Love Me Tonight, 1933
Dir: Rouben Mamoulian
I guess anybody who reads this blog can tell I'm following some "strict code" to the movies that I watch, but when Love Me Tonight came up I felt a little depressed. This is because it's a musical and I thought that I was going to be wasting my time, 'cause most musicals are made for one reason only and that is to make girls go watch movies who normally wouldn't. That in itself is not a bad thing, but the results usually piss me off. Everyone just starts singing and dancing for no reason and any flow the film had just disappears into lame people mugging for camera time. Or maybe an elaborate dance number that makes you forget what the fuck the film was about in the first place. I was sort of expecting something like this, the 30s musicals that I've seen not really changing my mind about musicals in general (true story: first film in the first film studies class that I took at BU: Gold Diggers of 1933. Didn't quite understand the big deal about Busby Berkely's dreams. Pig Latin. For real?). Hear this though: Love Me Tonight is never annoying (well only occasionally, but that's a huge compliment coming from me) constantly funny and as cool as the underside of a pillow on a hot summer night.
OK, so this is a chick flick, and the basic plot premise involves the pauper and rich girl-princess dynamic where true love prevails. But right from the beginning you can tell that it's different. The songs are all talk-singy ditties that roll right along with the plot, so you're never tapping your foot with frustration for it to start moving along again. So when fashionable Parisian tailor Maurice (Maurice Chevalier) gets gypped by a debtor Count (Charles Ruggles), he decides to go out to the country estate where the skirter resides with his aristocratic family to collect his due. After his ride breaks down on the way, he bumps into a beautiful girl who is out riding and he manically professes his love, not knowing that this is the Princess Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald), who lives in the same estate as her sleazy, if very funny Count cousin. I bet it's really awkward when this commoner tailor shows up!!
There are many really cool things about this film, but I suppose the first thing that you have to talk about is Maurice Chevalier and the unstoppable dynamo that he is in this. His first sort of "going to work" walking-song is laugh-out loud funny, eg. he confronts a woman on the street with another man and says in mock outrage, "Oh what, some other boyfriend?" and the man's real outraged response of "This is my wife!" is prefect, especially when added to Chevalier's "my mistake" face as he saunters away. His devil-may-care attitude throughout the film just adds to the overall enjoyment of the viewing. Like I said earlier, Ruggles is the quick-wit fuck up and slides along in the role quite nicely.
The ladies are pretty decent, but I'm going to talk about a strange thing that I've noticed about some of these old films. Maybe it's just my modern sensibilities, but there is something about a lot of these supporting female roles (usually pre-code stuff) that are way more appealing to me than all of these haughty-bitchy good-girls who finally come to their senses when they realize they might miss out on love or some shitz. The man-crazy, personality disorder floozies that plays the "bad" half of the 30s woman dichotomy, is just, well, hotter. I mean, Jeanette MacDonald has the leading lady looks, but she is also flattered by all those soft light close-ups. But Myrna Loy, who plays the bad-girl cousin, is a smoke-show and all of her lines are about how she wants to get railed (in a polite, clever 1930s way, of course). Maurice man, make the right (wrong) choice!
As far as Mamoulian goes, he just seems like a really cool cat that decided if he wanted to have his films watched he was probably going to have to make musical comedies. The entire film is a smooth ride, and tremendously cinematic, lots of nice fade to interiors after sweeping shots of buildings (many miniatures), and all the editing top-notch, a rarity for a musical. It just oozes style. I'm still kind of shocked at my reaction to this, but yeah, it's really good. Oh yeah, great date movie.