4 September 2006 | blanche-2
Great performances, great singing highlight the story of Ruth Etting
Doris Day portrays singing great Ruth Etting in "Love Me or Leave Me," a 1955 film costarring James Cagney and Cameron Mitchell. The film tells the story, somewhat fictionalized, of Etting's rise to fame in the 1920s and her association and marriage to Marty "The Gimp" Snyder, a Chicago gangster. In the story, Etting is highly ambitious, and Marty helps her career after picking her up in a dance hall and realizing he's not going to get anywhere. He's hoping for the big prize - i.e., Ruth - at the end of the rainbow, but though she's grateful, she's never going to be THAT grateful. Finally, he becomes so angry that he rapes her (this is suggested in the film but the scene was cut by the censors). She marries him, though she's in love with a pianist, Marty Alderman.
This film was made about five years before Ross Hunter glamorized Doris and made her the #1 box office star in a series of comedies, three of which were with Rock Hudson. Before that, she was a pretty woman with a sweet, smooth voice and sturdy acting ability. And nowhere does she demonstrate all three qualities as she does here. And throw in a sensational figure in some stunning gowns to boot. Doris' Ruth is a young woman who looks and acts like sugar but has the determination of steel underneath. She speaks softly but has the glint of ambition in her eye. Day's voice and style are nothing like Etting's, but the producers and director weren't looking for an imitation. Doris looks and sounds fantastic, singing a huge amount of music, including "Ten Cents a Dance," the title song, "Chasing the Blues Away" and many others.
Cagney gives an extremely powerful performance as Marty, a pushy little man with a huge insecurity and a passion for Ruth. It is a fully fleshed out portrayal of an abusive, possessive man that you can hate and pity at the same time. Cagney deservedly won an Oscar nomination for the role of Marty. He and Doris' contrasting acting styles mesh beautifully as well.
Though there were liberties taken with the Etting story, if you read her bio, it sounds just like the film. Did the movie have a '20s and the '30s feel to it? Not really. But it doesn't matter. The film is in color and has a rich look, and what a score. What actors. A must see.