An Offer You Can’t Refuse #16: Love Me or Leave Me (dir by Charles Vidor)


The 1955 film, Love Me or Leave Me, is a biopic about singer Ruth Etting.

Don’t know who Ruth Etting is?  Well, don’t feel too bad.  I didn’t know who she was either, at least not until I watched this movie.  Judging from the trailer that I’ve embedded at the top of this review, she was apparently well-known enough in the 50s for a biopic about her to be a big deal.  Having now watched Love Me or Leave Me and having done some independent research, I know that Ruth Etting was a popular singer in the 20 and 30s and that she was, for a while, married to a gangster named Marty Snyder (played, in the film, by James Cagney).  I also know that, after her marriage to Snyder ended, she married a composer named Johnny Alderman (played by Cameron Mitchell).

I still couldn’t tell you just how closely Love Me or Leave Me actually sticks to the facts of Etting’s life.  I imagine that there was a quite a bit of liberty taken with the truth, if just because the film was made in 1955 and it’s one of those big, glossy productions where all of the sets are ornate and all of the clothes are to die for and all of the dialogue has an edge that’s somehow both tough and sentimental.  It feels less like real life and more like the way that you would imagine life to be.

The film begins in the roaring 20s, with Marty Snyder intervening when Ruth nearly gets fired for kicking an obnoxious admirer.  For Marty, it’s obsession at first sight and, even after Ruth refuses to spend a weekend in Miami with him, Marty continues to help her out in her career.  Marty uses his considerable clout (and the fact that everyone is scared to death of him and his temper) to get Ruth on the radio and then eventually a job with the Ziegfeld Follies.  Despite the fact that Ruth is in love with Johnny and Johnny is in love with her, she ends up marrying Marty because she feels that she owes her entire career to him.  Even after they get married, Marty continues to be obsessively jealous.  It all eventually leads to a shooting, an arrest, and a final song from Doris Day.

It’s very much a film of the 50s.  I imagine that audiences in 1955 thought it made perfect sense that Ruth would feel that she owed it to Marty to marry him despite the fact that she never really asked him to do anything for her.  Seen today, though, Marty comes across as being a stalker and you really want someone to sit Ruth down and have a conversation with her about it and maybe explain concepts like gaslighting and restraining orders to her.

My advise, though, would be to not think too much about it because seriously, the film’s sets are beautiful, the musical numbers are entertainingly excessive, and Doris Day gives a really good performance.  For those who only know her from the romantic comedies that she did with Rock Hudson, Love Me or Leave Me is a revelation.  She’s likable and she’s tough and she sings as if the world depended upon it and watching her in Love Me Or Leave Me, you not only understand why Ruth Etting became a star but also why Doris Day did as well.  James Cagney also gives a good performance as Marty Snyder, bringing all of his swaggering charisma to the role.  As a fan of exploitation films, the most interesting thing about Love Me or Leave Me to me was getting to see Cameron Mitchell play a nice guy for a change.  Mitchell does an okay job with the role, though Johnny is never as interesting a character as Marty.  In the end, it’s an entertaining film, an ornate visual feast that works as long as you don’t think about it too much.

Love Me or Leave Me is an offer that you can’t refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband
  15. Bugsy Malone

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #7: The Roaring Twenties (dir by Raoul Walsh)


The 1939 gangster epic, The Roaring Twenties opens with newsreel footage of men like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Adolf Hitler.  We watch as they give speeches and as armed soldiers march across Europe.  For those of us watching in the present, these are figures from the past.  For audiences in 1939, though, these were the men who were shaping both their present and their future.

A narrator informs us that the world has changed much over the past few years and that it’s on the verge of changing again.  The world is preparing for war and who knows what society is going to look like afterwards.  (Interestingly enough, at the time that The Roaring Twenties was released, the U.S. was officially neutral when it came to the war in Europe, with many politicians arguing that the U.S. should pursue an isolationist foreign policy.  Though the film seems to be speaking to a nation that was already committed to war but that was actually not the case.)  The narrator goes on to say that it’s easy to forget what America was like just 20 years ago.  World War I was ending.  Soldiers were returning home.  Prohibition has just become the law of the land and, as a result, there was now a whole new way to make illicit cash.  It was a different era, the narrator tells us, one that is running the risk of being forgotten.

With that narration, it’s made obvious that The Roaring Twenties is designed to be more than just a gangster film.  It’s also a history lesson.  With Americans aware that another war might be coming, perhaps they needed to be reminded of what happened during and after the previous one.  By that same token, with people across the world already dying in the fight for freedom, perhaps Americans needed to be reminded of what happened the last time they allowed the government to take those freedoms away.

The Roaring Twenties tells the story of three men who first met in 1918, while they were all hiding out in a foxhole while a bloody and violent war rages all around them.  (The narrator somewhat archly notes that the three men — like all the men who fought and died in World War I — had been told that they were making “the world safe for democracy.”)  The three of them become friend while under fire and they remain friends when they return home to a war-weary nation that refuses to take care of its veterans.  Unfortunately, that friendship doesn’t survive the roaring 20s.

George Holly (Humphrey Bogart) is a former saloon keeper who becomes a major bootlegger after the passage of prohibition.  George is the type who takes pleasure in gunning down a 15 year-old during World War I.  (“He’ll never make 16,” George says after pulling the trigger.)  He doesn’t improve once he returns home but he does find a lot of success as a bootlegger.  Soon, he’s got a mansion.  He’s got bodyguards.  He goes to the best clubs and owns the best clothes.  Prohibition may have been meant to put George Holly out-of-business but instead it’s made him a rich and influential man.

Lloyd Hart (Jeffrey Lynn) is a college-educated idealist, one who becomes a lawyer once he returns home.  Even the most successful of bootleggers needs a good lawyer but Lloyd refuses to compromise his belief in the law, even when it comes to helping out his friends.  Lloyd will eventually end up working out of the district attorney’s office, where he builds cases against men like George Holly.

And finally, there’s Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney).  Eddie is the film’s main character.  He’s a criminal but, unlike George, he’s not totally corrupt.  In many ways, he’s an idealist but he’s never as self-righteous as Lloyd.  While his friends worry about their place and their role in society, Eddie is just trying to survive.  Before he went off to war, Eddie was a mechanic but, once he returns, he discovers that his job has been filled.  With no other work available, Eddie is finally hired to drive a cab.  What is those cabs could be used to smuggle alcohol?  Eddie finds himself working with Panama Smith (Gladys George) while, at the same time, going to war with Nick Brown (Paul Kelly).  In between making and losing a fortune (due to both the end of prohibition and the 1929 stock market crash), Eddie falls in love with singer Jean Sherman (Priscilla Lane).  Because Eddie can’t leave the rackets, Jean ends up married to Lloyd instead.

The film follows these characters, from 1918 to 1933.  Along the way, it also provides a critique of prohibition.  Prohibition is presented as being a bad law, one that led to men like George Holly getting rich and which destroyed the lives of countless people.  By making liquor illegal, the film argues, it also made it appealing to people who would have otherwise never had a drink.  There’s a definite appeal to the forbidden.  Interestingly enough, Eddie never takes a drink while he’s getting rich smuggling the stuff.  It’s only after prohibition is repealed and Eddie finds himself once again reduced to driving a cab for a living that he becomes a drunk.  Rich George and educated Lloyd might survive the end of prohibition by Eddie — who was as much a foot soldier during prohibition as he was during World War I — against finds himself cast out by a society that wants to forget about the national trauma that it’s just gone through.  Eddie, however, isn’t going to go down without a fight.  He’s played by James Cagney, after all.

The Roaring Twenties is a true classic.  It works as a gangster movie, a historical epic, and a portrait of the side effects of out-of-control regulation.  It tells the story about what happens when society becomes more interested in governing people than in helping them.  Indeed, the film asks, what were men like Eddie Bartlett supposed to do when, after risking their lives for their country, they returned home to discover that their jobs were gone, rent had gone up, and the government wouldn’t even allow them to commiserate their sorrows over a cold beer?  Who can blame America for rebelling?  Who can blame the Eddie Barletts of the world for doing what they had to do to survive?

Finally, not only does The Roaring Twenties feature brilliant performances from genre veterans like Bogart and Cagney (in fact, this is a probably Cagney’s best gangster performance) but it also recreates the 20s with such skill that you can’t help but wish that you could have been a part of it.  It all ends with a brilliant final scene on the steps of a church.  “He used to be a big shot!”  Yes, he was.

This is definitely an offer not to refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #1: The Public Enemy (dir by William Wellman)


For this month, I’ve decided to review movies about mobsters.

There’s no specific reason for that, beyond the fact that I just happen to love mobster movies.  Of course, a good gangster film is rarely just about crime.  Anyone who has ever seen The Godfather can tell you that.  At their best, American gangster films are about the American dream and the lengths that some will go to achieve it.

Plus, they’re just a lot of fun to watch.  Some of the greatest actors of all time made their mark in gangster films.

Take 1931’s The Public Enemy, for instance.

Produced during the final days of prohibition and the early years of the Great Depression, The Public Enemy tells the story of three boys who grew up poor.  Tom Powers (James Cagney) and his friend, Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) pursued a life of crime, rising through the ranks of organized crime before eventually meeting a tragic end.  The third, Mike Powers (Donald Cook), stayed on the straight-and-narrow path.  He went into the Marines and he rebuked his brother, Tom, when he discovered that Tom’s money was due to “blood and beer.”

The film opens and closes with a title card that basically tells us that Mike Powers has the right idea but, when you watch the film, you can’t help but wonder if maybe Tom had a point about his brother being kind of a sap.  Mike might be a decent citizen and he might have a chestful of medals as the result of his wartime heroics but what else does he have?  Tom Powers, meanwhile, has no education and, it would appear, no conscience, no real friends, and no one that he really loves and yet he becomes a rich man who is acquainted with powerful figures.  While Mike stays at home with their mother, Tom lives in an ornate penthouse.  When his first girlfriend (Mae Clarke) gets on his nerves, Tom shoves a grapefruit in her face and then gets an even more glamorous girlfriend, Gwen (Jean Harlow).  (Meanwhile, even dumb old Matt is doing okay for himself, marrying a woman played by Joan Blondell.)  It’s hard not to imagine that the film’s original audience — who were still reeling from the Stock Market Crash of 1929 — looked at Mike and Tom Powers and quickly decided that they’d much rather be a part of Tom’s life than Mike’s.  Even if Tom is destined for an early grave or a lifetime behind bars, at least he appears to be having fun.  Speaking for myself, I’d much rather go out with the guy who has nice clothe and his own luxury apartment than with the self-righteous dud who is still living at home with his mother.

Of course, another reason why we gravitate towards Tom Powers is because he’s played by James Cagney, who was one of the most charismatic of the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age and whose performance still holds up today.  Cagney gives a ferocious performance, snarling out his lines and always moving like a caged animal, even when he’s just preparing to have breakfast.  He’s full of an energy that’s both dangerous and exciting to watch.  Cagney also brings a very powerful anger to the role of Tom Powers.  As played Cagney, Tom Power is not just a criminal because he’s greedy.  He’s also a criminal because he has no use for a society that he feels has rejected him since birth and which has never given him a fair chance.  He becomes wealthy not just because he wants money but because he wants to taunt everyone who ever said that he wouldn’t amount to anything.  He’s every crime is more than act of greed.  It’s also an act of rebellion, a joyful to a society that wants to tell people what they’re allowed to believe and do.  He’s the ultimate 1930s rebel, giving the the finger to not only the two Hoovers (Herbert and J. Edgar) but also to the good government leftists would be soon be swept into power with FDR.  Despite the fact that The Public Enemy was made nearly 90 years ago, there’s nothing creaky about Cagney’s performance.  It still feels vital and powerful today and it elevates the entire film.

The Public Enemy holds up surprisingly well.  The film may be close to 90 but Cagney’s ferocious performance still feels fresh and powerfully alive.

 

6 Trailers In Memory of Robert Evans


As Jeff reported earlier today, the famed Hollywood producer Robert Evans passed away this weekend.  As a student of both Hollywood and history, I have to say that I always found Evans to be a rather fascinating figure.  It seemed inevitable that his name would pop up whenever I read a book, an article, or even just an interview concerning the films of the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  Robert Evans was nice enough to follow me on twitter and we even exchanged tweets on occasion.

As a producer, Robert Evans is probably more associated with gangster movies like The Godfather and The Cotton Club than horror films.  But Evans was involved in a few “scary” and horror-adjacent films, both as an actor and a producer.  So, tonight’s edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse Trailers is dedicated to Robert Evans.

  1. Man of a Thousand Face (1957)

As an actor, Evans began his career by playing Irving Thalberg in this biopic of Lon Chaney, Sr.  Evans was specifically chosen for the role by Thalberg’s widow, Norma Shearer.  Not surprisingly, the trailer below concentrates on James Cagney’s performance as legendary horror star, Lon Chaney, Sr.

2. The Fiend Who Walked The West (1958)

One of Evans’s rare starring roles was in this western-horror hybrid.  Yes, that’s Robert Evans as the “kooky killer.”

3. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

As head of production at Paramount, Evans was responsible for greenlighting this classic horror film, starring Mia Farrow.  Reportedly, Evans arranged for his friend, Jack Nicholson, to screen test for the role of Rosemary’s husband.

4. Marathon Man (1976)

Evans produced this film.  Technically, Marathon Man was a thriller/spy movie.  But the scenes of Dustin Hoffman in the dentist chair definitely qualify as horror.

5. Sliver (1993)

After spending the 80s financially bereft and an almost forgotten figure, Evans made a comeback by producing this incredibly silly “erotic” thriller.

6. Jade (1995)

Sliver did well enough at the box office that Evans followed it up with another, similarly silly thriller.

Of course, while it’s tempting to laugh at films like Jade and Sliver, it should be remembered that Evans was also involved with some of the best and most important films of all time.  Next time you watch The Godfather, be sure to say a little thank you to Robert Evans.

R.I.P.

Cleaning Out the DVR #24: Crime Does Not Pay!


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We’re way overdue for a Cleaning Out the DVR post – haven’t done one since back in April! – so let’s jump right in with 4 capsule reviews of 4 classic crime films:

SINNERS’ HOLIDAY (Warner Brothers 1930; D: John Adolfi) – Early talkie interesting as the screen debut of James Cagney , mixed up in “the booze racket”, who shoots bootlegger Warren Hymer, and who’s penny arcade owner maw Lucille LaVerne covers up by pinning the murder on daughter Evalyn Knapp’s ex-con boyfriend Grant Withers. Some pretty racy Pre-Code elements include Joan Blondell as Cagney’s “gutter floozie” main squeeze. Film’s 60 minute running time makes it speed by, aided by some fluid for the era camerawork. Fun Fact: Cagney and Blondell appeared in the original Broadway play “Penny Arcade”; when superstar entertainer Al Jolson bought the rights, he insisted Jimmy and Joan be cast in the film version, and…

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A Wee Bit O’Blarney with Cagney & O’Brien: BOY MEETS GIRL (Warner Brothers 1938)


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Tomorrow’s the day when everybody’s Irish, and America celebrates St. Patrick’s Day! The green beer will flow and copious amounts of Jameson will be consumed,  the corned beef and cabbage will be piled high, and “Danny Boy” will be sung by drunks in every pub across the land. Come Monday, offices everywhere will be unproductive, as all you amateur Irishmen will be nursing hangovers of Emerald Isle proportions. They say laughter is the best medicine, so my suggestion is to start your workday watching an underrated screwball comedy called BOY MEETS GIRL, starring James Cagney and Pat O’Brien, both members in good standing of “Hollywood’s Irish Mafia”!

Jimmy and Pat play a pair of wacky screenwriters working for Royal Studios on a vehicle for fading cowboy star Dick Foran. Pretentious producer Ralph Bellamy has enough problems without these two jokers, as rumor has it Royal is about to be sold…

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The Last Gangster: James Cagney in WHITE HEAT (Warner Brothers 1949)


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When James Cagney burst onto the screen in THE PUBLIC ENEMY, a star was born. Cagney’s machine gun delivery of dialog, commanding screen presence, and take-no-shit attitude made him wildly popular among the Depression Era masses, if not with studio boss Jack Warner, with whom Cagney frequently battled over salary and scripts that weren’t up to par. Films like LADY KILLER , THE MAYOR OF HELL , and ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES made Cagney the quintessential movie gangster, but after 1939’s THE ROARING TWENTIES he hung up his spats and concentrated on changing his image. Ten years later, Cagney returned to the gangster film in WHITE HEAT, turning in one of his most memorable performances as the psychotic Cody Jarrett.

Cagney is older and meaner than ever as Jarrett, a remorseless mad-dog killer with a severe mother complex and more than a touch of insanity. Jarrett has frequent debilitating headaches…

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Cleaning Out the DVR #19: Things To Watch When You Have Flumonia!


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So I’ve been laid up with the flu/early stage pneumonia/whateverthehellitis for the past few days, which seemed like a  good excuse to clean out the DVR by watching a bunch of random movies:

Bette Davis & Jimmy Cagney in “Jimmy the Gent”

JIMMY THE GENT (Warner Brothers 1934; D: Michael Curtiz ) –  Fast paced James Cagney vehicle has Jimmy as the head of a shady “missing heir” racket, with Bette Davis as his ex-girl, now working for his classy (but grabby!) rival Alan Dinehart. Allen Jenkins returns once again as Cagney’s sidekick, and Alice White is a riot as Jenkins’s ditzy dame. Some funny dialog by Bertram Milhauser in this one, coming in at the tail-end of the Pre-Code era. Cagney’s always worth watching, even in minor fare like this one. Fun Fact: Cagney’s battles with boss Jack Warner over better roles were legendary, and the actor went out…

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day: THE IRISH IN US (Warner Brothers 1935)


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Faith and begorrah! You can’t get much more Irish than a film featuring Jimmy Cagney , Pat O’Brien , and Frank McHugh all together. THE IRISH IN US is sentimental as an Irish lullaby, formulaic as a limerick, and full of blarney, but saints preserve us it sure is a whole lot of fun! The story concerns three Irish-American brothers, the O’Hara’s, living with their Irish mum in a cramped NYC apartment. There’s sensible, levelheaded cop Pat (O’Brien), dimwitted fireman Michael (McHugh), and ‘black sheep’ Danny (Cagney), who’s a fight promoter.

O’Brien, Cagney, and McHugh

Pat announces his intention to marry pretty Lucille Jackson (19-year-old Olivia de Havilland in an early role), while Danny’s got a new fighter named Carbarn Hammerschlog ( Allen Jenkins , who’s a riot), a punchy pug who “every time he hears a bell ring, he starts sluggin”! Danny and Lucille ‘meet cute’ while he’s out…

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Navy Blue & Gold: MISTER ROBERTS (Warner Brothers 1955)


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I grew up a “Navy brat”, often accompanying my dad to bases in Newport, RI. and Bethesda, MD. I’d hang out at the Enlisted Men’s Club he ran, watching Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons with the sailors while dad did the books. I remember going aboard ship plenty of times, and saw one of my first movies with the crew on Family Night (the Cary Grant/Doris Day flick THAT TOUCH OF MINK). So naturally, I have a soft spot for nautical tales, and one of my favorites has always been MISTER ROBERTS.

The film marked Henry Fonda’s return to the screen after an eight year absence. Fonda had starred in the original Broadway production to great acclaim, and his performance is imbued with his own experiences during WWII. Douglas Roberts is a lieutenant (j.g.) assigned to the cargo ship Reluctant in the South Pacific, run by the vain…

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