Love it forever. Along with SWING TIME and perhaps one of Busby Berkeley's best, this film stands as the greatest musical of the 1930s and one of the finest ever. Although the film seems very much in a Lubitsch vein, Rouben Mamoulian directed it, and he is perhaps most responsible for its
stunning appeal. His earliest period in film (1929-34) was certainly his greatest and in this film he displays such audacity in playing with sound and image that it's no wonder he frightened everyone in Hollywood.
The tale of a romance between Princess Jeanette (MacDonald) and Maurice the tailor (Chevalier), LOVE ME TONIGHT is effervescent frippery to be sure, but it's so inventive as to be downright eerie. The slow-motion retreat from the lovers' cottage still astounds and Jeanette's final ride on
horseback to stop a train is dramatically quite striking. One is not likely to forget the dark shadows of Chevalier's "I'm an Apache" number or the cutting and framing of both the title duet and the witty "The Son of a Gun Is Nothing But a Tailor". Jeanette's three worrisome aunts could almost be
comic variants of the witches in MACBETH and, at one point, they sound like a kennel in an uproar. The film mocks those very conventions the genre employs, from the famous traveling rendition of "Isn't It Romantic?" to the sudden thud of a ladder which ends Jeanette's balcony reverie.
The cast, too, is quite remarkable, and they make the most of the saucy pre-Code antics. Ruggles's mad dash in his underwear and Butterworth's "I fell flat on my flute" demonstrate comic diffidence of the highest caliber. In what is almost certainly her most memorable role before achieving
stardom, Loy plies her smooth comic touch and gets to add a naughtiness she usually wasn't allowed later. Her man-crazy Vantine displays a freshness partly inspired by Mamoulian and Loy's creating the part as they went along. When someone is ill and she is asked, "Could you go for a doctor?" she
instantly replies, "Oh, yes, send him in." The starring duo, meanwhile, enjoy one of their greatest partnerings here. Though we like some of her later films with Nelson Eddy, the genial, risque tension between Chevalier and MacDonald works as deliciously as vodka in orange juice. MacDonald is not
sufficiently appreciated for her wonderful comic flair and Mamoulian is bold enough to simply toss off her spirited rendition of "Lover" in long shot, knowing that her play with both an uncooperative horse and the ending of the verses will be funnier that way. She matches the winking Frenchman
innuendo for innuendo and her carefully stylized, sexy performance fits perfectly within the film's magnificent sense of hypberbole. Finally, the incomparable Chevalier knows exactly what he's up to as well here. Not conventional leading man material, he's both beautifully tongue-in-cheek and
utterly sincere. His naughtiness avoids the puerile and the nasty, yet he can get more out of his signature song "Mimi" than any lyricist can write.
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