#598) Love Me Tonight (1932)

#598) Love Me Tonight (1932)

OR “Tailor’s Delight”

Directed by Rouben Mamoulian

Written by Samuel Hoffenstein & George Marion Jr. and Waldemar Young. Based on the play “The Tailor at the Castle” by Léopold Marchand and Paul Armont. Score by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.

Class of 1990 

The Plot: Maurice Courtelin (Maurice Chevalier) is a tailor in Paris who always has a song in his heart. While trying to collect money from his client, the fast-talking Vicomte Gilbert de Varèze (Charlie Ruggles), Maurice tracks him down at the chateau of Gilbert’s uncle the Duc d’Artelines (C. Aubrey Smith). Complications arise when Gilbert introduces Maurice as the “Baron Courtelin”, and Maurice falls for the Duc’s niece Princess Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald). There’s music, romance, comedy, and Myrna Loy as a thirsty Comtesse.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “one of the most original of 1930s musicals”, praising Mamoulian’s direction, the “effervescent” script, and the two leads (apparently Chevalier has “saucy charm”). An essay by movie musical expert Richard Barrios is a love letter to the film’s creativity.

But Does It Really?: While not the most iconic of early movie musicals, “Love Me Tonight” may have been the first musical to crack the code. Previous musicals of the era were typically revues of unrelated songs and acts, but “Love Me Tonight” effectively weaves its songs into the story and characters, creating an enjoyable experience that holds up reasonably well 90 years later. There are more famous musicals on this list for sure, but none of them would be here without the stepping stone of “Love Me Tonight”.

Everybody Gets One: Lyricist Lorenz Hart was introduced to composer Richard Rodgers in 1919, and the two spent the next 24 years writing 26 musicals. Among the songs these shows spawned were such staples as “The Lady Is a Tramp“, “Blue Moon” and “My Funny Valentine“. Unfortunatley, Hart’s frequent bouts with alcoholism led to some tensions with Rodgers, and the two parted ways shortly before Hart’s death in 1943. “Love Me Tonight” was one of several movie musicals Rodgers & Hart were commissioned to write during the 1930s.

Title Track: We’ll talk more about the title number later, but I will take this time to voice my disappointment that nobody in this movie sings the Tom Jones song also called “Love Me Tonight”.

Seriously, Oscars?: “Love Me Tonight” was released in August 1932 which, due to the Oscar’s off-calendar eligibility period, meant it couldn’t compete until the 1933 Oscars. Ultimately, “Love Me Tonight” received zero nominations. Paramount’s Best Picture contenders that year were “A Farewell to Arms” and fellow NFR entry “She Done Him Wrong“.

Other notes 

  • Leave it to the man who directed “Applause” to bring something new to the movie musical. You can see Mamoulian’s influence in the first scene, a non-verbal sequence in which the entire town begins its day in a rhythmic routine crescendoing to the opening number. It’s like they all live in the town from “Beauty and the Beast”.
  • Interestingly enough, I think movie musicals needed the Great Depression to survive and evolve. Moviegoers were looking for escapism once the Depression hit, and who wouldn’t want to escape to a story of romance and royalty in Paris?
  • Maurice Chevalier had been a sensation in both France and America in the 1920s, and became interested in film acting once sound came along. His early films with Paramount were box office hits, with “The Love Parade” and “The Big Pond” even earning him Oscar nominations. His 1932 film “One Hour With You” paired him with Jeanette MacDonald (a stage performer making her film debut) and was the biggest hit of his career. “Love Me Tonight” was tailored to both Chevalier and MacDonald’s talents, hence why they share first names with the lead characters. Side note: Whenever he performed in English, Maurice Chevalier always used a more pronounced embellishment of his natural French accent. He didn’t actually sound like that all the time.
  • I’ve read that all the singing in this film was pre-recorded, but it sounds live to me. Maybe it’s a combo of the two?
  • Charlie Ruggles is one of those actors who I’m more familiar with because of this blog. Before this, I only knew him as the Grandpa from “The Parent Trap”, turns out he had a long career as a comic character actor.
  • Easily the most memorable song from this movie is “Isn’t It Romantic?”, presented in a novel approach. It begins with Chevalier singing in his tailor shop (with the camera showing his multiple reflections in the dressing room mirrors), and the song’s infectious melody travels from character to character until it reaches Jeanette MacDonald in her chateau. Very ahead of its time, and still a memorable number.
  • This is my first experience with Jeanette MacDonald, one of the biggest movie singers of the day. She has that ’30s operatic sound I associate with early films: it’s beautiful, but I have no idea what she’s saying. Also, Jeanette MacDonald kinda looks like Gracie Allen, doesn’t she?
  • I’m enjoying Charles Butterworth as Jeanette’s well-meaning but boring suitor. Apparently Butterworth was Daws Butler’s inspiration for the original voice of Cap’n Crunch. I definitely didn’t see that coming.
  • What’s the deal with the three elderly aunts? Did this become “MacBeth” all of a sudden?
  • Myrna Loy is always worth the trip out, especially here as the man-hungry ingenue, a far cry from the more sophisticated, mature women of her later career.
  • Gabby Hayes is in this? I didn’t realize he made movies where he wasn’t a grizzled prospector in the old west.
  • I’m enjoying the usage of “Lover”, a very romantic song, being sung to a horse.
  • “Mimi” is performed in what I call the “Jonathan Demme Shot”; whenever we cut to Chevalier or MacDonald they are staring directly at the camera. It’s a bit unsettling.
  • “Love Me Tonight” was filmed pre-Code, meaning that the film could be a little more suggestive with its dialogue (I’m still shocked someone says “nymphomaniac”). A re-release of the film in the 1940s (under the Code) saw the deletion of about 10 minutes of the more provocative dialogue and scenes – including Myrna Loy in some risqué negligee. Sadly, these moments have never been seen since their deletion.
  • First rule of ’30s musicals: if someone says a line that rhymes, they’re about to start singing.
  • Thunderbolt, the horse initially selected for Maurice to ride, is described as “fast and furious”. Hopefully that horse knows how to Tokyo Drift.
  • This movie’s romance is a variation of “He’s a jerk but she’s okay with it” called “They’re both jerks but we’re all okay with it I guess”. It must be the music.
  • Ooh, a joke that plays with the film’s frame rate. Rouben you clever bastard.
  • “I’m an Apache” is another simple number filmed artistically: Chevalier regales the crowd while his shadow looms tall in the background. I don’t know what it means, but it looks great!
  • Why do so many movies have a guy kissing a sleeping woman? What is this, a Disneyland dark ride?
  • Interesting choice for the title number; “Love Me Tonight” is an inner monologue song! Maurice dreams the song while he lies in bed, imagining his confession to Jeanette. It makes lip-synching a lot easier, that’s for sure. The last shot is a split screen of Maurice and Jeanette asleep in their separate beds, but composed in a way that it looks like they’re sharing a bed. We won’t see something this suggestive again until “Pillow Talk” in 25 years.
  • “The Son of a Gun Is Nothing But a Tailor” goes on way too long, but wins for best rhyme in the movie: “I’d rather throw a bomb on her/than have her wed a commoner.” Hart earned his paycheck that week.
  • The finale is exciting, and the engineer who refuses to stop the train is my favorite character. “What’s the trouble?” “I love him.” “That’s not a real trouble.”

Legacy 

  • “Love Me Tonight” plays today as the next step in the evolution of 1930s movie musicals. I’d argue that the step immediately after this movie was the Astaire/Rogers musicals RKO cranked out in the coming years.
  • Several of the songs from “Love Me Tonight” became standards, including “Lover”, “Mimi”, and “Isn’t It Romantic?”
  • Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier would make a few more musicals in the ’30s, and we’ll see MacDonald again when she teams up with Nelson Eddy in “Naughty Marietta”.
  • Maurice Chevalier left Hollywood in 1935, returning to his native France. After some (cough) controversies during the war, Chevalier returned to Hollywood (albeit on-location in France) in 1957 to star in Billy Wilder’s “Love in the Afternoon”. Chevalier’s film career peaked in 1958 with “Gigi” and an Oscar for lifetime achievement.
  • Rouben Mamoulian would reunite with Richard Rodgers (following the latter’s teaming with Oscar Hammerstein) not in film, but on the stage. In 1943, Mamoulian directed Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration for Broadway, “Oklahoma!”, which revolutionized musical theater in a manner not unlike what we see in “Love Me Tonight”.
  • Perhaps this film’s most amusing legacy: Paramount took the film’s most iconic song and used it for the 1948 musical comedy “Isn’t It Romantic?” with Veronica Lake and Billy De Wolfe. Poorly received upon release, Leonard Maltin’s more-recent critique holds the record for shortest movie review: “‘Isn’t It Romantic?’ No.”

Listen to This: The only Rodgers and Hart song on the National Recording Registry is Ruth Etting’s 1930 rendition of “Ten Cents a Dance”. Interestingly enough, neither Maurice Chevalier or Jeanette MacDonald has made the list.

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