“Star Of The Month (January 2021)” Featuring Doris Day in… Love Me Or Leave Me (1955)

I’m back again for another entry in my Star Of The Month for January, and this time it’s Doris Day’s 1955 MGM musical Love Me Or Leave Me, also starring James Cagney! But first, we have a few theatrical shorts to get through!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Shape Ahoy (1945)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Popeye The Sailor: The 1940s Volume 1 from Warner Archive Collection)

Disclaimer: On the disc case, it is noted that the set is intended for the adult collector, which is because these shorts were made at a time when a lot of racist and sexist stereotypes were prevalent. All I’m trying to say is, parents, be careful about just sticking these on for your kids.

(Length: 6 minutes, 51 seconds)

Popeye and Bluto have come to a deserted island to get away from the ladies, but when a shipwrecked Olive comes ashore, their friendship and ideals go out the window! This one was bit more fun, even though it was still “Popeye Vs. Bluto.” Here, we have the two acting as friends throughout most of the short, although they obviously start competing for Olive’s affections increasingly (but are more or less stuck with each other to end the cartoon). Voice actress Mae Questel is pulling double-duty here, as she voices Olive Oyl (like usual), but also takes on the voice of Popeye! Up until this last viewing, I hadn’t really known that, but, upon learning that, I could definitely hear the difference. She’s not Jack Mercer, but she does well enough for me in a pinch!

Coming Up Shorts! with… A Modern Cinderella (1932)

(available as an extra on the Love Me Or Leave Me Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 17 minutes, 24 seconds)

Ruth Etting plays Anita Ragusa, the daughter of a costume tailor. Her father has her deliver a dress to the hostess of a costume party, who doesn’t care for it. When Anita puts on the dress to model it, she is asked to sing at the party. It’s a fun little musical short, with Ruth Etting singing a few songs (admittedly all forgettable). There is one dancing duo that was fun to watch (not sure who they were). While not a great short, this one was fun to see.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Roseland (1930)

(available as an extra on the Love Me Or Leave Me Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 12 minutes, 11 seconds)

Helen Leslie (Ruth Etting), a dance hall girl, hopes to enter a singing contest being held on the radio. It’s a simple short, with a simple love story thrown in, too. No doubt due to the length, we only get Ruth Etting singing two songs here, but she handles them quite well and I enjoyed hearing her sing the Irving Berlin song “Let Me Sing And I’m Happy”. While I much prefer the other Ruth Etting short included on the Love Me Or Leave Me Blu-ray, this one was fun to watch as well!

Coming Up Shorts! with… A Salute To The Theatres (1955)

(available as an extra on the Love Me Or Leave Me Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 17 minutes, 9 seconds)

This short, also known as 1955 Motion Picture Theatre Celebration, features George Murphy as host. It acts as a promo for some of the various MGM films that were being made and released in 1955. Stars such as Esther Williams, Jane Powell, Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse make appearances here to help promote some of their films. Included are quick trailers for films such as Jupiter’s Darling, Bedeviled, The Glass Slipper, Interrupted Melody, Hit The Deck, The King’s Thief, Love Me Or Leave Me, Moonfleet, The Prodigal and It’s Always Fair Weather. It’s interesting mainly from the perspective of seeing how some of these movies were promoted back at this time.

And Now For The Main Feature…

Our story starts in the city of Chicago during the Roaring Twenties. Laundry owner and mobster Martin “The Gimp” Snyder (James Cagney) comes to visit the owner of a dance club to convince him to pay his dues. While he is there, taxi dancer Ruth Etting (Doris Day) gets into a fight with a customer who got too fresh, and is quickly fired. Martin learns that she has show business aspirations, and offers to get her a job onstage. She is suspicious of his motives (and she has a right to be), but he leaves the offer open for her, just the same. She takes up the offer, only to become a chorus dancer when she really wants to be a singer. She quickly makes a friend in the form of piano player Johnny Alderman (Cameron Mitchell), who offers to help her out himself by putting together arrangements and such. Martin hopes to take her to Miami, but she refuses and manipulates him into helping her become a singer (and gets Martin to pay Johnny to help her out). Through this, Johnny hears her talent firsthand, and he lets her know that she is good. Martin isn’t there to listen, but Ruth starts pestering him about getting her a chance to actually sing as a star of the show. It takes a little convincing (and getting the show’s star to stay away one night), but she is given the chance. Martin tries to stack the deck with some of his friends, but they all realize that she has a talent as a singer, and she becomes a sensation. Martin still has designs on her, but she is able to sidestep them and make it seem like it is his decision. Soon, an agent, Bernard Loomis (Robert Keith) comes to see her, offering her a chance to perform in New York City. However, Martin turns down the offer (much to her initial dismay), and then works to get her her own radio show. Johnny is brought in to be the conductor for the orchestra on her show. He tries to warn her to end things with Martin, but she doesn’t listen. Working with Loomis, Martin manages to secure a spot for her in the Ziegfeld Follies. This time, however, Johnny is not willing to go along, having an offer elsewhere, and he has no trouble in telling Martin off. While in New York City, Martin is further frustrated by the fact that everybody working on the Ziegfeld Follies show has no respect for him, as he tries to bully his way through everything like before. After Ruth’s first performance, he gets into a fight backstage and is thrown out. He then threatens to pull Ruth out of the show, which makes her mad, as being in the Follies is what she had been working towards. During the argument, all of Martin’s pent-up frustrations at her previous manipulations and her refusal to stand by him comes to a head, and he rapes her. Out of a sense of obligation to him, Ruth marries him, and he continues to manage her career through many nightclub appearances. At this point, though, she is going through the motions, and resorting to drinking a bit more. Martin is thrilled when Hollywood comes a-calling, and he is able to make a deal, but she doesn’t really show much enthusiasm for the news. It is only when she hears from Johnny Alderman, who had gone to Hollywood and would now be working with her on her upcoming film, that she brightens up a little. Martin quickly discovers Johnny’s presence himself when he meets with the producer, and he later talks Johnny down in private. Ruth won’t hear of it, and questions what Martin himself has actually accomplished. While taken aback at first, Martin sells his laundry business in Chicago and buys a nightclub, with the intention of having it remodeled. Meanwhile, Martin also gets jealous, as he is suspicious of a possible relationship between Ruth and Johnny. His suspicions result in friction between himself and Ruth, which eventually lead her to ask for a divorce. With all this mess, can things be resolved between the two, or will Martin’s jealousies lead to tragedy?

Love Me Or Leave Me was based on the real-life person Ruth Etting, her ex-husband Martin Snyder, and Myrl Alderman (whose name was changed to Johnny for the movie), and the film was in the planning stages at MGM as early as 1953. Casting proved difficult, as some of the people originally asked turned it down, and others were hopeful to get some of the big parts. But, when it came down to it, it was James Cagney who suggested casting Doris Day to the film’s producer, Joe Pasternak. She was just ending her contract with Warner Brothers after seven years, and was looking for a role that was far different than the lighter roles that she had been doing there. And, of course, she got it with this film (and it apparently shocked many of her fans at the time, too, that she did the role of a lewd woman who smoked, drank, and wore scanty costumes). In spite of her fans’ opposition, the film proved to be a hit, and both Doris Day and James Cagney considered it among their best films.

As I’ve been watching through Doris Day’s filmography in order this time (or, at least, the films I have on disc), I do see some of what the original audiences saw, as the movie is a shock after seeing her earlier stuff. That being said, I do find that this is one of her best performances! She does great playing a woman determined to make it to the top, and who is good at manipulating someone to get there. However, her manipulations can only get her so far before she truly gets into trouble, such as when she was raped and then married Cagney’s Martin Snyder. That was rough to see (although apparently tame compared to what they actually filmed before the censors stepped in). And Cagney’s Oscar-nominated performance is also one of his best (even if he is still playing a gangster)! The score is fun, although I can definitely say that I always enjoy her version of the Irving Berlin song “Shakin’ The Blues Away” (and considering how much I like the film Easter Parade, which also used that song, that’s saying something)! While this movie was most likely not completely accurate (although where it veers off, I would be hard-pressed to tell, since I don’t know much about Ruth Etting), it’s still a wonderful film from the 1950s, and it’s one I have no trouble recommending!

This movie is available on Blu-ray (certainly the best way to see it, in my opinion!) and DVD from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 2 hours, 2 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Young At Heart (1954)Doris DayThe Pajama Game (1957)

White Heat (1949)James CagneyMister Roberts (1955)

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