Love Me or Leave Me
Directed by Charles Vidor
Written by Daniel Fuchs and Isobel Lennart, story by Fuchs
First viewing/Netflix rental
Strong performances by James Cagney and Doris Day raise this musical biopic above the average.
It is the Roaring Twenties. Marty (‘The Gimp’) Snyder (Cagney) runs a laundry to restaurants and clubs in Chicago that mainly functions as a protection racket. Ruth Etting (Day) is working as a dancer in one of the clubs he “services”, a job at which she has no talent. Marty spots her in the line and decides she will make a great next girlfriend. The feisty Ruth gives him the brush off until he figures out what she really wants – to be a singer. With his contacts in the city, he offers to get her work. Ruth needs the help but resists Martin’s sexual advances. Pianist Johnny Alderman (Cameron Mitchell), who is sweet on Ruth, warns her against getting trapped by Marty.
Marty is surprised to discover that his protege has real talent. Once she has a venue, she is a big hit. Foolishly, however, Ruth continues to rely on Marty’s management. Eventually, he gives her no choice but to take their relationship to the next step. They marry soon after.
Once Ruth hits the big time, Marty changes from an asset to a liability. He cannot break the habit of getting what he wants with his fists. She is totally miserable in the marriage but retains a kind of loyalty to the man, partly based on fear. Can she free herself before succumbing to despair and alcohol? With Robert Keith as Ruth’s agent and friend.
James Cagney is excellent in this movie. He brings a lot of humanity to his very unsympathetic character. Day is very good as well and sings a series of standards from the era. I enjoyed it a lot.
Love Me or Leave Me won an Academy Award in the category of Best Writing, Motion Picture Story. It was nominated in the categories of Best Actor; Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Sound, Recording; Best Music, Original Song (“I’ll Never Stop Loving You”); and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.