Unlike many musical bios of the day, LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME provides a hard-edged love story, augmented with Jazz Age tunes, chronicling the life and times of Prohibition-era torch singer Ruth Etting. This was a once-in-a-lifetime role for Doris Day, who is terrific as Etting in a part unlike
any other she played, calling for her to be alternately sizzling in performance and naive offstage. James Cagney is equally sensational as Marty "The Gimp" Snyder, the ruthless gangster who was her Svengali, and normally lightweight Cameron Mitchell excels as Harry Myrl Alderman (called Johnny in
the film), Etting's true love. Snyder, a powerful Chicago racketeer, sees Etting at a dime-a-dance club. She wants to be a singer, so Marty pushes the owner into giving her a small singing bit. Club pianist Alderman helps her develop her talents, and, with Snyder's aid, Etting eventually becomes a
headliner, going on to radio and a spot in the Ziegfeld Follies in New York. When Etting grows increasingly independent of Snyder, however, he tears up her Ziegfeld contract and takes her on tour, then to movie stardom in Hollywood. There, Alderman resumes subtly courting her, but Snyder has
manipulated her into marrying him, and Etting takes to drink over having to live with a man she does not love.
The chemistry between Cagney and Day is electric, Charles Vidor's direction is lively and inventive, and the overall production lavishly and accurately reproduces the 1920s era. The Jazz Age music is outstanding, superbly performed by Day. (Our favorite? "Ten Cents a Dance".) MGM paid $50,000 for
the song rights alone, as well as hefty sums to Etting, Alderman, and Snyder for the rights to film their lives. Etting later noted that "they took a lot of liberties with my life, but I guess they usually do with that kind of thing". Metro made back the money upon the film's release, however,
when it was enthusiastically received by both critics and audiences.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Unlike many musical bios of the day, LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME provides a hard-edged love story, augmented with Jazz Age tunes, chronicling the life and times of Prohibition-era torch singer Ruth Etting. This was a once-in-a-lifetime role for Doris Day, who is t… (more)