Doris Day's Jazz Singer
Watching Doris Day's "Love Me or Leave Me" is a bit strange because it's a fictionalized account of the career of jazz singer Ruth Etting who to be frank I know little off. But after the revelations which Doris Day made in her autobiography it has a remarkable similarity to her own life with a controlling husband and a not so happy life away from the public eye. Which makes it all the more stunning watching Doris Day take on a character with similarities to herself that it must have been hard to keep her emotions in check. And if that wasn't enough James Cagney delivers a stunning performance as Ruth's domineering husband Marty, a character of many levels.
In the twenties dancer and wannabee singer Ruth Etting (Doris Day - Young at Heart) is spotted by Chicago hood Marty Snyder (James Cagney) who becomes infatuated by the beautiful woman. Taking her under his wing he becomes her manager, building her career as a major star. But whilst in love with Ruth, Marty had a ferocious temper which affects their relationship especially when they end up getting married.
How true to Ruth Etting's life "Love Me or Leave Me" is I couldn't tell you but I would imagine that whilst the characters, career and troubles are authentic, the scenes of drama are fictionalised as to tell the story. And it's as surprisingly enthralling story as we watch the unlikely and uneasy relationship between Ruth and Marty as he manages her career and control's her life leading to their marriage. It's a little slow going, taking its time to develop this relationship and like in real life takes on an almost cycle of events as Marty loses his temper and than tries to do something to make up for it, but it's interesting.
And as you would expect with a story about a jazz singer "Love Me or Leave Me" interweaves various musical numbers into the storyline. Some of them are directly associated to Ruth Etting, others have been written to assist in telling the story, delivering the emotion of how Ruth was feeling at moments during her career. And of course these are sung by Doris Day and what a good job she does, delivering time after time not just a wonderful rendition of a song but also the emotion of the scene, showing her feelings as she sings songs such as "Ten Cents a Dance" and "I'll Never Stop Loving You".
Talking of Doris Day it has to be said that her performance as Ruth Etting is one of her best, but it is only in hindsight that you realise this as in 1955 when "Love Me or Leave Me" was released the revelations about Doris Day's private life were unknown. The storyline has a similarity to that of Day's with various troubled marriages and as such watching Day deliver the emotion of a scene where she watched Marty lose his temper flying off in a rage is just brilliant. How Doris Day managed to make "Love Me or Leave Me" is beyond me, but the fact she could draw on her own experience makes it a strong, believable performance.
But it has to be said that although a wonderful performance from Doris Day, the star of "Love Me or Leave Me" is James Cagney as her husband and manager Marty Snyder with a performance which saw him achieve an Oscar Nomination for Best Actor. The character of Marty is surprisingly multi levelled you have that thuggish side where he achieves things by brutality and violence which Cagney delivers brilliantly with a rage which makes Marty a scary character. But at the same time you get a sense that despite being abusive and controlling he did honestly love Ruth, he just didn't know how to show it normally and Cagney delivers this side of the character as well. Watching Cagney as Marty watching Ruth perform, just the way he looks delivers the emotion of a man in love, but also of one in fear of losing that person.
What this all boils down to is that "Love Me or Leave Me" is an impressive movie. The way the story unravels may be slow but it is also enthralling, lightened up by a whole list of wonderful songs and musical scenes. But it is the touching and emotional performances of Doris Day and James Cagney which make it so good, so real and so effective. It may certainly not be the sort of movie you would expect from Doris Day but it is most definitely one of her best showing her skill as a seriously talented actress.