On Thursday the 17th, Turner Classic Movies will show Love Me or Leave Me, a “biopic” of Ruth Etting, who made her way from small Chicago clubs to the Ziegfeld Follies and beyond, in a career managed by a Chicago gangster. My dad clued me into the prior airing of the film with this email:
Just in case you haven’t seen this flick, it is as good a movie musical-bio-drama as I have seen. If that seems a limited category, then let me add that one of the very best studio films I have ever seen.
The movie just misses greatness, but Cagney’s performance is either the first or second best of his entire career. I cried at the end of the flick in 1955 because I knew I would never see another performace that good again. And I haven’t.
Doris Day is a revelation. Her acting and singing and body are everything you could ask of a woman. Nobody knew it at the time, but DD was living through her own tormented marriage at the time she was playing this part.
Cameron Mitchell must have been under studio contract, and his performance shows it.
I just watched the whole thing again a couple of nights ago. And TCM is screening it again at 4:30 this coming AM. In the original wide screen format.
It’s yours for the taping.
After I saw the film, I wrote back:
An impressive, impressive flick. Thanks for pointing it out to me — I would have never thought of seeing it on my own.
> The movie just misses greatness, but Cagney’s performance is either the first
> or second best of his entire career.
After WHITE HEAT?
> I cried at the end of the flick in 1955
> because I knew I would never see another performace that good again. And I
That might be true. He is amazing in it. He portrays a Man perhaps better than I’ve ever seed a Man portrayed on film…
> Doris Day is a revelation. Her acting and singing and body are everything you
> could ask of a woman. Nobody knew it at the time, but DD was living through
> her own tormented marriage at the time she was playing this part.
Which, from what I read, continued another 10 or so years, until her husband died, and DD realized she was broke.
For me, it was a curious film, because I’m not really cognizant of much of the movie’s context–the life of Ruth Etting (I hadn’t realized this was a biopic until after I saw the film); what people expected of Doris Day at this point in her career; or how it stacks up against other contemporary musicals. All that said, the film stands on its own, marvelously, thanks to Cagney’s performance and Day’s character’s shrewdness. The human emotion seems improbably complex for a studio picture of the mid-50s, making you wonder if everyone understood what they were making. I still haven’t figured out if Etting (in the picture) is conniving, innocent, lucky, shrewd, selfish, misunderstood, or all of these things. You don’t expect a Doris Day vehicle (which I’m guessing is how this was initially considered) to offer so many shades of humanity that you leave the picture scratching your head about what you saw.
To which he responded:
All of your comments are right on the button. It can surprise us–the level
of sophistication that sometimes slipped into studio product. But when you peer deeply into the credits of the director and writers – all of them – you can see that these were interesting and serious filmmakers.
HE WALKED BY NIGHT is another excellent movie on this week. I loved it for what it was when it first came out. But when you see Jack Webb in it, you now know where his concept for DRAGNET got its start.
And He Walked By Night is a good film, but that’s a post for another day. . .
Hey Peter – for more interesting info on this film’s context, see my post at my temp blog, entry on “Classic Musicals in the News”.