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My Very Favorite Doris Day Film, Bar None


As a performer, Doris Day had it all from the start. Beautiful, sexy, and gifted with one of the loveliest voices ever to grace the silver screen, she also had an enormous gift for light comedy that made her a superstar at Warner Bros in a series of lighter-than-air musicals as good as anything MGM and the Freed unit ever produced. And later on, her talent for comedy would make her a legend in three unforgettable, hilarious films co-starring her pal Rock Hudson; the first of these, PILLOW TALK, would garner Day her only Oscar nomination.

Now a talent for comedy is not to be despised; in fact, any actor will tell you that in many ways comedy is harder to do than drama. But it seemed to come so easily to Day that when she made the 1955 biopic of 1920's singer Ruth Etting, LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, some of her fans were shocked. For while LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME has plenty of music in it, sung only as Day could sing, it was a far cry from the lightweight stuff people associated with her.

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME is a slightly fictionalized biography of Ruth Etting, who was quite a big singing star in the 1920s and who actually made a couple of film appearances in the early sound era. And it marked a huge departure for Day, playing a broad on the make with questionable morals who gets mixed up with Chicago gangster Martin "The Gimp" Snyder, played with his customary intensity by the legendary James Cagney.

Day does not pull any punches in this film. Etting is no innocent girl from the country. She is an ambitious singer who wants to go places and is not too scrupulous about allowing Snyder to help her career along. That he does so because he is smitten with her she is fully aware of but she tries to pretend she doesn't notice. But Snyder, though a thug, is not a fool, and he is most definitely not accustomed to being denied what he wants. So when Ruth finally gets her big break in the Ziegfeld Follies, and Marty is barred from backstage, he throws a huge fit, breaks her contract with Ziegfeld, and rapes Ruth in a shockingly obvious scene for a 1950s film. Next thing we know, she has married him.

Ruth is a woman who is great on the stage but cannot stop making bad choices in life. Marrying Snyder out of a sense of obligation, she does not love him and it isn't long before she is in utter misery, particularly when she goes to Hollywood and reunites with old flame Johnny Alderman (Cameron Mitchell), who she still carries a torch for but does not dare to get close to for fear of what her insanely jealous husband will do.

This is by far the hardest-hitting film Doris Day ever made, and pitted against the immortal Cagney, she reveals a set of acting chops as sharp and as hungry as his. She matches him scene for scene and moment for moment, and their scenes together grow in intensity until the final confrontation when she demands a divorce, which devastates her husband and drives him to seek revenge.

It would be unfair to reveal too much more. This is without a doubt my very favorite of all of Doris Day's movies, an unflinching look at a woman who isn't always sympathetic, and Day has no problems showing Etting's true nature, warts and all. And when she is working with Cagney the screen threatens to catch fire.

Brilliant, intense, disturbing, and with gorgeous music. What a package.



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I totally agree with you scottsteaux63-735-780576 because it is a hard-hitting film. Its really too bad that Doris Day didn't make more films like this. Instead she went back to her original light comedy roots and more or less continued there except for The Man Who Knew Too Much. In fact, Robert Osbourn mentioned that he wished she had gone on to make more dramas like Love Me or Leave Me. But all in all, it is wonderful that this movie was made and it is engaging due to the beautiful sets and costumes, fun because of the music and scary due to the realistically abusive relaltionship. Back in the day, if someone was raped many times society believed it was imperative the individuals get married. I know, its weird by today's standards. But that was the deal back then. So Doris Day's character was upset because she knew she would either have to marry him or give up her budding career. If she gave up her career what would she do then? So because of the societal rules and etc of the time and the fact that she wanted her career, she married the a-hole. BTW, Cagney was great, as usual and so freaking on the mark, playing the criminally-associated brute. He was totally channeling a lesser version of Cody Jarrett.
At any rate, I love this movie as well and never tire of the TCM showings. Even though I have it Tivo'd its fun to watch. As Moe the Gimp Snyder would say, "Tell 'em you seen me in the pokey and I looked great! Tell 'em I like it! Makes me feel like a kid again!"

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Doris Day didn't like to make downbeat dramas like this. She preferred comedies or romantic movies.

I imagine Cagney's abusive character reminded her of her first husband.

I agree with your review. It's not often all the talents of an icon like Doris Day are captured on film for all time. It's her best dramatic performance as well as her best vocal performance. I'm so happy she made this movie.

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Even though other actresses playing singers were nominated for oscars and Doris wasn't, I think her performance has stood the test of time much better than Eleanor Parker's or Susan Hayward's.

I don't even remember what Parker was nominated for.

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I'm with you! Greatest role for Doris - allows her to reveal her many exceptional talents! She's So good, and so underappreciated!

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I agree with most of what you wrote, Scott, but you lost the ball when you
stated that Warner Brothers' musicals "were as good as MGM made." Uh, that was
very rarely the case. Even Day herself always wished she were at MGM for
musicals .

There's a reason MGM has THREE "That's Entertainment" films, and WB has NONE.

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