Sunday, April 12, 2015

Love Me or Leave Me

Another movie coming up on TCM today that's worth a watch is Love Me or Leave Me, which is part of a Doris Day double feature tonight at 8:00 PM.

Day stars as Ruth Etting. The movie begins with Etting working in a dive bar around 1920, which is the beginning of the Prohibition era. The Mob got its hands in every pie, and the bar where Ruth was part of the entertainment was no different. Gangster Marty Snyder (James Cagney) is the one muscling money out of the joint, and he's a man who when he finds somtething that he wants, he's going to get it come hell or high water. That something in this case happens to be Ruth. He likes the way Ruth dances, so when the place where she first works doesn't want to feature her, Marty gets Ruth a job at another place. But Ruth really wants to sing.

Marty, being smitten with Ruth, decides that he's going to do whatever it takes to make Ruth a successful singer. By this time, he's gotten married to Ruth, and is getting her music lessons and trying to get her on the radio, which he's eventually able to do since he's got influence. Sure enough, Ruth becomes a success. But success comes at a price. Marty knows what he wants out of life, and that holds just as true for Ruth. Marty has certainly helped her along the way, but Ruth chafes at his controlling nature, and wants to take her career on its own arc, not the one that Marty has mapped out for her.

Complicating matters is the presence of Johnny Alderman (Cameron Mitchell). He's Ruth's accompanist, and he admires Ruth. He's nowhere near as forward as Marty is and waits for Ruth either to come to her senses, or come to a spot in life where she's got the wherewithal to break from Marty. Perhaps that wherewithal can come in the form of someplace where they want Ruth for herself, and not because Marty is trying to get it for her: Hollywood. Ruth goes to Hollywood at the beginning of the sound era and becomes passably successful in a series of short films. Marty eventually follows and tries to keep managing Ruth's career, but Ruth has become more independent. She's willing to divorce Marty and marry Alderman. In a big twist, but something that happened in real life, Marty shot Alderman.

Love Me or Leave Me seems almost to good to be true, and although there's Hollywood sanitization, many of the main events in the film really did happen. Etting went from dancing to singing to a radio show to Hollywood. And Marty really shot Alderman, although his actual personal life was quite a bit messier than what the movie presents. While the story is good, the acting is excellent. I'm generally not a fan of Doris Day's comedies, because I tend to find her characters a bit too goody-goody. But when she got away from comedy or the lighter musicals and did something serious, Day really wan't bad. There's not much to be said about Cagney's acting. He'd already spent 25 years playing gangsters of one stripe or another, and probably could have played this role in his sleep. But he doesn't, and gives an effectively chilling portrayal of a man who knows what he wants out of life, is used to getting it, and is going to keep trying to get it even if it means hurting the people around him.

I've also said that I'm not the biggest fan of musicals. But Love Me or Leave Me isn't really a musical; it's a biopic about somebody who was a singer. In that regard, the movie works quite well, and I think can be enjoyed even by other people who, like me, aren't normally that interested in musicals.

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