LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (director: Charles Vidor; screenwriters: from the story by Daniel Fuchs/Daniel Fuchs/Isobel Lennart; cinematographer: Arthur E. Arling; editor: Ralph E. Winters; music: Nicholas Brodszky/Percy Faith/George E. Stoll; cast: Doris Day (Ruth Etting), James Cagney (Martin Snyder), Cameron Mitchell (Johnny Alderman), Robert Keith (Bernard V. Loomis), Tom Tully (Frobisher), Robert Keith (Bernard V. Loomis), Harry Bellaver (Georgie), Richard Gaines (Paul Hunter), Peter Leeds (Fred Taylor); Runtime: 122; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joe Pasternak; MGM; 1955)

"Doris was called on to act dramatically and not just sing and be the girl-next-door."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It's loosely based on the true story of the legendary Roaring Twenties torch singer Ruth Etting (Doris Day) and her involvement with the clubfooted small-time Jewish gangster from Chicago named Marty "The Gimp" Snyder (James Cagney), who used strongarm tactics to launch her career. Etting's choice for the role was Jane Powell, but the studio took Cagney's suggestion of Doris. Powell sounded and looked like Etting while Doris didn't, but this didn't stop Doris from making it the role of her lifetime, probably, her best screen role. Doris was called on to act dramatically and not just sing and be the girl-next-door, and did a fine job performing as a good girl so blinded by ambition that she couldn't see her evil mentor. Complementing Doris' performance as the vulnerable and talented singer is Cagney doing his maniacal White Heat act as the vile criminal who must get his way or else. 

Doris sings about a dozen of the standards Etting made famous, with only two new songs; the most memorable being 'You Made Me Love You', 'Mean to Me', 'Shaking the Blues Away', and 'Ten Cents a Dance.'

Charles Vidor ("The Joker Is Wild"/"Gilda"/"A Farewell to Arms") assuredly directs this offbeat biopic that tries damn hard to be hardbitten but its edge is only in the odd casting of Doris and Cagney in a relationship from hell that makes this affair as tough to swallow as it must have been for the real Etting (the mismatched partners in an odd way makes it work). But it lightly dances over any pre-marital sex and Etting's bouts with alcoholism, trying its best to keep the Doris image intact. It's taken from a story by Daniel Fuchs, who cowrites it with Isobel Lennart.

Fired after fighting back after pawed by a customer in a dime-a-dance joint, singer Ruth Etting reluctantly accepts the career help of bossy racketeer Marty "The Gimp" Snyder. Ruth's beginnings as a dance hall girl and her climb up the ladder blossoms after Marty gets her out of the chorus line onto a nightclub singing act and from there on the radio, and then she moves onto the Ziegfeld Follies in New York. Later she will reach Hollywood. 

In New York, the jealous Marty, who only likes her for her looks, forces her to quit the show and she relents to his pressure and marries him. Her singing coach and pianist Johnny Alderman (Cameron Mitchell), who always had a crush on her and warned her about the Svengali-like Marty, comes back in the picture in Hollywood and this brings on some severe jealousy fits by Marty--ones that include Doris getting slapped hard across the kisser and her suitor finding out how far The Gimp will go to protect his possessions.

If you want to compare the real Etting to Doris, watch her singing “No More Love” in the 1933 Eddie Cantor film Roman Scandals. Love Me Or Leave Me was a box office smash and earned six Oscar nominations including a third Best Actor nod for James Cagney, but oddly enough no nomination for Doris--she was clearly the heart and strength of the pic. 

REVIEWED ON 8/13/2007        GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"