Love Me Or Leave Me (1955)

“I’ve had enough! It’s up to here for me. From now on, I’m number one!”

Love Me Or Leave Me Poster

Synopsis:
Aspiring singer Ruth Etting (Doris Day) marries a gangster (Jimmy Cagney) who helps her make a name for herself — but she continues to hold romantic feelings towards her pianist (Cameron Mitchell).

Genres:

Review:
It’s probably safe to say that most film fanatics would be unfamiliar with torch singer Ruth Etting — “American’s Sweetheart of Song” — if it weren’t for this white-washed but relatively gritty biopic about her infamous rise to stardom courtesy of gangster Marty “Moe” Snyder (whose insane jealousy eventually led him to shoot her lover). The screenplay manages to nicely sidestep the issue of whether Etting slept with Snyder during the early, pre-marriage phase of their relationship together (which she surely must have) — instead implying that Snyder eventually raped her and “forced” her into an unhappy marriage. To that end, it’s frustrating to view Etting portrayed in such a uniformly righteous light — and fascinating to know how upset many of Day’s fans nonetheless were at her for deviating so noticeably from her more traditional “good girl” roles.

Given the limitations of their characters as dictated by the screenplay, however, Day and Cagney work wonders with their roles, and share a number of hard-hitting scenes together. Cagney turns in an especially powerful performance as a “gimpy” gangster accustomed to getting his way at every turn, while Day effectively taps into Etting’s emotional core as she struggles to stay loyal to the man she knows she owes her career to despite feeling more and more disgusted by him. Meanwhile, Cameron Mitchell is nicely cast (against type) as Etting’s enduring love interest, waiting patiently behind the wings. Most importantly, however, Day fans will enjoy her fine renditions of a number of Etting’s most noteworthy songs — including “I’ll Never Stop Loving You”, “Shaking the Blues Away”, and the title song. While it’s not must-see viewing for all-purpose film fanatics, Love Me or Leave Me is essential viewing for any fans of Doris Day.

P.S. Check out TCM’s trivia page for the film, which includes a number of interesting tidbits — including the fact that Cagney accepted second billing for the first time since achieving stardom in the 1930s, given his acknowledgment that “Day’s character was more central to the film’s plot”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jimmy Cagney as Martin Snyder
    Love Me Or Leave Me Cagney
  • Doris Day as Ruth Etting
    Love Me Or Leave Me Day
  • Cameron Mitchell as Johnny
    Love Me Or Leave Me Mitchell

Must See?
Yes, for the fine leading performances.

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4 Responses to “Love Me Or Leave Me (1955)”

  1. A must. A class act.

    ~for a biopic, that is. Don’t you wish we could (more often) watch life stories without wondering which parts are true and which are made-up? Sometimes the temptation is just to approach the film as a thing apart, like an adaptation of a novel we prefer. That can be hard to do if the focus is on someone who had major influence in the world (say, Gandhi) – but, since this film covers a lesser-known personality, one can almost watch it as straight fiction.

    Except that, with a little checking, you’ll see that the film is essentially factual; enough for it to be believable, at any rate.

    Director Charles Vidor accomplishes in color for ‘Love Me…’ what he accomplished in black and white for ‘Gilda’: a riveting portrait of a toxic relationship. The film has real drive and rhythm, knockout color schemes and powerhouse performances by Cagney and Day. (Mitchell is effective, if understated.)

    Favorite Cagney moment: early on, he is watching Day sing ‘You Made Me Love You’; he sneaks peeks at those around him in the audience, to see if they think she sings well – but really to validate himself (~the film’s last line will once again show him as a fraud).

    Favorite Day moment: (to Cagney) “You don’t have to sell (yourself to) me. [pause] I’m sold.” The pause ushers in layered meaning. And, generally, Day doesn’t shy from inhabiting this opportunist: “I know what I am.”

    Favorite musical sequence: ‘Shaking the Blues Away’. A stunner!

  2. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to watch a biopic without wondering which parts are true, and which aren’t — unless the film itself explicitly sets out to be a “fictional adaptation”. But I understand your basic sentiment.

    And you’re right to call this out as a “riveting portrait of a toxic relationship” — Day and Cagney ensure that! (who would ever have thought of pairing them as “romantic” leads, btw???)

    I’m not sure I agree about the “drive and rhythm”, though — I’ll admit this one didn’t necessarily keep me glued to my seat throughout; not sure why.

    Love your “fave moments”! Again, Cagney and Day are really spot-on here in their performances.

  3. But, as you no doubt know, that’s the point: they’re not romantic leads. They are two people using each other.

  4. Update: I recently rewatched this as a blu-ray. The enhancement is nice and all but what was of particular interest were the extras, some early short films featuring Ruth Etting – probably made as a way of promoting her. As an actor in these short flicks, Etting leaves a ton to be desired; as a singer, only occasionally does she reveal what she may have had more of. One is left to wonder if Doris Day’s performance helps Etting to be much more interesting than she actually was.

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