you go for a doctor?" She replies, "Certainly, bring him right in."
With the music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, songs include "The Song of Paree," "How Are You?" (both sung by Maurice Chevalier); "Isn't It Romantic?" (sung by Chevalier, Bert Roach, Rolfe Sedan, Tyler Brooke, cast members and Jeanette MacDonald); "Lover" (sung by MacDonald); "Mimi" (sung by Chevalier); "A Woman Needs Something Like That" (recited by MacDonald and Joseph Cawthorne); "Mimi" (reprise, sung by C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Ruggles, Elizabeth Patterson, Ethel Griffies, Blanche Frederici and Charles Butterworth. Myrna Loy's suggestive version to the song wearing a transparent negligee has been deleted from reissue prints); "I'm an Apache" (sung by Chevalier); "Love Me Tonight" (sung by MacDonald); "The Son-of-a-Gun is Nothing But a Tailor" (sung by cast); and "Love Me Tonight" (sung by Chevalier and MacDonald).
Of the many songs, all are first-rate, but the title tune did not become as memorable as "Isn't It Romantic?" which should have been the film's title since it more fits the mood to the story than "Love Me Tonight." But whatever title, some might shy away from it believing this to be an unbearable sugary love story, but on the contrary, is more than that. It's a love story with a first-rate script, risqué dialog and wonderful tunes that fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. Others might avoid LOVE ME TONIGHT because of its age. Certainly it's old, but in spite of that, it not only gives the impression of being ahead of its time, but that European film-making style to it, ranging from people riding their horses in slow motion photography, lovers communicating in song through their thoughts in split screen, as well as superimposing on MacDonald's face as she must make a big decision while at the same time Chevalier is awaiting for his train with each other's voice singing the title tune in the soundtrack. Up to this time, nothing this original has ever been used for a musical. The wit and wisdom of Ernst Lubitsch might have made LOVE ME TONIGHT a witty love affair, but Mamoulien combines his musical romance with advance technology and style, which is why LOVE ME TONIGHT continues to find a new appreciative audience decades after its initial release. With lines such as, "Once upon a time there was a princess and a prince charming, who was not a prince, but who WAS charming," LOVE ME TONIGHT is a musical fairy tale indeed, something not found in storybooks for children but more on the adult level.
Aside from late night viewing on commercial television from the 1960s to mid 1980s (depending on whatever state this was shown), LOVE ME TONIGHT enjoyed frequent revivals on American Movie Classics cable channel from 1990 to 1996, and resurfaced again on Turner Classic Movies where it premiered July 29, 2004. Thanks to KINO Video, LOVE ME TONIGHT is also available on video cassette and DVD. Originally released at about 100 minutes, prints in circulation today run at 90 minutes. But even the shorter version doesn't take away the impact, simplicity and joy of watching LOVE ME TONIGHT. Sit back, relax and enjoy this one. (****)
Looking for the fees owed him by an eccentric nobleman, a Parisian
tailor arrives at the country château of a lovely, lonely princess.
Blending wonderful music, witty words and first-rate performances, director Rouben Mamoulian created in LOVE ME TONIGHT a superlative concoction which will delight any discriminating aficionado of early movie musicals. With remarkable naturalism & refinement, Mamoulian weaves the songs into the fabric of the film, managing to highlight the best of them with great gusto, while still displaying some delicate touches of his own. The opening sequence of an awakening Paris and the gradual orchestration of sounds, followed immediately by the integration of the first song into a quick walk along a busy street, is a case in point. The viewer knows instantly that the director is in charge and has everything well in hand--which leads to one's wondering what kind of a Land of Oz Paramount Studios must have been in the early 1930's with both Mamoulian and Ernest Lubitsch working on the lot...
Maurice Chevalier exudes Gallic joie de vivre as the honest tailor whose extraordinary charm & talent beguiles a bevy of blue bloods. Effortlessly dominating his every scene, he exhibits the over-sized personality which put him into the rarefied stratum of the top performers (Baker, Coward, Robeson) of his generation. Lovely Jeanette MacDonald once again is the perfect romantic partner for Chevalier. A fine actress as well as an excellent singer, she throws herself into the film's farcical atmosphere and lends her celebrated voice to the musical proceedings.
Jeanette's château is populated by a gaggle of expert character performers: stern old Sir C. Aubrey Smith as the ducal head of the house; gently daffy Charlie Ruggles as an improvident vicomte; elegant Myrna Loy as a young amorous countess; and Elizabeth Patterson, Ethel Griffies & Blanche Frederici as the Aunties--slyly depicted as either a trio of benevolent witches or a pack of excited puppies. Soft-spoken Charles Butterworth plays the timid count who wishes to marry Miss MacDonald. Joseph Cawthorn is the no-nonsense family doctor. Rotund Robert Greig portrays the château's imposing major-domo.
Movie mavens will recognize sour-faced Clarence Wilson as a shirtmaker; Ethel Wales as a temperamental dressmaker; and Edgar Norton as a valet--all uncredited.
Except for the sadly vulgar--albeit tongue-in-cheek--apache tune, the rest of Rodgers & Hart's music is very entertaining, especially the two most famous numbers: 'Isn't It Romantic' (begun in Paris by Chevalier, and traveling by taxi, train, marching soldiers and gypsies it eventually reaches MacDonald on her balcony) and 'Mimi,' sung first by Maurice to Jeanette, but eventually echoed, hilariously, by many of the inhabitants of the château).
Sumptuous production values and costumes by Edith Head add greatly to the film's overall quality.
Without a doubt, this is a film that should be seen by more people as
it was way ahead of its times! The film is helped by the magnificent
direction of Rouben Mamoulian, who knew a thing, or two, about how to
create movies that endured the passage of time. The film has the
magnificent score by Rodgers and Hart, the leading geniuses of the
American musical theater.
The picture is a joy to watch from the beginning. The opening sequence in Paris, as people go about their daily routine, ending with Maurice arriving at his own tailor shop is amazing. The story is pure fantasy, but it serves the movie well. The time where this movie was made had a different feel and there was an innocent air surrounding the magic the new talking pictures that were coming out in the early 30s.
The casting proves to be also excellent. Maurice Chevalier, who was an idol in France, made it big in America. He had a personality that put a good feeling to any character he played. Jeannette McDonald, the leading lady was a favorite of the movie going public and it's easy to see why she was adored.
Also a young and fresh Mirna Loy, joins Charles Ruggles and Charles Butterworth in the supporting roles.
This film should be included in any collection of the discriminating movie fan.
I've always found Maurice and Jeannette to be acquired tastes but they
really shine here. The "Iron Butterfly" had a high soprano with an
exaggerated pronunciation but she shows herself to be a gifted
comedienne in this film and so one forgives her that. The opening scene
is justly famous with its use of natural street sounds shading off into
music and the camera work is highly fluid, especially for 1932.
Is it the greatest movie musical of all time? It may well be and that would even include "Singing in the Rain" but I wouldn't want to make a choice and I don't think anyone has to.
Rodgers and Hart were at their peak here though they did equally fine things later on. But certainly "Isn't it Romantic", "Mimi" (though more of a specialty for Maurice), and "Lover" are standards in anyone's book. The story, though typically silly, is treated in such a way that it is elevated to at least a serviceable level.
The "Western Electric Noiseless Recording" process is just that though one would hardly confuse it with modern Dolby stereo.
The supporting cast is equally excellent including the Charleses Ruggles and Butterworth as well as Myrna Loy who had a much solider screen persona later on (Thin Man series and "Best Years of Our Lives") though she's fine here as a man-chaser.
Many of the original innuendos remain intact but others were censored later for rerelease and they were lost. But screenplay excerpts of these are given on the video.
The Kino DVD is well done but since the library copy I saw was a little damaged, I was not able to watch all of the comments by Miles Kreuger, an associate of Reuben Mamoulian's in later years.
10 out of 10.
This is one incredible charming musical/comedy, from the early '30's.
And that coming from a non-musical fan of course says a lot.
It's not a musical with big dance acts, feather costumes, or anything of that sort but just a movie that happens to feature songs in it, which is the sort of musical approach I prefer. The characters would often burst into singing in the middle of the movie, which of course sounds totally ridicules but it's so charming and the songs are so nice that it attributes to what it is that makes this movie so irresistible, joyful and entertaining to watch. This is really not the sort of movie you would expect from the guy who had previously directed "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" before this movie.
Maurice Chevalier didn't had the best signing voice, also of course due to his accent and also especially compared to different genre actors from the same time period. Same goes for most of the actors within this movie. But I sort of like that he isn't perfect in his signing. It seems to fit the movie and its style.
The movie has got some nice cheerful innocent humor in it. The great fun but of course simple written script, contributes to the whole fun feeling and atmosphere of the movie.
The movie doesn't necessarily really has a typical '30's style and more seems ahead of its time. It also makes this movie feel less outdated than most others, especially from the same genre, movies.
The cinematography is really amazing at times. It moves a lot, with pans and also zooms. It makes the cinematography in parts pretty original and innovating for its time. The movie also features some other 'tricks', such as split-screen and slow-motion, among other things. Perhaps this has to do with the Russian origin of director Rouben Mamoulian. His style seems more innovating than most of his fellow Hollywood colleagues from the same time period. It all adds to the atmosphere and unique quality of the movie. It of course also helps that the movie is set in France and Paris. It always has been the best backdrop for these sort of movies. There also was obviously put some effort and money into the sets of the movie.
Some real quality entertainment! This is as good as they can get.
There are so many elements regarding LOVE ME TONIGHT that crossed to
create one of the great musicals of American film. It probably was the
best score for a Hollywood film done by Rodgers and Hart, including
"Isn't It Romantic", "Mimi", and "Lover", as well as "The Sonofagun is
Nothing But a Tailor" (only their scores for HALLELUJAH, I'M A BUM and
THE PHANTOM PRESIDENT are as interesting, but the former only produced
one standard, and the latter produced none). From their first arrival
in motion pictures Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart experimented with
singing that replaced dialog. Here it finally got it's opportunity to
show what it could do. That's due to them having a master director (who
would turn out to be more of a stage and musical director than a film
one - though his films remain more than interesting), Rouben Mamoulian.
Always willing to experiment in his film (in DR. JECKYLL AND MR. HYDE,
having the camera take the point of view of Fredric March for part of
the film; using color to show suggestions of the threat of military
violence in BECKY SHARP) Mamoulian was willing to go along with his
musical pair in the extended songs like "How are you?" and "Isn't It
Romantic". The latter beginning in Chevalier's tailor shop eventually
involves people passing the melody from the street to a musician in a
taxicab to a marching brigade of troops to gypsies to Jeanette at her
palace. The cast was perfect, with Chevalier and MacDonald joined by
their former ONE HOUR WITH YOU co-star Charlie Ruggles, as well as
Myrna Loy, Charles Butterworth (who has some funny lines for a change),
and C. Aubrey Smith. It is rare for everything in a musical to fit
together so well.
Chevalier is a tailor who made the mistake of making a complete wardrobe for Ruggles a supposedly wealthy aristocrat. Ruggles owes him a lot (as well as all the other people who made parts of the clothing for Ruggles - at Chevalier's recommendation). So they send him after Ruggles, who has gone to his rich uncle's home in the country. This is C. Aubrey Smith, a reactionary old Duke. He is also the protector of Princess Jeanette, now a widow (don't feel bad for her, as Dr. Joseph Cawthorn finds out). Also staying with the Duke is Count Charles Butterworth, a scholarly aristocrat (and just as hesitant and bumbling in his delivery of dialog here as in other films, but here his comments are funny). Finally there is Smith's niece, Myrna Loy, who never saw a pair of men's pants that she did not care to open.
Chevalier's appearance is an embarrassment to Ruggles, who may be disinherited by Smith over his debts. So he keeps Chevalier from admitting that he is a tailor, and finally suggests that Chevalier is a king traveling incognito. As Chevalier and MacDonald slowly fall in love, the suspicion that he is a monarch makes him possibly a perfect match for the widowed Princess. Chevalier also enlivens the dull château with his songs (including an "Apache" number, as well as "Mimi" which everyone ends up singing - including C. Aubrey Smith!). But what would happen if the truth comes out? That is what leads to the conclusion of the film.
Many of the early surviving films of the 1930s are cut from what they originally were like. And the film that was cut is usually lost forever. In the case of LOVE ME TONIGHT, the loss is truly sad because of the quality of the film that survives. But at least we do have that surviving footage to marvel at and enjoy.
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