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Frothy? Dramatic? Odd mix that entertains due to its peerless lead performances.,
This review is from: Love Me or Leave Me [DVD]  (DVD)
Out of MGM, Love Me or Leave Me is directed by Charles Vidor and stars Doris Day, James Cagney & Cameron Mitchell. Written by Daniel Fuchs and Isobel Lennart, the film is loosely based on the true story of legendary 20s torch singer Ruth Etting (Day) and her rise to fame propelled by Chicago gangster Marty "The Gimp" Snyder (Cagney). It's shot in CinemaScope/Eastmancolor and features a number of Etting standards along with a couple of new tunes written especially for the film.
Vidor's movie was a box office success that earned six Oscar nominations, one of which was for Cagney in the Best Actor category. Most surprising on the nominations list is the absence of one for Day. Surprising since as good as Cagney is here (all snarly, bossy and maniacal gangster like), this most assuredly is Day's movie as she turns in arguably a career best performance. Etting herself wanted Jane Powell to play her in the movie, whilst Ava Gardner was courted, and courted back, for the role. But Cagney was sure that Day was right for the part, how right he turned out to be.
That Day would be able to carry off the tunes was a given, that she could immerse herself successfully in a character calling for a strong dramatic bent, still carried a question mark. Thankfully she delivers, even if her fluffy girl next door persona remains in tact. This comes down to much of the hard edge of the story from the source being absent or skirted over (Etting's battle with alcohol, pre-marital sex & infidelity), but Day and Cagney really manage to make the real life odd coupling come alive on the screen; and thus the dark aspects loom in the air just about enough to make us aware. She shows a naive, vulnerable, yet fame hungry streak, while he shows up to be a driven bully who literally will do what it takes to protect his "possession".
However, the blend of a musical, gangster basis and biography never fully works. In fact, even tho the songs are a joy (particularly a sultry Day warbling Ten Cents a Dance), there's too many numbers used. Many times when the film threatens to really break out into bold territory, a number is inserted and the dramatic ark hits the buffers. This also gives off a feeling of repetition as time and again Cagney goes ape about something, Doris sighs and then she sings, and on it goes. All told the film is an odd fusion of intents, as odd as the central relationship of the piece in fact. In lesser hands it could have been a misfire (credit to good performances from Mitchell & Robert Keith too), but even tho it has faults, and suffers from the absence of daring, the lead actors make it a hugely enjoyable movie regardless. 7/10