9 November 2000 | lugonian
A Musical Fairy Tale
LOVE ME TONIGHT (Paramount, 1932) directed by Rouben Mamoulian, marks the third teaming of Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, following THE LOVE PARADE (1929) and ONE HOUR WITH YOU (1932), as well as their best collaboration of four musicals together, in fact, the privilege of being one of the best musicals ever made in the 1930s.
The story focuses on a French tailor named Maurice (Maurice Chevalier) who is swindled out of his fee by the Vicomte DeVarez (Charles Ruggles). He soon sets out for the castle of the Vicomte's uncle, The Duke (C. Aubrey Smith) to collect the fee. While there, at the advice of the Vicomte, who promises to pay him within a few days, to remain at the castle under the guise of a royal Baron. Maurice, who had earlier encountered Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald), a beautiful but lonely princess, immediately falls in love with her, in spite of her resistance. Things start to look bright for Maurice and Jeanette until it is discovered that Maurice is not nothing but a tailor.
The supporting cast consists of Myrna Loy (on loan from MGM) as Countess Valentine; Charles Butterworth as Count DeSavignac, the deadpan character who loves Jeanette as well as his flute; Elizabeth Patterson, Ethel Griffies and Blanche Frederici as the maiden aunts; Robert Greig as Flamond; with Clarence Wilson and Gordon Westcott, among others. The biggest surprise is Myrna Loy, better known for her sophistication rather than her Oriental vamps from her early years, playing an offbeat character as a man-chasing gal who goes for anything in pants, something to the liking of Lillian Roth, who had demonstrated a similar chore in THE LOVE PARADE. Loy even gets some of the film's most witty lines. In a scene where Jeanette becomes ill, and a doctor is needed, her cousin (Ruggles) asks her, "Could you go for a doctor?" She replies, "Certainly, bring him right in."
With the music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, songs include "The Song of Paree," "How Are You?" (both sung by Maurice Chevalier); "Isn't It Romantic?" (sung by Chevalier, Bert Roach, Rolfe Sedan, Tyler Brooke, cast members and Jeanette MacDonald); "Lover" (sung by MacDonald); "Mimi" (sung by Chevalier); "A Woman Needs Something Like That" (recited by MacDonald and Joseph Cawthorne); "Mimi" (reprise, sung by C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Ruggles, Elizabeth Patterson, Ethel Griffies, Blanche Frederici and Charles Butterworth. Myrna Loy's suggestive version to the song wearing a transparent negligee has been deleted from reissue prints); "I'm an Apache" (sung by Chevalier); "Love Me Tonight" (sung by MacDonald); "The Son-of-a-Gun is Nothing But a Tailor" (sung by cast); and "Love Me Tonight" (sung by Chevalier and MacDonald).
Of the many songs, all are first-rate, but the title tune did not become as memorable as "Isn't It Romantic?" which should have been the film's title since it more fits the mood to the story than "Love Me Tonight." But whatever title, some might shy away from it believing this to be an unbearable sugary love story, but on the contrary, is more than that. It's a love story with a first-rate script, risqué dialog and wonderful tunes that fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. Others might avoid LOVE ME TONIGHT because of its age. Certainly it's old, but in spite of that, it not only gives the impression of being ahead of its time, but that European film-making style to it, ranging from people riding their horses in slow motion photography, lovers communicating in song through their thoughts in split screen, as well as superimposing on MacDonald's face as she must make a big decision while at the same time Chevalier is awaiting for his train with each other's voice singing the title tune in the soundtrack. Up to this time, nothing this original has ever been used for a musical. The wit and wisdom of Ernst Lubitsch might have made LOVE ME TONIGHT a witty love affair, but Mamoulien combines his musical romance with advance technology and style, which is why LOVE ME TONIGHT continues to find a new appreciative audience decades after its initial release. With lines such as, "Once upon a time there was a princess and a prince charming, who was not a prince, but who WAS charming," LOVE ME TONIGHT is a musical fairy tale indeed, something not found in storybooks for children but more on the adult level.
Aside from late night viewing on commercial television from the 1960s to mid 1980s (depending on whatever state this was shown), LOVE ME TONIGHT enjoyed frequent revivals on American Movie Classics cable channel from 1990 to 1996, and resurfaced again on Turner Classic Movies where it premiered July 29, 2004. Thanks to KINO Video, LOVE ME TONIGHT is also available on video cassette and DVD. Originally released at about 100 minutes, prints in circulation today run at 90 minutes. But even the shorter version doesn't take away the impact, simplicity and joy of watching LOVE ME TONIGHT. Sit back, relax and enjoy this one. (****)