Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

LOVE ME TONIGHT

Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald
LOVE ME TONIGHT (1932). Director: Rouben Mamoulian.

"I don't know what will come tomorrow, but love me tonight."

Tailor Maurice (Maurice Chevalier) is hoping to be paid a large bill for several suits by the deadbeat Viscount Gilbert (Charles Ruggles). To that end Maurice travels to the home of the man's uncle, the Duke d'Artelines (C. Aubrey Smith), whom he is visiting. There Maurice becomes smitten with the Princess Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald), who finds him rude and brash. Not wanting his uncle to realize he has yet another creditor nipping at his heels, Gilbert tells everyone that Maurice is actually a baron, and then an even greater dignitary traveling incognito. Slowly, Maurice begins to wear the princess down, but what happens when she learns he's just a tailor ..? Love Me Tonight would have to go on the list as one of the best movie musicals ever made. The story is slight, and often zany, but this is cinematic, very well directed by Mamoulian, with superior cinematography (Victor Milner of So Red the Rose) and editing (Mamoulian and William Shea). Chevalier gives an excellent and charming performance, MacDonald is swell, and Smith as effective and fun as ever. Ruggles is fine, but Myrna Loy as a countess and Charles Butterworth as a hopeless suitor for the princess's affections are less memorable. Elizabeth Patterson, Ethel Griffies, and Blanche Friderici stand out as a trio of "old biddies" who almost serve as a Greek chorus and are very funny.

And then there's the music. Although this was based on a straight stage play and not a musical, Rodgers and Hart provided several songs that were written just for the movie. The best-known is Isn't It Romantic, a standard. and a classic Rodgers melody. It is first sung (not that well, frankly) by Chevalier, then picked up by a customer in his shop, a cab driver, moving on to several other people throughout the French countryside, until the tune is taken up by marching soldiers and finally McDonald, whose voice is very imperfect but who at least sings the tune better than Chevalier. (He could get across a song without having a great voice). We also have "Lover;" "Apache:" "The Son of a Gun;" the title tune; and "Mimi." Some of Hart's racy lyrics survive intact in this pre-code movie (the production code was formed two years earlier, but not really enforced until 1934 when pictures had to obtain a certificate of approval.) Chevalier sings of how his father and mother "weren't very well acquainted."

Now here's where things get odd. Chevalier sings "Mimi" to MacDonald but the song is never repeated. I could swear that the first time I saw this movie, "Mimi" was intoned by virtually everyone in the movie. Am I confusing it with what happened with "Isn"t it Romantic?" But in the wikipedia entry regarding the song, it says that the song is "later reprised by the entire company." Could this have happened in a later movie? I swear I remember dozens of people singing the tune in Love Me Tonight, and the DVD doesn't say anything about the film being cut. Anyone know what's up?

The movie has other notable scenes, such as a Foxhunt in which Chevalier winds up befriending a frightened stag, and MacDonald's racing on a horse to get ahead of a train. The film begins with all of the sounds of Paris combining to form a kind of music.

Verdict: A lovely and entertaining gem, if a little odd at times. ***1/2.

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