Love Me or Leave Me (1955) Poster

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One of the greatest Oscar travesties
HotToastyRag3 February 2018
It's impossible to pick just one Doris Day to movie to watch in your life, but if you have to choose only three, I insist you watch Romance on the High Seas, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Love Me or Leave Me.

Even though she neither looks nor sounds anything like Ruth Etting, Doris Day gives an incredible performance in this biopic of the famous 1920s singer. Ruth started out in a dance hall, as described in one of her most famous songs "Ten Cents a Dance" before she was discovered by powerful mobster Marty Snyder, played in the film by James Cagney. I've seen this film many times, and while I had one impression of it at first, I've since learned to appreciate the other levels of the story and performances. The first time I watched it, my heart went out to my beloved James Cagney, and I started crying every time Doris Day would reject his advances and hurt his feelings. As I got older and watched it again and again, I absorbed the complex and cunning relationship between the two main characters-but it still makes me cry!

Doris plays a conniving wannabe star, stringing Jimmy along with empty promises of her affections just so he'll help her career. I didn't pick up on her intentional meanness the first time through; I thought she was just being an idiot by not falling for him. Every word out of her mouth is intentional, and she knows the power she holds over him. Doris is so fantastic in this untrustworthy role that if you've never seen one of her movies, I wouldn't recommend watching this one first. You might forever after see her as a bad girl and never trust her again!

On the other hand, Jimmy Cagney's character isn't as golden as I once thought he was. He notices Doris's body in her skintight dress and nothing more. He promises her stardom, but when she holds out her end of the bargain, his attraction grows. Although at first he's only interested in a one-night stand, Doris becomes his obsession and his reason to live, and he gives an incredibly heartbreaking performance. James Cagney's performance in Love Me or Leave Me is one of the greats I often reference in my disillusionment with the Academy Awards. He, Frank Sinatra, James Dean, and an un-nominated Robert Mitchum were all passed over in favor of Ernest Borgnine in Marty, one of the most ridiculous awards in Oscar history. When you watch Love Me or Leave Me and you finish drying your tears, you'll probably lose respect for the Oscars, too.

Cameron Mitchell is supposed to play the antithesis of James Cagney's character: kind-hearted, honest, and easy to love. I don't think he's any of those qualities, so his scenes with Doris were easily the weakest in my opinion. I am admittedly biased; I don't know if anyone would have been easier to love than James Cagney in this film. On the upside, Robert Keith and Harry Bellaver are very likable and sweet in their supporting roles, so it's relatively easy to drown Cameron out and pretend he's not in the movie.

Love Me or Leave Me is a fantastic movie, an essential for James Cagney, Doris Day, or musical fans. You'll probably want to familiarize yourself with their other films first, though. To make sure you can appreciate Doris's new dramatic talent, watch Pillow Talk or Romance on the High Seas first, and to make sure you're on James Cagney's side, watch Angels with Dirty Faces and The Strawberry Blonde first.
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Pure Blah
utgard1427 July 2017
Boring biopic about the relationship between singer Ruth Etting (Doris Day) and gangster Moe Snyder (James Cagney). The film takes liberties with the facts, of course, as biopics are wont to do. Obviously studios were not going to let the images of their stars be sullied too much. But I'm surprised they went as far as they did, with Cagney's role in particular.

I'm not a Doris Day fan. I've tried and tried but I just find her such a boring and vanilla on-screen personality. Her singing is fine, if a little bland for my tastes. Nothing about her performance in this film changes my opinion of her. So, if you're a big Day fan, maybe you'll like this a lot more than me. Cagney's the most interesting thing about it all. Too bad he didn't get to do any hoofing in this one. Cameron Mitchell plays the "other man," based on Etting's real-life second husband. That poor guy really got the shaft in the life-to-screen adaptation.

Anyway, I didn't love this picture. Part of that is my general disinterest for Doris Day films but a larger part is that this movie is just not very exciting. I was bored enough while watching I found myself looking up the real people and events it was based on. Needless to say the real story sounded like a much darker and more interesting movie.
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dougdoepke23 July 2017
The storyline follows 20's singer Ruth Etting's climb from obscurity to show-biz heights, thanks in part to gangster Moe Snyder's leverage and scheming. At the same time, Etting has to straighten out her love life without alienating the temperamental Snyder.

As I recall, the movie had a lot of hoopla in '55. No doubt, it was a change of pace for the fast rising Day and a revival for tough guy Cagney. Plus, there's the lavish staging in candybox Cinemascope and MGM's promise of big production numbers. Unsurprisingly, it was a big box office success.

After sixty years, I finally caught up with the production the other night, but was somewhat disappointed. Of course, Day's tuneful warbling can do no wrong and is the two-hours' best part. Still, it's not really a musical since the dramatic side overshadows Day's numbers. But then the scenario was supposed to feature a dramatic Day, apparently a chance to show her chops in a dramatic change of pace. Trouble is her Ruth Etting is in an almost uniformly bad mood, which may be a real change in Day's usual sunny roles, but is out of sync with singer Etting's (Day) ascendant career. You would think success would bring about a few smiles, but no such luck for either us or the movie.

Then there's Cagney who's swallowed an even bigger lemon than Day, snarling the whole way through. How Etting could stand Snyder's (Cagney) company in any capacity seems inexplicable. No doubt the actor made an unforgettable gangster, in Public Enemy (1931). But here, the constant snarling seems more caricature than expressive of his role.

I suspect the movie appealed to 50's audiences for its novel pairing of two popular stars from opposite ends of the spectrum. That particular appeal, however, has worn off with the years. To me, the movie appears regrettably flawed despite the entertaining musical moments. But, at least, the charming Day was able to show she had a dramatic side even if unfortunately overdone.
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Singer's shady past glossed over in this biopic
SimonJack1 March 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Nobody could play a mean, nasty, unlikeable character in the movies better than James Cagney. The veteran actor proved his mettle as Martin "Marty" Snyder in "Love Me or Leave Me." Doris Day was an excellent singer and she does a very good job in this film. But, Day's voice sounded nothing like that of Ruth Etting, whom she plays here. Day's singing is robust and full of life. She plays her character that way here as well, even in the somber numbers. That's quite different from the character and musical delivery of Etting. She had a distinctive sound – higher in the early years, and somewhat nasal, but appealing in later life. And, she had a tinge of sultry about her when she sang. Etting said she would have preferred someone else to have played her in this film.

If Moe "The Gimp" Snyder was as mean and bad a character as he is in this film, one might conclude that Ruth Etting was nuts for marrying him – let alone, having anything to do with him at all. But this movie is Hollywood, and a highly fictionalized account of the years of Etting's career as a singer. Without a researched biography book, too little about Etting's life is really known. And, of what has been written about her, many pieces are conflicting from source to source. At best, her past is fuzzy. One wonders why more details weren't written about her childhood and early career. Even with the scandal at the height of her career (former husband shooting current lover), Etting's life remains something of a mystery.

While Day's acting is OK here, her character strikes me as too strong and determined. From what we know about Etting, she was anything but that way. Her character here seems just not right. The rest of the cast are OK. Some were fictional, others based on real people. This film is entertaining for the songs that Doris Day sings. But as a biopic about Ruth Etting it seems too unreal. Hollywood tends to glamorize the lives of musical people in its biopics. In this case, MGM did a major fictional piece with many changes in Etting's personal life.

Some facts about her life and career are noteworthy for their exclusion in this film. The first is that Martin "Moe the Gimp" Snyder was married and that he divorced his wife to marry Etting. (Doesn't that throw a different light on the whole movie and its implication that Ruthie was pressured into marrying the Gimp?) The second is that Snyder wasn't a wealthy business owner and gangland boss. He worked as a bodyguard for prominent people, including those in the entertainment field, and had many contacts there. The third is that Etting's second husband, Harry Myrl Alderman ("Johnny," in the movie), also was married when he and Etting began their relationship. (After Snyder shot Alderman, the latter's wife accused Etting of alienation of affections when she filed for divorce.)

From the facts known about her but not shown in this film, is it too much to wonder why Etting's career may have so soon come to an end? Some other people with Hollywood scandals survived them to go on with their careers. But, if Ruth Etting was seen as a home wrecker in the 1930s, that might have been enough to end her career in Hollywood. But why her singing career? Again, some mystery. Maybe Etting really loved Snyder and didn't care about breaking up his marriage. Or, she might have married him just for his entertainment connections, as this movie implies. That would be a reason to tolerate his crude and mean nature. Maybe she fell in love with her piano player, and didn't care that he was married. Or, she didn't care about her career at that point.

The movie implies the Snyder roughneck stuff might have turned Hollywood off for using Etting in films. She starred in nearly three dozen shorts from 1929 through 1936. Most were short story plots in which she sang two or three songs. They were entertaining musically, but the acting was mostly like that of B-films. If anything, Etting seems plain or droll in her roles in the shorts I've seen. She did appear in three feature films, but only in minor roles to sing a number or two. She said herself that she didn't know how to act. Had she real talent for acting, one would think Hollywood would have ensured that she weathered the scandal and made a comeback. Rather, I think her film career never really got launched simply because she wasn't much of an actress. Without her voice, she wouldn't have been in the shorts she made. Anyway, after the scandal, she married Alderman and the couple soon after retired to live in Colorado Springs away from the spotlight. They probably had a comfortable life, because she had done very well recording more than 150 songs -- including 60 hit tunes, during the decade before she retired. In her divorce settlement with Snyder, she had to pay him $50,000.

In the mid-1920s to mid-1930s, Ruth Etting was known as the Sweetheart of radio. She had a distinctive voice and was well-liked as a singer. She was a leading recording artist for more than a decade. Of her 60 hit tunes, some have been etched in musical history. Among them are "Shine On, Harvest Moon," 'Love Me or Leave Me," "Shaking the Blues Away," "You're the Cream in My Coffee," "Button Up Your Overcoat," "Back in Your Own Back Yard," "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes," "It All Depends on You," and "Good Night, Sweetheart."

By the way, neither Etting nor Snyder were happy about the way this film turned out.
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If you love a torch song, do NOT miss this movie!
Gerry Nelson15 February 2017
Doris Day, star of many light musical comedies, proves that she can REALLY act, as well as SING in this movie.

As Ruth Etting, songstress from the 1920's, she meets small-time Chicago hood Marty Snyder (James Cagney) who meets Ruth at a "ten cents a dance" emporium. In his efforts to bed Ruth, Marty agrees to use his influence to manage her singing career. He even hires Johnny Alderman (Cameron Mitchell) to be her coach at Ruth's request. Remarkably, Marty learns the business quickly. With Ruth's talent and Marty's arm twisting she soon becomes a star, first in Chicago, then New York, on to Zigfield, then Hollywood. Along the way she agrees to marry Cagney. The film was nominated for 6 Oscars, winning for best writing. In my opinion, Cagney and Day both deserved Oscars for acting, and the musical score is wonderful. I will always remember this film for the fantastic talent displayed by Day, who sings as I never knew she could.
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dark mix of crime film and musical
Terence McArdle4 June 2016
If your only knowledge of Doris Day comes from the annoying comedies she did with Rock Hudson, you should check this movie out, a fictionalized bio-pic of 1920s torch singer Ruth Etting. Etting is managed by -- and marries - Marty "Moe" Snyder, a gimping Chicago hoodlum whose laundry business is basically a front for extortion. Cagney portrays Snyder in classic sock-to-the-jaw fashion. However, the character lacks the calculating shrewdness of other Cagney hoodlums - and his denseness makes him even more of a sociopath. Theirs is a classic dysfunctional bond. She uses him to get ahead and even marries him after he nearly rapes her. Later, when she does reach the top, they divorce and he stalks her. Yet somehow, through it all, she feels sorry for him. I'm not a huge fan of Day nor of musicals and yet she really does great on the many fine songs that Etting originated. These great standards are presented simply as part of the story, not as production numbers that distract from it and Day sings each one beautifully. Despite an arguably sentimental ending, the story -- with its themes of possessiveness, paranoia, jealousy, grandiosity and co-dependency -- delves into prime film noir territory.
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Doris Day And James Cagney Impress In Sad Story
atlasmb1 June 2016
"Love Me or Leave Me" is the fictionalized but essentially accurate biopic of Ruth Etting (Doris Day), popular vocalist from the 1920s and 30s. It's a tragic story about an ambitious but principled young woman who attracts the attention of a gangster, Marty Snyder (James Cagney), with an inferiority complex and a need for control.

Cagney plays his part with such conviction that the film is not enjoyable to watch. His Marty Snyder never ceases to dominate Ruth with his smothering attentions and a jealous eye.

Day displays her singing voice, some dance moves, a killer body that is often overlooked because of her prim portrayals, and a strong dramatic performance. Ruth's sad story, in reality, is much as the film depicts. The ending of the film is a concession to neat Hollywood endings, but dramatically it serves its purpose.

There have been other films about women who were dominated by men wanting to capitalize on their talents (see "Star 80"), with destructive results. This one is convincing, thanks to its two stars. Fans of either will want to see this film.
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Miscast Bigtime
abenr5 April 2016
The wonderful Doris Day, the brilliant actress of "The Man Who Knew Too Much," is here asked to play Ruth Etting, a singer whose voice bears no resemblance to that of Ms Day. I imagine that difference won't disturb the vast majority of today's audience, few of whom have ever heard Miss Etting, but for those who have -- and you can catch myriads of her songs on YouTube -- the difference is simply a killer. I don't know much about Mr Snyder, but why was the great James Cagney forced to play him as if he were Little Caesar? I also wonder why the director has to show Snyder as Jewish. He has him needlessly say "Mazel Tov" to Miss Etting in one scene.
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Gangster musical with a touch of Faust
MissSimonetta13 April 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Love Me or Leave Me (1955) is eerily close to being a Faustian narrative, a story about an ambitious woman who basically makes a deal with the devil and suffers greatly for it even after she has attained the fame she's desired. It is also a harrowing portrait of an abusive relationship, in this case a fictionalized Ruth Etting and her manager/husband Marty Snyder, played to perfection by Doris Day and James Cagney.

Though Day's characterization of Etting is not entirely accurate to the real woman, it is an interesting subversion of her "good girl" image by portraying a character who plays up an innocent image for her own advantage. From the beginning, Ruth knows that Marty expects sex (and later, romantic devotion) in exchange for her singing career; she's not naive and obviously a tough dame. But she puts on a virginal, guileless image, acting as though she has no clue as to Marty's true intentions for her and keeping him at arm's length as a result, constantly using the classic "I'm too tired" excuse. This only works for so long; eventually, after a shocking implied sexual assault, it becomes clear that Marty feels he totally owns this woman and she becomes obligated to marry him, thus sliding into total misery complete with alcoholism. This element of possession is highlighted in the film's intense sense of the male gaze, with Marty and Ruth's love interest Johnny constantly observing her on stage, silently fighting for her favor.

It's strange, though, how human the writers and Cagney have managed to make Marty. Despite being obnoxious, violent, and a rapist of all things, there is a sense that he feels inadequate as a person and is holding onto Ruth not only because of twisted affection or her money, but because he has nothing else to do with himself. He's a pathetic monster and part of you reluctantly pities him.

Of course, everyone else has gone on about Day's singing, which is fantastic as always, and the film's costumes, which are stunning, especially that big blue dress Ruth dons at the Follies. It's main strength does come from the performances though, and they have kept this one fresh and well worth watching.
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"What is she, a dummy? ANYBODY can sing . . . "
Tad Pole12 February 2015
Warning: Spoilers
. . . says Marty "The Gimp" (James Cagney) early in LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME. This story takes place before AMER!CAN IDOL brought a measure of meritocracy to the U.S. music scene. Back in the 1900s, commercial success depended upon the Manager, the Mafia, and Payola bribes. Good managers, like Elvis' Col. Parker, flew their meal tickets around on safe planes; bad managers put singers such as Buddy Holly on planes that crashed. In LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, the MGM studio courageously exposes the underbelly of American "success." Among the DVD extras are two films foisted off on the public back in the day by the gangsters behind the subject of this expose\Biopic, "singer" Ruth Etting. It's clear that she had little if any talent in her own right, and would have been kicked out of many church choirs. (Having Doris Day portray Ruth is like starring Eninem in THE LIFE OF TINY TIM, or having the Boston Pops present themselves as the River City School Orchestra.) Ruth operates here on the "If you give a mouse a cookie . . . " Principle. Use payola to allow her to assault the radio waves, and she wants to be on Broadway. Put her there, and she starts humming "California, here I come." Ruth and Marty's relationship is like a too-long episode of THE BICKERSONS. Having Doris Day playing gold-digger Ruth kind of obscures the crux of this sordid tale, which is the Real Life Ruth's total lack of entertainment ability and scruples. Sadly, Roseanne (Barr) was not old enough to play Ruth when this cautionary tale was in the works. She would fit this tawdry part perfectly.
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Doris Day at her peak; James Cagney, magnetic. Who could ask for more?
davidgarnes10 January 2015
So much has been written about this film on this site that it seems a bit superfluous at this point to add more. But I just watched it again after many years and was once more impressed by the superior acting of both leads and the glorious soundtrack of 20s-30s songs.

Although some of the biographical aspects of Ruth Etting's life and career appear to be glossed over or absent, this film, nevertheless, has so much going for it: A strong (albeit, modified) story; great acting by all; and the best soundtrack of Doris Day's career (the album was #1 on the charts for months).

The scenes between Day and Cagney are electrifying and make the tension between them and the inevitable consequences of their fraught relationship totally convincing. In addition to these two superlative performers, Cameron Mitchell is a huge surprise in a major supporting part,in the kind of role one rarely saw him in. He's strong, appealing, and just right, as are Robert Keith, Harry Bellaver, and Tom Tully in the three other significant roles.

Though Cagney more than holds his own, this is Doris Day's film. Her performance is confident and complex, and she has never sounded better, singing an enormous range of period tunes, many of them standards, as well as a couple written for the film. She is absolutely mesmerizing in several of the numbers, particularly "It All Depends on You," where the camera focuses on her face for virtually the entire song, performed with only piano accompaniment.

See this film for Doris Day's singing, for a glimpse at the career (even if skewed) of a major but nearly forgotten star of another era (Ruth Etting),and for the dynamic pairing of Day and Cagney.
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"Love", Oportunism and the Roaring 20's.................
John T. Ryan30 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
WE SEE THAT this film is classified as being "A Musical." We beg to disagree. To our way of thinking, it is a Biopic about the life of a well known singer(albeit highly fictionalized). Any musical numbers portrayed are taking place either in an entertainment venue (night club, theater, movie sound stage) or in a practice/rehearsal. Ergo, the conclusion is: it's not a musical.

FURTHER COMPLICATING THE story is accomplished with the intrusion of a local Gangster (Cagney) into the life of singer-wannabe, Ruth Etting (Doris Day). While the the story is highly fictionalized, this is one element of the story that rings true.

THE STORY TRACES the relationship between the unlikely pair; starting with his observing her while she toiled as a 10 cents a dance girl. He was a racketeer, who operated a laundry business; which was supplemented with the use of good old fashioned extortion.

THE MUSIC IS outstanding, the Technicolour breathtaking, the costuming first rate. Added to the 1920's sets and automobiles transform this into a first rate Period Piece.

IN ADDITION TO Miss Doris Day and Mr. James Cagney, the cast features Cameron Mitchell and a cast of supporting players such as: Harry Bellaver, Tom Tully and others.

WE FIND IT to be interesting and ironic that such great film work was done by both Doris Day and James Cagney at MGM: while both were under contract with Warner Brothers for so long. (Just another meaningless observation of ours.)

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Cagney and Day are awesome
BoomerDT19 February 2014
This is really a 2 person film, as either Jimmy or Doris is in virtually every scene of this bio of 1920's & 30's singer and film star Ruth Etting. Cagney is once again playing a gangster, the role no one did better. Marty (the Gimp) Snyder is a hood on the peripheral edge of show business, he runs a company that supplies a linen service to the various clubs in Chicago. He's not a two bit punk, but he doesn't have the credibility or notoriety of a Capone or Nitti. He is well known, feared and respected in the speakeasy's and clubs and the owners are more than willing to introduce him to the various showgirls and dancers, which is where he first encounters Ruth Etting, working in a dime a dance dive. Cagney is playing a character similar to his roles in "Public Enemy" and "White Heat." He's cocky, arrogant and possesses an ability to manipulate and coerce to get what he wants. In the case of Ruth Etting, it is initially sex, but he can also see that she has an incredible singing talent which he can exploit as her manager. She is willing to be controlled, as long as he can advance her career. Marty Snyder does get things done, but Ruth Etting has to decide if his obsessive control and eventual stalking is worth it. Doris Day is superb in this dramatic role that also calls for quite a bit of singing and dancing within the context playing Etting on stage. For those used to her in the frothy WB musicals of the 40's or early 50's or in the light romantic comedies she would do later, this is something that shows what a truly excellent and versatile actress she was. She is also smoking hot, as she shows off an excellent body in some sexy outfits that she performs the various song and dance numbers in.
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A classic movie musical drama that provides more than most movie biographies.
mark.waltz27 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
If there ever was a movie musical that cried to be taken onto the stage, it is "Love Me or Leave Me". The sultry Ruth Etting has survived the test of time thanks to vintage footage of her performing in a variety of musical shorts and feature films, but for years, all most people knew about her was what they had seen in this movie. Five years after co-starring in the light-hearted "West Point Story", Doris Day and James Cagney were reunited for this, and there is no comparison. They exude fire in their performances as a dime a dance girl (a la "Sweet Charity" circa 1927) and a racketeer hiding behind a laundry business. Cagney encounters Day while on the job, tells her he can move her into stardom after she is fired, and at first thinking he is only a masher, she finally relents and allows him to assist her. But Cagney isn't doing this for nothing; His price is high, and his emotions won't allow her to say no. After taking her from Chicago nightclubs to the Ziegfeld Follies, their violent fights result in marriage, but predictably, happiness is not forthcoming. He is jealous of her success as well as a pianist (Cameron Mitchell) who loves her from afar, and the trapped Day feels like a fly in his web. Everything explodes when they go to Hollywood to make a movie, and real-life scandal prevails.

This movie heats up like a depression era speak easy the moment it stars. You know you are not dealing with Warner Brothers Doris Day anymore; This is MGM's Doris, and much like the same year's "I'll Cry Tomorrow" (Susan Hayward as Lillian Roth), it gives a gritty, realistic view of what life was like for a real-life entertainer during this era. Whether crooning "Ten Cents a Dance" ("Come on Big Boy!", she sings with a very subtle shoulder shrug) or dancing to "Shakin' the Blues Away", Day is far from the world of those Gordon MacRae musicals and even the feisty Calamnity Jane. She is solid as a rock here with her acting, and Cagney returns to the kind of role he was doing 20 years before, only grittier and with a nasty sneer overshadowing every crack he makes at her. This is not a man to be messed with.

Mitchell's nice guy pianist isn't at all a one dimensional character. He stands up to Cagney, giving him all he's got without fear. Robert Keith, Tom Tully and Harry Bellaver are also memorable as the men who surround Etting and Marty "the Gimp" Snyder. Every detail of this musical is perfect from the costumes, hairstyles and set design, not to mention all the vintage songs that Day sings. With nostalgia all the rage on Broadway again, a musical of this could work very well with the right stars, director and production team behind it.
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Two of movies' greatest combine genres. The progeny is superb...
markdaniel-576-85972121 November 2012
Interesting and revealing how many of the reviews here are written by Cagney fans who do not generally like Day and vice versa, so hidebound are we by styles and maybe gender. They would never have made this movie in this genre-obsessed age where actors and films must remain consistent and predictable. Here, Cagney, one of the greatest of all cinema actors, whose cocky, little man bravura is usually found in gangster vehicles (where his vulnerability beneath the sociopathic veneer always comes as a delightful surprise), combines with Day, whose sensuality and strength of feeling, though betrayed by her voice, were to be smothered in syrup in those bubblegum romcoms. Both are magnificent performers. Day plays it low-key. She keeps the passion for the singing, which is superb. Cagney's boyish swagger and confusion are heartbreaking. This is a nigh unique melodrama which defies genres and could only have worked in so wholehearted and apt a melding and transcendence of stereotypes.
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Doris Day's Finest Hour on Film
Scott Amundsen6 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
As a performer, Doris Day had it all from the start. Beautiful, sexy, and gifted with one of the loveliest voices ever to grace the silver screen, she also had an enormous gift for light comedy that made her a superstar at Warner Bros in a series of lighter-than-air musicals as good as anything MGM and the Freed unit ever produced. And later on, her talent for comedy would make her a legend in three unforgettable, hilarious films co-starring her pal Rock Hudson; the first of these, PILLOW TALK, would garner Day her only Oscar nomination.

Now a talent for comedy is not to be despised; in fact, any actor will tell you that in many ways comedy is harder to do than drama. But it seemed to come so easily to Day that when she made the 1955 biopic of 1920's singer Ruth Etting, LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, some of her fans were shocked. For while LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME has plenty of music in it, sung only as Day could sing, it was a far cry from the lightweight stuff people associated with her.

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME is a slightly fictionalized biography of Ruth Etting, who was quite a big singing star in the 1920s and who actually made a couple of film appearances in the early sound era. And it marked a huge departure for Day, playing a broad on the make with questionable morals who gets mixed up with Chicago gangster Martin "The Gimp" Snyder, played with his customary intensity by the legendary James Cagney.

Day does not pull any punches in this film. Etting is no innocent girl from the country. She is an ambitious singer who wants to go places and is not too scrupulous about allowing Snyder to help her career along. That he does so because he is smitten with her she is fully aware of but she tries to pretend she doesn't notice. But Snyder, though a thug, is not a fool, and he is most definitely not accustomed to being denied what he wants. So when Ruth finally gets her big break in the Ziegfeld Follies, and Marty is barred from backstage, he throws a huge fit, breaks her contract with Ziegfeld, and rapes Ruth in a shockingly obvious scene for a 1950s film. Next thing we know, she has married him.

Ruth is a woman who is great on the stage but cannot stop making bad choices in life. Marrying Snyder out of a sense of obligation, she does not love him and it isn't long before she is in utter misery, particularly when she goes to Hollywood and reunites with old flame Johnny Alderman (Cameron Mitchell), who she still carries a torch for but does not dare to get close to for fear of what her insanely jealous husband will do.

This is by far the hardest-hitting film Doris Day ever made, and pitted against the immortal Cagney, she reveals a set of acting chops as sharp and as hungry as his. She matches him scene for scene and moment for moment, and their scenes together grow in intensity until the final confrontation when she demands a divorce, which devastates her husband and drives him to seek revenge.

It would be unfair to reveal too much more. This is without a doubt my very favorite of all of Doris Day's movies, an unflinching look at a woman who isn't always sympathetic, and Day has no problems showing Etting's true nature, warts and all. And when she is working with Cagney the screen threatens to catch fire.

Brilliant, intense, disturbing, and with gorgeous music. What a package.
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A Fantastic Surprise
kjeroh-15 November 2011
As someone who knew Doris Day primarily through her early 60s romantic comedies, I watched Love Me or Leave Me mainly because I couldn't see pairing her with James Cagney. Right from the start, it is a gripping film. The writing is excellent and performances incredible. I was also thrown by the classification as a musical. Make no mistake: this is not lighthearted fluff, but a potent drama with Doris Day revealing why she was a recording star.

Her portrayal of Ruth Etting is done superbly, as a small town woman, but with big city wiles. She is happy to use the James Cagney character (Marty Snyder) to propel her career as long as she can keep him at arm's distance. When he finally pushes back, she loses control of her life.

I found the entire film fascinating, from acting, singing and just how one attained fame during those days as a singer. (Selling records was only a small fraction. Besides the clubs it was the compositions of the songs: piano, horns, strings -- all very nicely done.)

Love Me or Leave Me is one of the great surprises I've enjoyed watching the presentations from Turner Classic Movies. Powerful, taut and supremely enjoyable with a bit of a surprise ending, it is well worth watching -- and is far from being a "Chick Flick."
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I'd love to know the exact truth to this story...
MartinHafer21 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
As a retired history teacher, I always look at the historical accuracy of films and often investigate this on my own before or after I see a film. According to a quote on IMDb, this film is half truth and half fiction. So what, then, is the real story? Well, after some reading, I found that I STILL don't know! I do know some of the film was embellished (for example, Ruth Etting was a headliner BEFORE she met Martin Snyder AND Martin's nickname was "The Gimp" yet his character walks just fine in the film)--but where is that line between truth and fiction and how far over did it go? I sure wish I knew.

This is an odd film--a gangster musical. I like gangster films but frankly I felt there was a bit too much singing for my taste--though since the story is about a professional singer, I guess my complaint is very minor. Doris Day plays Etting and her husband is played with lots of gusto by James Cagney. The plot concerns him managing her career and its impact on their marriage. He's a bully and thug--and at first he's an asset. Later, when he alienates practically everyone, he's an obvious deficit and Day leaves him for a piano player. Cagney's reaction is bad--to put it mildly.

I know this film has a very good reputation, but I found that after a while I got a bit tired of the movie. Cagney's 'big dumb jerk routine' got a bit old (how can a man YELL for an entire film?!) and Day's 'nice girl routine' seemed fake. At least to me, it was hard feeling sorry for the character, as she seemed to willingly make a deal with the devil--so to speak. Portraying her as a victim seemed disingenuous. So, rather one-dimensional and unlikable characters made this a bit hard to love. Still, the quality of the production was high--and I did enjoy it. I just didn't love it.
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Frothy somewhat, but well worth seeing for Day and Cagney
TheLittleSongbird3 October 2010
As a big fan of Doris Day, I was looking forward to Love Me or Leave Me. And overall, I liked it very much. I agree it is occasionally frothy, and it isn't much of a biopic due to some diluting, more to do with the censorship than with the film itself. That said, while a book is probably better in telling what really happened(a kept woman and her obsessive and sexually inadequate gangster sponsor), the truth isn't completely skimmed over and the story while frothy occasionally is still engrossing, and the script is witty and has a hint of freshness.

Even better though are the production values, music and performances. And the direction from Charles Vidor is excellent. To further elaborate on the points made in this paragraph, the use of CinemaScope framing is exquisite and the costumes and sets are top-notch. The music is wonderful too, with the title number and Ten Cents a Dance wonderfully performed by Day. The two leads are great, Doris Day is a knockout complete with a sexy new image and a great understanding to the role she portrays with great warmth and freshness here, while James Cagney in a tough guy role, one of his better later roles is even better.

In conclusion, maybe not for those looking for the truth, but for entertainment value and a fun film Love Me or Leave Me is just the ticket. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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Frothy? Dramatic? Odd mix that entertains due to its peerless lead performances.
Spikeopath19 September 2010
Out of MGM, Love Me or Leave Me is directed by Charles Vidor and stars Doris Day, James Cagney & Cameron Mitchell. Written by Daniel Fuchs and Isobel Lennart, the film is loosely based on the true story of legendary 20s torch singer Ruth Etting (Day) and her rise to fame propelled by Chicago gangster Marty "The Gimp" Snyder (Cagney). It's shot in CinemaScope/Eastmancolor and features a number of Etting standards along with a couple of new tunes written especially for the film.

Vidor's movie was a box office success that earned six Oscar nominations, one of which was for Cagney in the Best Actor category. Most surprising on the nominations list is the absence of one for Day. Surprising since as good as Cagney is here (all snarly, bossy and maniacal gangster like), this most assuredly is Day's movie as she turns in arguably a career best performance. Etting herself wanted Jane Powell to play her in the movie, whilst Ava Gardner was courted, and courted back, for the role. But Cagney was sure that Day was right for the part, how right he turned out to be.

That Day would be able to carry off the tunes was a given, that she could immerse herself successfully in a character calling for a strong dramatic bent, still carried a question mark. Thankfully she delivers, even if her fluffy girl next door persona remains in tact. This comes down to much of the hard edge of the story from the source being absent or skirted over (Etting's battle with alcohol, pre-marital sex & infidelity), but Day and Cagney really manage to make the real life odd coupling come alive on the screen; and thus the dark aspects loom in the air just about enough to make us aware. She shows a naive, vulnerable, yet fame hungry streak, while he shows up to be a driven bully who literally will do what it takes to protect his "possession".

However, the blend of a musical, gangster basis and biography never fully works. In fact, even tho the songs are a joy (particularly a sultry Day warbling Ten Cents a Dance), there's too many numbers used. Many times when the film threatens to really break out into bold territory, a number is inserted and the dramatic ark hits the buffers. This also gives off a feeling of repetition as time and again Cagney goes ape about something, Doris sighs and then she sings, and on it goes. All told the film is an odd fusion of intents, as odd as the central relationship of the piece in fact. In lesser hands it could have been a misfire (credit to good performances from Mitchell & Robert Keith too), but even tho it has faults, and suffers from the absence of daring, the lead actors make it a hugely enjoyable movie regardless. 7/10
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Doris and Jimmy act up a storm, and that's about it
marcslope22 February 2010
One of the more adult mid-'50s musicals, and it's surprising that it came out of MGM, which generally preferred happy-happy song-and-dance shows, and starred two big stars who had never before worked at Culver City. Day and Cagney are tremendous, she playing up Ruth Etting's unattractive ambition without flinching, and he bringing unexpected charm to a thoroughly unlikable gangster character. As a study of how bad relationships stay stuck in the groove, it's remarkably grown-up for its day, and you might not expect these two stars to play well off each other, but they certainly do. The downside: Ruth Etting had a small, chirpy voice, rather like her contemporaries Janet Gaynor or Nancy Carroll, and Day's vocal delivery is nothing like hers. She sings like... Doris Day. Nor are the arrangements anything like period--they're standard mid-'50s overkill. The costumes and hairstyles don't even pretend to be '20s. And though much is made of Miss Etting's film career--you'd have thought she was a great movie musical star--her Hollywood sojourn was actually brief and unimpressive. Finally, there's that audience depressant Cameron Mitchell as her love interest, and you can't get very interested in him, or root for him. After so many vacuous sunny-side-up musicals at Warners, Day must have relished this opportunity to show what she could really do, and it's very worth sitting through to watch the Day-Cagney fireworks. I guess an accurate portrayal of Ruth Etting and her times would be asking too much.
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Dirty Linen
writers_reign21 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
In 1955, at almost the chronological mid-point of her film career (1948-1968) Doris Day made what are arguably the two finest films in which she ever appeared, Young At Heart and Love Me Or Leave Me. Both are best classified as Musical Drama and in both she played opposite a character whose screen name was Barney. If co-star Frank Sinatra got to sing the cream of the score in Young At Heart - Just One Of Those Things, Someone To Watch Over Me, One For My Baby, whilst she was stuck with the crowd-pleasing cotton candy confection - Ready, Willing And Able, Hold Me In Your Arms - with which she was identified, in Love Me or Leave Me she got to perform virtually the whole score, which, though not boasting anything like the quality of the Sinatra numbers in YAH was not exactly chopped liver. In both films she was obliged to abandon the role of professional virgin with which she was also identified in favor of semi-pro actress and in both films she managed reasonably well. LOLM is based partly on fact: Singer Ruth Etting did marry Martyn Snyder in 1922 and remained married until 1937; the following year she married Myrl Alderman, remaining married to him until his death in 1966. Whether events were as dramatic as portrayed here is speculative. Suffice it to say that though Cagney walks away with the picture as you would expect Day is only three or four steps behind while Robert Keith (who had played her father in YAH) scores well in the thankless nice-guy role as an agent. Good to watch, good to listen to, what more can I say.
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A rousing portrait of the Roaring 20's
happyendingrocks19 July 2009
James Cagney is always a delight to watch, even when he's playing a pompous and disgusting pig like Marty Snyder. If you don't agree with that statement, you may have a hard time taking in Love Me Or Leave Me, because Cagney's character is about as unlikeable as leading men come. I know next to nothing about Snyder's non-fiction life, but if we are to believe his composite in this film, the dude must have been completely lacking redeeming qualities of any kind.

Of course, Cagney himself is well known as one of the nicest, most decent human beings who ever worked in Hollywood, so the fact that he so effectively channels Snyder's loathsome persona certainly demonstrates the actor's tremendous skills. If you've seen any of Cagney films, you're probably used to those, but his ability to own every scene he's in despite the fact that the audience is destined to abhor his character shows very clearly how fully Cagney leaped into every performance he undertook.

Doris Day is not one of my favorite actresses of the classic era, but she is excellent here. Perhaps I just hadn't seen her at her best until now, but after witnessing her show-stopping Zigfield Follies number here, I'm a believer. It's hard to sell her as a sympathetic character, especially watching her maintain her timid vigil under Snyder's dominating and abusive umbrella, but the film explores their volatile relationship in such depth, some semblance of understanding creeps through. This is not your traditional love story however, and in fact that emotion seems to have very little to do with the pairing on the screen in Love Me Or Leave Me. The film instead essays a very peculiar mutual dependency, and it's a fascinating relationship to digest in the hands of these two gifted actors, both of whom make every scene they share sizzle as they play off of each other.

A substantial number of musical performances pad the running time, and it could be argued that some could have been omitted for the sake of streamlining the story. But the songs serve as external monologues in which Day fills in the emotional gaps in her character's psyche, and paying close attention to the words reveals a lot about the unspoken undercurrent of alternating disgust and devotion that seems to have classified this co-dependent arrangement. Luckily, all of the music is excellent, and Day's performances are all top notch. Whether we're seeing her headline elaborate stage numbers or simply rehearsing by the piano, her plain but effective vocal delivery always seethes with emotion.

Though the film is definitely dated, it has aged quite well. Today's audiences will likely note the casual misogyny that runs rampant throughout the film, which was so prevalent in early Hollywood and was somehow accepted as part of popular culture. Those not familiar with this phenomenon may be a bit shocked by what they see here, but if we put it in context with the times and consider what a woman's role was traditionally considered in the era, it's not off-putting to see Day endure these verbal and emotional attacks without retaliation. It certainly doesn't dilute the strength of her performance, or the character for that matter, and knowing that it wasn't considered socially proper for a woman to talk back to her fella in those days adds yet another layer of complexity to the fabric of this union. We know there will come a point where Day finally can't take anymore, and watching her soak up each new trespass while being forced to bottle her emotions allows us to truly be engulfed by the inner turmoil of this woman whose dreams are coming true, even as her life away from the stage is a nightmare.

This is an engrossing character study on both sides, and Day and Cagney are both in top form here. If that alone isn't enough to persuade you to watch this film, I'm at a loss to provide a better selling point.
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Great Marriage Breakup - Best Doris Day Vocals I've heard!
movie-viking29 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
As I write this, TCM has a Ruth Etting 1930's short film playing (Think of short music 1930's films as the grand daddy of music videos). (Singer Ruth Etting and her small time gangster husband/promoter Marty Snyder were real life people. This film is said to be a partly fictional view of their marriage and breakup.)

Doris Day plays Ruth Etting well. She's a bit beat up by life (and Snyder) and in the end, she's left him for a kinder man, but she squares accounts with him (for past promo work that made her a star) and sings in his club to large crowds. Tho Cagney is accused of attempted murder, you still feel sorry for him, and glad that Day will sing to promote his new night club. It seems modern that she has risen past his abusive ways to stand on her own, to forgive him and even help him in a manner that will not seem like charity.

As Snyder himself says of his ex-wife's performance in his club "She's fulfilling a contractual obligation...Business is business."

But here's where Hollywood (and maybe better 1950's recording technology) does better than real life.

Day ***outsings*** Etting!

Day sing the title song "Love Me or Leave Me" and "Ten Cents a Dance" and it still sounds modern today. Etting's 1930's recordings in early movie sound technology are tinny and too full of vibrato for modern tastes.

If you doubt that Doris Day could play deeper dramatic roles, this film (along with films like "The Man Who Knew Too Much") should convince you otherwise...(We already know to expect a great performance from Cagney.)
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I,ll never stop loving you
moatazmohsen7815 June 2008
Doris Day was an icon of beauty in singing and acting by her warm voice and genius acting in different movies obtained this film by her legend songs as (Iwill never stop loving you) with soft melody and warm lyrics by magic voice of Day.

James Cagney was a villain of Hollywood by shark eyes and voice to send for audience the core of badness and evil characters as his profile in cinema.The producer choose previously Ava Gardener to be the hero of this film in-front Cagney but Cagney refused this choose because he said that Gardner not familiar with his role and he cheesed Day in it because of her fantastic abilities between singing and acting and she succeeded in it with Cagney.
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