Tonight or Never (1931) Poster

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Superb Swanson
drednm27 May 2005
Gloria Swanson was a great star and her talkie films of the early 1930s were vastly underrated. Tonight or Never is a nice comedy that pits opera star Swanson against maybe gigolo Melvyn Douglas. She's a great singer but she lacks passion because she has never been in love. Douglas is the protégé of a countess (Alison Skipworth), but is secretly in love with Swanson.

Swanson is wonderful, even though she does not sing--a major fault of the film--as the naive opera star. Douglas is suave; Skipworth is (as always) hilarious. And Ferdinand Gottschalk is wonderful as Swanson's teacher.

Swanson should have had a major talkie career. She made the transition in the smash hit The Trespasser and made a series of delightful talkies before she hung it up in 1934. Her voice is so wonderful. It's ironic that a silent star would have such a terrific voice. As in Indiscreet, Swanson proves to be a star actress----one of the greats.

Robert Greig, Greta Meyer and J. Carroll Naish co-star. And remember the motto: our spaghetti is longer than our name!
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Elegant early talkie, suffers from stage origins.
David-2407 July 2001
Gloria Swanson proves easily here what a good talkie actress she could have been. She is funny and charming, and dressed superbly by Coco Chanel. Melvyn Douglas works well with her, but there is way too much chatter in this adaptation from a hit stage play. The screen-writers didn't seem to realise the kind of expansion they needed to give the piece to make it cinema rather than a filmed stage play. Still, in the lovingly restored print from UCLA that is on the DVD, the film looks great - as does glorious Gloria!
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whpratt119 May 2003
This film is truly a classic, directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Nella Vago(Gloria Swanson), a young singer, performs an operatic debut in Venice but discovers her reception disappointing. She is critized by her instructor (Ferdinand Gottschalk) claiming her voice lacks warmth and feeling. A mysterious young man stalks her everywhere, (Melvyn Douglas) who is really a talent scout for the Met. The cast with Gloria Swanson("Sunset Blvd." with Wm. Holden) and Melvyn Douglas and Boris Karloff who had gained famed as being the Frankenstein Monster made this film a great success during the early 1930's. Karloff gave a very good performance as a high classed waiter with no horror expressions on his face. It was a great picture during that period of time and is worth viewing.
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Fun, fascinating Pre-Code comedy
rick_710 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Tonight or Never (Mervyn LeRoy, 1931) was the early talkie that brought stage and screen legend Melvyn Douglas from Broadway to Hollywood. Viewed through the prism of history, it's also a chance to see Sunset Blvd. titan Gloria Swanson as a conventional leading lady, blessed with talent, charm and an impressive modernity. Though her character in the Wilder classic is a silent star who was thrown on the scrapheap when the movies learned to talk, the real-life Swanson actually made the transition more easily than most, winning the Best Actress Oscar for The Trespasser in 1929. It was age, rather than sound, that ultimately derailed her career. Here Swanson plays an opera singer whose performances are technically proficient but ultimately cold, leaving her way short of international success. The problem, her coach tells her, is that she's never been in love. So she concocts an affair with admirer and possible gigolo Douglas, hoping it will spark her into life. The film is less escapist and more challenging than later variations on the subject, with a script that's sometimes witty and sporadically insightful, though it does betray its stage origins in the simplistic structure and largely internal settings.

The main draw here, along with the pre-Code shenanigans, is the acting. Swanson is invigoratingly natural as she shrugs, winces and flirts her way through the movie, matched by Douglas, whose familiar man-about-town persona is undercut by a danger and brusqueness that's completely new. Support is provided by Alison Skipworth (who played the Sidney Greenstreet role in the screwball version of The Maltese Falcon, Satan Met a Lady), along with Broadway cast members Ferdinand Gottschalk, eternal butler Robert Greig, Greta Meyer and Warburton Gamble. Boris Karloff appears as a hotel employee who slyly warns Douglas of Swanson's imminent arrival in his room, while the radio announcer is an uncredited J. Carroll Naish! A further boon for classic film buffs is the photography from Citizen Kane cinematographer and Samuel Goldwyn alumnus Gregg Toland. Though he's not working at full pelt here, his silver-tinged, superbly-contrasted images give a little taster of just what Toland was capable of. And just to show that there's something for everyone here (except perhaps football supporters and Ted Danson afficionados), fans of vintage fashion should get a kick out of the striking costumes, designed by Coco Chanel.

Tonight or Never was passed with cuts before the Hays Code clampdown of 1934, then subsequently refused for re-release in 1935 and 1937. Lamar Trotti, later a Fox executive and a superb screenwriter on films including John Ford's Judge Priest and Young Mr Lincoln, was at that time working for the Hays Office and said censors had found the key seduction sequence particularly offensive. And you can see why. It wasn't until the gradual lifting of restrictions in the early '50s that a woman could waltz into a man's flat, accuse him of being a gigolo and then insist he have sex with her - albeit in elliptical terms. And even if the symbolism and language appear very dated today, the subject matter is the sort that would be off-limit for most of the next 20 years, so it's fascinating to see it peddled by a leading man so associated with simple, romantic Golden Era fare as Douglas. An earlier scene, sadly truncated by the censors, depicts Swanson lying on her bed, listening crossly to the honeymooners next door. Apparently the original cut had her writhing around excitedly as they set about consummating their marriage. There's a scene as bold as that in the Hungarian film Extase, featuring a young, decidedly naked Hedi Lamarr, but I can't think of one in contemporary American film.

Tonight or Never isn't a Pre-Code classic to rank with say, Little Caesar or Counsellor-at-Law, but it's a very watchable film and intriguing for both its sensuality - check out the leads' first kiss or Swanson's nightwear - and the meeting of two great stars heading in opposite directions.
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From 1931...and with no subtitles or captions....what a pity.
planktonrules24 January 2011
While not all early sound pictures have poor sound quality, "Tonight or Never" does. This is a problem because Image Entertainment does not have closed captions or DVD captions on the disk--meaning you'll need to really crank up the volume to hear this one well, as the sound range is a bit poor. This is a serious problems with many American films from 1927-1931 and this is because Hollywood still hadn't perfected all the intricacies of sound. Normally this isn't a huge problem--many films from this era do have decent sound, but seeing "Tonight or Never" or "Coquette" is just tough without captioning.

This film finds Gloria Swanson playing a diva--literally and figuratively. She is a very successful opera star, but her singing, while very good, lacks something that would take her to the next level. It turns out that what it needs is passion--and a new man in her life (Melvyn Douglas) turns out to be this key to greater success. And until she discovers love, she is a diva in every sense of the word--quick-tempered, demanding and impossible to those around her. But, once she discovers Douglas, her troubles are not over, as she mistakenly thinks he's a gigolo!

While I enjoyed this cute film, I found Melvyn Douglas' performance to be amazing. Considering this was his first film, he came off very well--and better than the veteran actress, Swanson. He seemed relaxed and suave. As for her, Ms. Swanson's acting, at times, seemed a bit mannered--as if she WAS acting and not real. Now this might have been due to the type character she played, but I found her performance less approachable and impressive.
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I Love Melvyn
writers_reign20 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This may be the only time Boris Karloff appeared in a sophisticated romantic comedy albeit as a waiter and trivia buffs will also note the uncredited J. Carroll Naish, already polished, as a radio announcer in an early scene. Melvyn Douglas had appeared in the play on Broadway and on the strength of its hit status was signed up for the film adaptation. It's interesting that his role - at least for four fifths of the running time - is a gigolo being 'kept' by an elderly titled lady, something to which he would return, albeit with more success, in Ninotchka at the end of the decade. It's also a revelation to see Gloria Swanson at very near her peak - strangely she made only three more 'talkies' between this and Sunset Boulevard some nineteen years later. The storyline is the usual froth that sustained numerous musical comedies but all hands weigh in with sound performances and a good time is had by all.
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In that case:never
madmonkmcghee29 August 2015
Being a sucker for classic comedies, i really wanted to like this. But it's never a good sign when you start watching the clock instead of the movie. Isn't a comedy supposed to have jokes in it? Do we really need that much time to set up the plot? Ah yes the plot: opera diva can only become truly great after she has found Love. So thinking a night with a handsome gigolo will do the trick and get her booked at the Met, she gives in to her passions. And by golly it works! But then guilt creeps in... I'l stop here so as not to spoil the plot for those who are not discouraged by my review. (It's your own time to waste) Being mercifully short at 82 minutes, it really felt like it lasted quite a bit longer. It has period charm, Swanson and Douglas make a nice enough couple, but the material is too slight to make this into an enjoyable movie.
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Very good comedy romance that speeds over much of the humor
SimonJack10 September 2020
Warning: Spoilers
To fully appreciate this film, one should watch it from a DVD and be able to stop, back up and replay portions. That's because it is a very talkative story and much can be missed. After watching it the first time, I didn't think much of it as a comedy. Yet, some of the dialog in places went by so fast that it didn't register. So, I watched it again the next day. I found myself stopping, backing up and replaying bits of scenes constantly. In so doing, I discovered some very witty, clever and funny lines of dialog that I missed in the first viewing. And, that pointed to one of the problems with this film. More on that later, after the critique of the movie itself.

"Tonight or Never" is a sophisticated comedy built around a rising European opera singer and her entourage. Nella Vago has been engaged more than three years to the principal benefactor of the Royal Budapest Opera, Count Albert von Gronac. But she has never been in love. And, while she has a marvelous singing voice, her entourage and true opera experts know that her singing lacks the heart and soul that would make it great. The possible solution to both of these problems in her life appears when Nella sees and later meets a handsome admirer from the opera, Jim.

A great deal of the story, and its humor, is built around three aspects in the film. The first is that Jim's full name is never known until the end - because, halfway into the story, his name in the newspapers is significant. The second is that Nella's music and voice teacher, Rudig, is a wealth of information, including much obtained via an apparent flourishing gossip network of people in the service trades. And, third, is the mistaken notion by Rudig and others, which then is believed by Nella, that her handsome admirer is a gigolo and companion of the Marchesa Bianca San Giovanni The latter was herself a great prima donna of the opera in the past, with a notorious reputation.

This movie was based on a Broadway play of the same title, in which most of the main characters from the stage reprised their roles on film. And, that includes Melvyn Douglas as Jim Fletcher in his cinema debut. The other main male character - Rudig, is played superbly by Ferdinand Gotttschalk. The Academy Awards didn't have Oscars for best supporting actor and actress until 1936. Gottschalk surely would have been nominated and probably have won it if it had been offered in 1931. The other stage roles carried into this film by the same actors were the butler, Conrad (played by Robert Greig); Nella's maid, Emma (played by Greta Meyer); and Count Gronac (played by Warburton Gamble).

The two main females, Nella and the marchesa, are played by Gloria Swanson and Alison Skipworth. Both had started in silent films where Swanson had been a major star for more than 15 years. Swanson's role was apparently planned to renew her star status that had gone into a slump with the advent of sound pictures. One other character with a small part is Boris Karloff playing the waiter.

The is a very good, very funny film; but one in which many audience members may miss much of the humor because of the long stretches of dialog. They aren't rapid-fire, but nearly so. This problem is somewhat of a puzzle, because, although in silent films actors didn't have to worry about dialog, stage actors did. With so many of the cast coming over from the stage, one would have expected more care in delivery. This is a problem mostly with Gottschalk and his character, Rudig. He has a substantial number of lines. Grieg, on the other hand, is very deliberate and spot on with his lines as the butler.

Then, Swanson herself speaks some lines, with Grieg, Gamble and Douglas, that fly by rather fast. And, she also detracts from the film in another way. Swanson apparently hadn't overcome the exaggerated facial expressions that were so vital in silent films. And, perhaps the director, Mervyn LeRoy, and cinematographer were partly to blame for the frequent closing in on Swanson's face - again a practice in silent films. That just further exacerbated the problem of seeming over-acting. And, a third the problem here is Swanson's makeup. She is clearly made up for stage performance. Someone with her large (beautiful) and spaced eyes and striking looks should have been toned down when she wasn't made up to go on stage. So, all of these things together reduce this film by at least one star.

Still, this is a very good and entertaining film that adults should enjoy. Here are some favorite lines.

Nella Vago, "Why do you repeat such gossip to me?" Rudig, "'Cause you want to hear it." Nella, "I don't." Rudig, "You do." Nella, "I don't." Rudig, "You do." Nella, "I don't." Rudig, "You dooo". Nella, "I don't."

Rudig, "He's only a simple gondolier. No training in his voice. But what a heart. Mmmm!"

Nella Vago, "Don't all great artists have lovers?" Rudig, "My dear, all great artists ARE lovers."

Rudig, "For an artist, it is more important to love than to be loved."

Marchesa Bianca San Giovanni, "Close the window. The music's too exciting for me."

Nella Vago, "I'm really ashamed to mention it, but this town is notorious for gossip."

Jim Fletcher, "You did everything in the world to get in here. Now you're in, why try to get out?"

Jim Fletcher, "I wanna hunt my women, not have them come after me."

Emma, "And, professor, she was singing in the bathtub. I never heard her do that before." Rudig, "Stop there. I don't like that singing in the bath business."

Emma, "Are you crazy, Conrad? He's our new excellency."
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Melvyn Douglas in his screen debut
kevinolzak14 March 2019
1931's "Tonight or Never" is a typical romantic comedy adapted from a Broadway hit that starred Melvyn Douglas, here recreating that role in his film debut. The top billed star is silent screen siren Gloria Swanson (only three more talkies before her comeback in Billy Wilder's "Sunset Blvd."), as singing sensation Nella Vago, a hit in Venice and Budapest but not yet ready for the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Her music teacher (Ferdinand Gottschalk) ascribes her reticence to put body and soul into each performance as due to a lifestyle without love, only a nowhere relationship with a titled fiancée (Warburton Gamble) who has no qualms about spending time with other women. The near constant presence of a handsome stranger (Douglas) incessantly smoking below her window arouses Nella's curiosity, but rumors abound that he's a cad subsidized by a wealthy marquesa (Alison Skipworth). When she can stand being alone no longer, Nella imposes on a savvy waiter (Boris Karloff) to make certain that her intended is alone for the evening, and it's the longest and most controversial scene for the censors, as he plays along with her excuses and alternately woos and manhandles her, it's a tossup as to what she truly wants. Once the clock strikes 10 there's no backing out for an indulgent Nella, who spends the entire night in his bed, returns to her hotel room to sleep until her evening performance, taking 17 curtain calls for her finest performance ever, straight from the heart. Accepting a contract from American impresario Fletcher to sing at the Met, she tries to break things off with her lover, only he has other ideas. It takes half the picture to get the two stars together, and though gorgeous Gloria looks quite ravishing she's not quite at ease with the material, unlike Melvyn Douglas, so suave and likable (even playing a supposed rogue) that one would think that he was the old pro rather than her. The plot was reminiscent of Jeanette MacDonald's 1930 musical "Oh, for a Man!" in which Bela Lugosi appeared pre-Dracula as a music teacher. In his first role since playing The Monster in "Frankenstein," Boris Karloff is a twinkling hoot as the knowing waiter, sadly only present for one sequence at the 38 minute mark, while J. Carrol Naish appears unbilled in the opening reel as a heavily accented Venice radio announcer with a hilarious line from the Italian sponsor: "my spaghetti is longer than my name!" In just a few months Karloff would find himself top billed over Douglas in James Whale's "The Old Dark House," while Douglas would be seen further down the Hollywood ladder in the Poverty Row Majestic feature "The Vampire Bat."
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watch it for the actors in it.
ksf-219 November 2022
A thirty two year old gloria swanson is nella, opera diva, in this restored version of "tonight or never". She has caught the eye of a handsome stranger (melvyn douglas), but she believes he is a gigolo. He has been spotted on the arm of an older, rich woman (the awesome alison skipworth). Nella is headstrong and impulsive, but she has never known true love; her teacher informs her that until she has really loved someone, she won't be able to put that passion into her singing. But when she finally meets fletcher, it doesn't go anything like she expected. And now she's not sure if she wants a husband or a singing career. Just one of many decisions she may have to make. If she plays her cards right! The film itself is no big deal, but it's fun to see skipworth, douglas, and swanson in an early (pre film code) talkie. Swanson was huge, starting in the silent films. She makes a lot of the same facial expressions she will use again in sunset boulevard, another great swanson film. Small role for boris karloff. Directed by mervyn leroy... was nominated for random harvest. Story by lily hatvany.
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Norma Desmond on the way down.
st-shot20 December 2016
Once the highest paid star in Hollywood silent film Queen, Gloria Swanson looks uncomfortable and sounds a little like Gracie Allen in her shaky transition to sound in this solidly made racy comedy. Not her first or last sound picture during that era but a clear indicator her style of acting had become anachronistic overnight with new kids on the block like Joan Crawford and Jean Harlow preparing to take the heat up a notch and send Ms. Swanson packing, only to rise Phoenix like years later in Sunset Boulevard; along with Benji the canine (Petticoat Junction) the greatest comeback in Hollywood history.

Talented opera singer Nella Vaga (Swanson) has the tools but not the passion to take her place among the big names in the business. After a solid performance (sans passion) in Venice, American, Jim Fletcher, (Melvyn Douglas) is enthralled and stalks Vaga. A man of nebulous means Nella is intrigued, conflicted and makes a clumsy pass. Fletcher toys with her in a lengthy seduction that cures her stage reticence. Turns out she simply needed to get laid. Her Budapest performance is gang busters and the Met calls on as she finds love and success.

Tonight or Never is filled with ambiguous innuendo and dialogue giving it a rye subversive flavor as it keeps the audience in the dark along the way to do so. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, a Wellman like director, I could have been easily persuaded it was a Lubitsch work with it's theme, tart insinuations, use of doors, "Touch" regular Melvyn Douglas and a large ethnic caricature supporting cast with Fernand Gottschalk, Allison Skipworth and Robert Grieg (who has the most touching moment in the film with Swanson) all contributing key moments all of quirky non- stereotype. . J. Carol Naish, uncredited, offers up a tiny gem while Karloff in his Frankenstein year is weirdly perverse as a waiter.

This is Melvyn Douglas first major role and he brings the same self assured sophisticated suavity that would carry him through the next dozen or so years when he would loosen up Garbo this time in Lubisch's Ninotchka just before the black list and his own stunning comeback in later years as a multi award winning actor.

Swanson looks lovely dressed in Chanel, lounging about lush interiors photographed by the iconic Greg Toland but her performance is inconsistent at best her with comic timing off whether going up against Douglas or the supporting cast. There remain moments however when it becomes crystal clear why Ms. Swanson was a silent superstar, especially in close-ups without dialogue in which LeRoy goes retro silent to capture the star in her halcyon past, only for a moment but with maximum impact.
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An easy going, insignificant and funny cinematic escapade, with Karloffs first appearance in a talking movie
Searlsa7 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Nella Vago (Gloria Swanson), a young singer makes her operatic debut in Venice but discovers her reception disappointing. She learns from her teacher (Ferdinand Gottschalk) that her voice lacks warmth and feeling. While appearing there, a mysterious young man (Melvyn Douglas) follows her everywhere. Returning to her native Budapest, she learns a scout from the Metropolitan Opera refused to sign her until she truly feels her songs. Depressed she goes to the young gigolo's apartment where they make love. The following night, Nella surprises everyone by her marvellous performance of "Tosca". After the Met offers her a contract, she visits the gigolo's apartment again and declares her love. Moved, he asks her to give up her profession and she tears up her contract. To her surprise, she discovers he is in reality a scout for the Met. The misunderstanding is over. Additional notes : The cast - with the exception of Alison Skipworth, Gloria Swanson and Boris Karloff (who plays a waiter) is the one which made the play a success in Manhattan where it was produced by David Belasco.
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American Gigolo
ricardojorgeramalho14 December 2022
Gloria Swanson and Melvyn Douglas star in a romantic farce that's more glamor than comedy, yet still has a period charm that makes it enjoyable and interesting, ninety years later.

It's surprising how these divas and entrepreneurs traveled from Venice to Budapest, from La Fenice to the Royal Opera via Orient Express, without ever leaving the Santa Monica Boulevard studios. And the public marveled at the great halls and sumptuous environments of European royalty, traveling the world in fantasy, without even imagining that everything was happening in pretend, in the back of their homes.

I can't resist mentioning the unusual appearance of Bela Lugosi in the role of a gay butler, which was perhaps the best joke in the film.
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