I’m glad the movie musical is making a comeback, but let’s get back to its roots. I’m not talking Mamma Mia. There will be no singing Pierce Brosnan in the film I’m referring to. Forget Hairspray. You will not be seeing Ricki Lake dancing or John Travolta in a dress. Step away from all that 21st Century silliness, and into Golden Age Hollywood.
Okay, Love Me Tonight from 1932 is still pretty silly, but in a completely heartwarming, timeless, black & white film kind of way. It comes from director Rouben Mamoulian who went on to direct the first Broadway runs of Oklahoma!, Porgy and Bess, and Carousel. In Love Me Tonight, with French hottie Maurice Chevalier and blonde beauty Jeanette MacDonald, Mamoulian sets out to satirize the beloved movie musical. The writers didn’t even bother coming up with different first names for Maurice and Jeanette. And apparently no one told Jeanette that the whole bit was a spoof because you can just tell she’s taking the whole thing quite seriously.
Maurice plays a Parisian tailor and Jeanette a princess. The film is a fairy tale of sorts, making it easy to get swept away. Maurice ends up at Jeanette’s castle after getting ripped off by her cousin. And that’s when the whole mistaken identity thing begins. Suddenly all the important people take Maurice the tailor for Maurice the baron. So he sings and dances and they all fall in love with him, including prissy princess Jeanette. A pretty run of the mill fairy tale, but it’s the songs by Rodgers and Hart that really wow, along with the performances by supporting actors Myrna Loy (her first “non-exotic” role) and comedian Charles Ruggles. Be sure to watch out for Ruggles talking about his “flute” and dancing with 1 pound dumbbells.
Reasons to watch: Mamoulian was one of the most innovative directors of his time. You know how musicals integrate songs into the storyline so you don’t just have a random performance that’s really an excuse for men to stare at some pretty lady sing? Yeah, that was Mamoulian. He also said, hey, we should make the camera move and we should use more than one microphone. Which are obviously terrible ideas.
Warnings: You will likely have the songs “Mimi” and “Isn’t It Romantic” stuck in your head for days, if not weeks. Also, this film gets pretty risqué for the Hays Code era (see Will Hays left). Not sure how Maurice taking a tape measure to Jeanette’s boobies got past the censors, but I’m not complaining! They also end up in bed together via split screen action.
Who to watch with: Well, I watched Love Me Tonight alone, but that’s just because I’m a terribly lonely woman who can’t find anyone to love and would rather spend the evening on the couch with her cats. But in your case, watch it with a sense of humor and a lover. Watch it with a deep appreciation for French men and silly situations. If you can find a French man watch it with him. If you do not know any French men, you can always put an ad out on Craigslist.
Who not to watch with: Frat boys or anyone who takes themselves too seriously. Or, on second thought, do watch it with them. If any movie can free them from their “I’m too cool for movie musicals” delusions it’s Love Me Tonight.