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: