Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on June 10, 1955
Directed by Charles Vidor
Written by Daniel Fuchs and Isobel Lennart
Cast: Doris Day, James Cagney, Cameron Mitchell, Robert Keith, Tom Tully, Harry Bellaver, Richard Gaines, Jay Adler, Claire Carleton, Roy Engel, Franklyn Farnum, Bill Hickman, Joe Pasternak, Cosmo Sardo
Well, it happened again: I went into a movie thinking it was one thing, and I found out it was actually another. But this time it wasn’t my fault; when I’d told my sister I was going to watch Love Me or Leave Me, starring Doris Day and James Cagney, she mentioned that it was a remake of My Favorite Wife, a gem which I’ve seen many times before. So imagine my surprise when I sat down a few nights later to watch what I thought would be a 1940s black-and-white romance comedy, and discovered it was actually a 1950s historical musical drama shot in Cinemascope!
Day stars as real-life vocalist Ruth Etting, a 1920s supper club dancer with aspirations of being a big-time singer, who is taken under the wing of a local Chicago gangster named Marty, played by Cagney. At first, Marty’s interested in a hook-up, but he soon sees her potential as an entertainer, and becomes her de-facto manager, using his connections to move her up in the world, from local nightclubs to radio and then on to Broadway. But his hair-trigger temper and jealousy—especially over a piano player (Cameron Mitchell) who has an interest in Etting—could prove harmful to her career.
Never mind this wasn’t the rom-com I was expecting; I thought this was a very entertaining and well-made movie, with outstanding performances from the two leads and some very catchy musical numbers from Day. I’ve seen it labeled as a romance musical, but to me it leaned more towards drama, with the song-and-dance routines thankfully part of the film’s fabric, and not just appearing at random for the sake of a spectacle-hungry audience. And though I’m used to seeing Day in her light comedies, I was very impressed with the skills she displayed as a dramatic actress in this one.
Of course, Cagney was also a standout, in his last gangster role, playing a seemingly-agreeable character who was always teetering on the edge of anger and violence, the type that Dan Duryea used to play so well in noir films of the 1940s. I really believed Cagney in the part, as I did with Day, and though they weren’t the first choices for their roles, I can’t imagine anyone else doing a better job with these characters than they did. In fact, Cagney was nominated for an Academy Award for his work, though it’s unfortunate Day wasn’t as well; in my eyes, she certainly deserved to be.
Cagney once said that Love Me or Leave Me was one of his favorites of all the films he’d made, and Day considers her performance here her best; I can’t say I’ve seen enough of their movies to make such declarations myself, but with an Oscar-winning screen story to back it and the endorsements of two of my favorite classic stars, I think it’s safe to say that this one’s worthy of a look. And if you’re a fan of either actor, then it’s definitely a must-see. Oh, and one more thing: the next time my sister comes over, I’ll introduce her to the classic Day remake Move Over, Darling. (8/10)