Nightclub singer Ruth Etting tries to keep her secret romance with a musician under wraps in this dramatic musical based on the life story of the 1930s singer. Etting is controlled by Martin Snyder, who builds a nightclub and makes Etting its star.
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This has a certain gritty power thanks to Cagney’s firecracker energy and Day’s obvious pleasure at playing a conflicted careerist instead of her usual creampuff type. Back in the ’20s, sordidness was clearly part of the lingua franca, and even without much period atmosphere Love Me or Leave Me has a fairly convincing abrasiveness that helps to justify its Oscars.
Being “perceptive of the values in the story” is nothing to be sneezed at, and “dependable” directors do a lot of terrific work. Love Me or Leave Me doesn’t fit into an auteur theory bucket since Vidor . . . didn’t “mark” his films with a particular stamp. He wasn’t prolific, but his career included screwball comedies, horror films, crime stories, and musicals. . . . Doing what was “expected of him” yielded wonderful results.