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Monday, April 26, 2021

Fifty Years of Film in 50 weeks, #12: Love Me Tonight, 1932

"The son of a gun is nothing but a tailor!" "Isn't it romantic"? 

We are now into the height of the pre-Code era with this musical delight of a film.

Love Me Tonight, 1932

Director: Rouben Mamoulian
Writers: Samuel Hoffenstein, George Marion, Jr., and Waldemar Young, adapted from a play by Leopold Marchand and Paul Armont
Cinematographer: Victor Milner
Produced by: Rouben Mamoulian for Paramount Pictures
Starring: Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Charles Ruggles, Charles Butterworth, Myrna Loy, C. Aubrey Smith
Music and lyrics by: Rodgers and Hart

Why I chose it
I love watching films from the early 1930s and have seen many of the big ones from 1932. Love Me Tonight was one of a handful of recommended new-to-me films; I chose it after it tied with Vampyr in my Twitter poll. The fact that I hadn't seen much of anything from classic film superstar Jeanette MacDonald gave the musical the edge. 

'No-spoiler' plot overview
Our hero, Parisian tailor Maurice (Chevalier), is duped by the penniless Viscount Gilbert de Varèze (Ruggles) into producing a boatload of suits for him on credit. Finally determined to collect what is owed to him, he ventures to the Chateau where the Viscount lives with his imperious Uncle (Smith), various elderly aunts, and cousins Countess Valentine (Loy) and Princess Jeanette (MacDonald). Coincidentally, Maurice had literally run into Jeanette on the road and fell instantly for her; his feelings were not immediately returned. 

To prevent his uncle from finding out about his debts, the Viscount introduces newly-arrived Maurice as a 'Baron'. Thus welcomed as an honored guest in the household, Maurice goes along with the ruse to get close to Jeanette. Ultimately she reciprocates his advances, but once his cover is blown, will they live happily ever after?

Production Background and 1931 in Film History
This film fits nicely into the style that early Paramount Pictures spun into cinema gold: sophisticated and 'continental' comedies and musicals. Russian-born director Mamoulian was a great fit there; he was hired at Paramount's Astoria (NY) studios after directing a number of stage musicals in the 1920s.

Mark Cousins, in his book The Story of Film, said Love Me Tonight is "so explosively innovative that it makes the majority of contemporaneous films look hopelessly dated." He cites Mamoulian's "major coup" as recording the musical and percussive score before the shoot started - unheard of in cinema at that point. In the scene where Maurice first arrives at the chateau, "he seems to dance and dart around the huge rooms" in time to the music. 

At the time the film was released it wasn't seen as a big hit, as 1932 was a down year for musicals before Warner Bros.' 42nd Street resurrected them, but ultimately notched #7 for box office proceeds in 1932. For its post-Production Code re-release (after 1934), this film was trimmed down to 96 minutes to remove more salacious lyrics and costuming. Those missing minutes have never been restored and are presumed lost.

Some other notable film-related events in 1932*:

  • Director George Cukor's A Bill of Divorcement marked the film debut of 24-year-old Katharine Hepburn as Sydney Fairfield (misspelled as Sidney and Katherine in the credits).
  • MGM's classic Best Picture-winning film masterpiece Grand Hotel was the first 'all-star' epic featuring many high-powered stars of the early 1930s, including John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Joan Crawford, and Greta Garbo, etc. 
  • Welsh-born English actress Millicent Lillian "Peg" Entwistle gained notoriety by tragically committing suicide from atop the Hollywoodland sign  - she allegedly jumped from the giant "H". She had been in only one contracted Hollywood movie role (a bit part) since arriving in the LA area, RKO's Thirteen Women (1932), and it turned out to be the last for the 24-year-old discouraged actress. 
  • Paramount Pictures, founded in 1912, began to curtail activities in its East Coast studios in Astoria (Long Island, NY) and moved to Hollywood, once the conversion to "talkies" was complete.

*Thanks to Filmsite.org

My Random Observations
  • Talent overfloweth in this one: Chevalier and MacDonald, of course, and reliably excellent character actors Charles Ruggles, C. Aubrey Smith, Elizabeth Patterson, and Robert Grieg. That said, how underused was Myrna Loy in this one? I'm still really not sure what she was doing there (!). She had freshly graduated from playing exotic and sometimes villainess types in silents but had yet to advance to leading lady roles. Her day will come within a couple of years.
  • As this *may* be the only complete film I've seen with Jeanette MacDonald, my verdict: I like her. She was sassy, elegant, and at once innocent and worldly. Not sure I'm totally sold on her voice, though,although it fits the style of Rodgers and Hart's songs.
  • The opening scene, with the sun rising on Paris and numerous workers and craftspeople beginning their day, had me tapping my toes and snapping my fingers. The rhythmic blend of sounds crescendoed until the camera found Chevalier and he broke into song. You can't go wrong with a movie that starts like this. The opening scene can be viewed here: 

  • The musical numbers overall were tremendously memorable thanks to the genius of Rodgers and Hart. I had no idea that the classic 'Isn't it Romantic?' originates in this film. 
  • Maurice Chevalier seemed to always play the same charming French romantic rogue, but nobody did it better. While I loved this film, my favorite Chevalier remains The Smiling Lieutenant with Miriam Hopkins and Claudette Colbert.
Screenshots
Paris is bustling in the early morning.

Our first glimpse of our Maurice with his million-dollar smile.

Don't trust any man (Ruggles) who pretends to run a street race
because he doesn't have any outerwear!

Everyone joins in singing "Isn't it romantic?"

First glimpse of the lovely princess Jeanette - singing, of course.

Valentine (Myrna Loy) is enjoying this tiff between the Viscount
(Ruggles) and their uncle the Duke (Smith).

The doctor tells Jeanette's assorted relatives that her 
fainting spells will abate if she marries a young man(!)

Robert Grieg once again cast as butler, shows Maurice the way.

A hunting expedition results in a little accident for Maurice,
but brings him into the orbit of his love, Jeanette.

Jeanette finally acknowledges her feelings for Maurice,
but doesn't yet know that he's 'nothing but a tailor'.

Shot superimposition catches Jeanette watching Maurice 
walk down the winding path away from the Chateau

You better not mess with Jeanette - she's determined here
to stop a moving train on its tracks.

Where to Watch
The film is on DVD available through Kino Lorber. A few versions of the film are currently up on YouTube. 

Further Reading    
Richard Barrios's essay for the National Film Preservation Board here.
Fellow CMBA blogger and film historian Annette Bochenek from Hometowns to Hollywood film blog adds her thoughts and fills in some production details here.

2 comments:

  1. This is a nice review of a nice movie I onc caught late at night on TV. I was instantly sold when the first scenes started and I don't regret a second staying up late to watch it! Even though Myrna Loy was underused, I liked her part, but C. Aubrey Smith is always stealing the scenes for me.
    Cheers!

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Lê, thank you for stopping by! I'm glad you enjoyed the film, too. I agree about C. Aubrey Smith. It seems that he is appearing almost every time I watch a movie from the early to mid-1930s. You can't mistake him, and he's always terrific.

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