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Before she became America's top box-office star by playing its oldest
virgin, Doris Day was an instinctive, if untutored, actress and an
accomplished, popular singer. In Charles Vidor's Love Me Or Leave Me, she
takes on the part of Ruth Etting, the troubled songstress from the jazz age,
and her twin talents merge memorably. It's a faultless performance, all the
more impressive for staying understated, scaled down.
Her co-star, James Cagney, takes the low road; as Marty (`The Gimp') Snyder, a lopsided fireplug of a man, he sizzles with resentment and ignites into rages. Strangely, his scenery-chewing complements Day's underplaying; the tension between their temperaments fuels this dark drama which occasionally resembles a musical but is closer at heart to film noir (Vidor, after all, directed Gilda).
A taxi-dancer in a Chicago dive, Day catches Cagney's eye (he holds the linen-laundering concession for the place). Finding she's not the quick pick-up he had in mind, he lands her a job in the kick-line at another nitery he services. When he finds out she wants to be a singer, he arranges for lessons with pianist Cameron Mitchell (who plays the thankless role of the loyal but shoved-aside lover). But Cagney, used to getting what he wants and to browbeating everybody around him into surrender, meets his match in Day. Her quiet determination proves every bit as strong as his bellowing bluster. When it looks like her star is in ascendancy, he becomes her manager, puts her on radio, and snares her a spot in New York as a headliner in the Ziegfeld Follies.
They settle into a grudge-match of a marriage, with guerrilla warfare erupting from both sides. (Cagney's Snyder is a marginally less disturbed version of his Cody Jarrett in White Heat.) One of their flashfire fights takes place in her dressing room after a show. Cagney knocks a vase of flowers across the room; Day extends her arm for him to unclasp a bracelet. They bicker some more, with Cagney losing the argument while Day nurses the drink that has become her ally. He leans over and tells her `You oughtta lay off that stuff you're getting to look like an old bag.' It's the chilliest moment in the movie.
In the last third, Day answers a call from Hollywood, which lays the foundation for the unravelling of this messy, nerve-wracking relationship. And if the wrapping up grasps toward the sentimental (with a detour into the melodramatic), it doesn't quite take. Cagney, actor and character, hangs on like a bulldog with a bone. The Marty Snyders never change, and Cagney knows it; he stays the self-deluded small-time hood he started out as, who can't accept that he's driven away a woman he can't believe he loves so much.
Day, however, rises to a magnanimity that rings hollow. Her steely self-confidence about where her talents would bring her, and her casual callousness in using Cagney to help her get there, make her final gesture improbable. But when she takes the spotlight, singing `Mean to Me' or `Ten Cents A Dance' (with her feet planted provocatively defiantly apart), Day, actress and character, takes it by natural right. The voice isn't quite right Etting's was reedy and tremulous, Day's big and secure but the assurance and style are dead on.
I never had to be convinced that Doris Day was a fine actress--from her
first film ('Romance on the High Seas') which she stole from veterans like
Jack Carson and Janis Paige--to 'Storm Warning' (her first dramatic role as
Ginger Rogers' sister)--she never made a false move. But her real acting
triumph came with this hard-hitting Ruth Etting biography in which she does
an amazing job as the torch singer involved with a gangster boyfriend (James
Cagney). Cagney has never been more impressive as the Chicago hood who
manages her career--and Day manages to match him every step of the way with
a gutsy, heart-felt performance.
Also shown to good advantage is Cameron Mitchell as an admirer with real affection for Day. Their scenes together have a poignant quality because you know how deep the feelings go on both sides. Day's rendition of a haunting ballad, 'I'll Never Stop Loving You', is one of the film's highlights--along with 'Ten Cents A Dance', 'Mean to Me', 'Love Me Or Leave Me', etc. She is simply brilliant.
The high quality of the Oscar-winning script (Best Story) is a tribute to the overall quality of the film itself. A highly dramatic musical, it makes you wonder what Day's career might have been like if she remained at Metro for more such films rather than the sugar-and-spice things she did at Warner Bros. Some of them were charming (the old-fashioned musicals with Gordon MacRae), but since she was a fine dramatic actress she could have done so much more. Day's voice is a sheer pleasure here--perfect pitch, warm tones and easy on the ears. Nobody could sing a ballad like Doris does here. 'I'll Never Stop Loving You' is my favorite.
Summing up: highly recommended as one of the best musical biographies you're ever likely to see.
"Love Me Or Leave Me" has been critically lauded and publicly supported. I
can only concede it's a very fine music/drama/biopic.
What's so unique about this film is it's skillfully combining the "gangster" element with the "musical" genre. The bio-based storyline plays out like somewhat like a crime drama, while the musical portion rings forth with twelve complete full-bodied numbers.
The casting is truly inspired: what a coup getting Doris Day, at the peak of her physical, acting and vocal powers to be cast in a real-life role, while snaring the brilliant, often breathtaking James Cagney--forever at the peak of his powers--as the indestructible "Gimp."
Together they create fireworks, playing off one another's sweet 'n' sour characterizations with great relish. How amusing it is to see Cagney having fun with his deft limp-walk and grueling thug-character, complemented by Day's equally enjoyable, contrastingly lovable persona.
The songs are all very beautiful, and expertly rendered by Day in this, a wonderful tribute to her vocal talent and impressive musicianship.
The script is well-written to utilize the stars' individual gifts, and the widescreen production is a delight to watch. After all these years, "Love Me Or Leave Me" holds its own, thanks to the contributions of two now-legendary stars.
This film pre-dates & set the standard for films like Barbra Streisand's "Funny Girl" & Diana Ross' "Lady Sings The Blues", two other great films which showcased singers in acting roles playing real-life people. "Love Me Or Leave Me" was Doris Day's MGM "extravagaza" (after several formula, cookie-cutter musicals at Warner Bros.) playing Ruth Etting a torch singer from the 1920's. She is at her dramatic best & never looked sexier. Her voice is as pleasing as ever & the songs are very enjoyable ("At Sundown", "Love Me Or Leave Me", "Shaking The Blues Away", & "Mean To Me", among others). Some of Doris' fans were distraught to see her drinking & scheming to climb her way to the top, but the fact of the matter is she was playing someone else & she was very convincing. James Cagney was grating as Marty "The Gimp" Snyder the Chicago gangster who helped Etting attain her show biz goals. This film displays all that Doris Day could have been if she had continued to find meaty roles to her acting advantage. When most people think of her, they think of the fluffy bedroom comedies she did with Rock Hudson, Cary Grant & James Garner.("Pillow Talk", "Lover Come Back", "That Touch of Mink"...), the virginal persona, the freckles, etc. If you're only familiar with those films you should see this & you'll be impressed. (I recently heard Jennifer Lopez wants to re-make this film, God help us all!!)
Doris Day plays Ruth Etting, torch singer of the twenties and thirties, in
this glossy MGM biopic. Several key songs from Etting's career are covered,
sung well by Day (specifically Ten Cents a Dance, You Made Me Love You, and
Love Me or Leave Me).
Although Day is effective in the role and looks a treat, the best acting performance in the movie comes from James Cagney as Marty The Gimp' Snyder, Etting's manager and husband. Cameron Mitchell plays Johnny the loyal piano player who waits for Etting to find her own way, while Robert Keith is good as Barney, close friend to both Snyder and his wife.
Good Technicolor and a Cinemascope treatment makes the movie look good, and the arrangements are excellent. Day is nothing like the real Ruth Etting either in looks or voice, but she does well in one of her last great musical roles.
I am NOT a fan of Doris Day - there is just something about her that annoys me. But in this movie she acted very different from the usual Doris Day movie. And the way she sang those ballads breaks your heart. But the acting job that truly amazes - and has through the years made me a fan - is that of James Cagney. One wonders if he had a parent that was abusive or an Uncle or someone he had intimately observed. Because from somewhere that man understood something about an abusive relationship and put it in his performance. It was positively beyond extraordinary. He deserved an Academy Nomination at the very least. While he was cruel, vile, despicable, certainly repulsive and yet you felt at the same time he was pitiful, sad, pathetic. It was an extremely complex performance. When I saw "Love Me Or Leave Me" as a teenager I didn't appreciate the subtlety of his acting. It wasn't until I saw it many, many years later and had gone through a lot of living that I comprehended the true magnitude of his performance.
Doris Day portrays singing great Ruth Etting in "Love Me or Leave Me,"
a 1955 film costarring James Cagney and Cameron Mitchell. The film
tells the story, somewhat fictionalized, of Etting's rise to fame in
the 1920s and her association and marriage to Marty "The Gimp" Snyder,
a Chicago gangster. In the story, Etting is highly ambitious, and Marty
helps her career after picking her up in a dance hall and realizing
he's not going to get anywhere. He's hoping for the big prize - i.e.,
Ruth - at the end of the rainbow, but though she's grateful, she's
never going to be THAT grateful. Finally, he becomes so angry that he
rapes her (this is suggested in the film but the scene was cut by the
censors). She marries him, though she's in love with a pianist, Marty
This film was made about five years before Ross Hunter glamorized Doris and made her the #1 box office star in a series of comedies, three of which were with Rock Hudson. Before that, she was a pretty woman with a sweet, smooth voice and sturdy acting ability. And nowhere does she demonstrate all three qualities as she does here. And throw in a sensational figure in some stunning gowns to boot. Doris' Ruth is a young woman who looks and acts like sugar but has the determination of steel underneath. She speaks softly but has the glint of ambition in her eye. Day's voice and style are nothing like Etting's, but the producers and director weren't looking for an imitation. Doris looks and sounds fantastic, singing a huge amount of music, including "Ten Cents a Dance," the title song, "Chasing the Blues Away" and many others.
Cagney gives an extremely powerful performance as Marty, a pushy little man with a huge insecurity and a passion for Ruth. It is a fully fleshed out portrayal of an abusive, possessive man that you can hate and pity at the same time. Cagney deservedly won an Oscar nomination for the role of Marty. He and Doris' contrasting acting styles mesh beautifully as well.
Though there were liberties taken with the Etting story, if you read her bio, it sounds just like the film. Did the movie have a '20s and the '30s feel to it? Not really. But it doesn't matter. The film is in color and has a rich look, and what a score. What actors. A must see.
Not being a great Cagney fan, I didn't have high hopes for this film
when I first saw it. The only reason I did watch it was Doris Day. Boy,
am I glad I did. Anyone who questions Day's acting abilities should
take a look at this film. Personally, I've always thought she was one
of Hollywood's few singers who really could act. Look at the lackluster
acting of Kathryn Grayson or Jane Powell sometime. Doris Day runs
circles around them. If you're still in doubt after seeing this film,
watch "Julie" sometime. Another one of her best films.
Also, Day is in fine voice in this film. All of the songs are wonderful. "Ten Cents A Dance" and "Shaking The Blues Away" among the best. I have heard the real Ruth Etting's rendition of both these numbers, and they are nothing like Day's performances. Obviously, they weren't going for mimicry here, but it works fine just the same. Highly recommended.
If you're not a fan of Doris Day, give this movie a viewing. No syrup
or sugar in this film. It's amazing just how good she is, and I wonder
why she let herself be typecast as the eternal virgin? Here's an
actress that seems to be able to do almost anything and do it well, ie:
sing, dance and act too.
Another great performance comes from Cameron Mitchell who I really didn't know too much about. He does a great job playing Doris' torch carrying pianist. In fact everyone does a great job in this film. The film hints about a possible drinking problem, but fails to deliver on that point. One scene in particular must have been quite shocking for 1950's audience with a possible rape in a hotel room.
"Love Me Or Leave Me" has hints of "A Star Is Born" in its fabric but it seems to fail in telling the entire Ruth Etting story. Good on all counts, but it could have been much more powerful with this cast.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(Contains one small spoiler.)
After purchasing the tape of this film, all I can say is the sooner it goes
to DVD, the better. LMOLM is a scintillating musical bio, rich in production
value from costumes to set pieces and beautiful stereophonic sound. And, of
course, its two stars are electric together- perhaps even more so because
they are so mismatched. Doris Day (playing wonderfully against type) stars
as 1920's chanteuse Ruth Etting (who needs discovery badly); James Cagney is
gangster Marty Snyder who comes to her professional rescue, and the amazing
thing is that had the film ended on just this oil-and-water partnership
alone, it would've been sensational. They are both schemers; the difference
is, Day's Etting is more subtle about her climb to stardom, getting all the
help she can from Cagney while slipping quietly under his brutish radar. But
when it's time for her to sing- whether it's just with a rehearsal piano or
the Ziegfeld Follies- she delivers the goods in some of the most
heartbreaking torch songs ever delivered on film. (Listen to her renditions
of "It All Depends on You," "Never Look Back," or "Ten Cents A Dance.")
Their parry-and-thrust relationship reaches a horrible, brutal peak in a
scene which Day wrote in her 1975 autobiography was actually shot as a
full-blown rape, but drastically edited down by release time. The film
realistically shows warts on both of the leads, and illustrates that, in
spite of their better interests, they both need each other. Cagney was
great, but Day was phenomenal, and should've been nominated for an Oscar
right alongside her co-star. Oh well, 'que sera...,' whoops, wrong movie.
You gotta see this one!
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