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Do You Love Me

Do You Love Me(1946)

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teaser Do You Love Me (1946)

When Frank Sinatra was a guest-host on The Tonight Show in 1977, he asked guest Don Rickles to name his favorite male singer. "Honest?" Rickles said, without missing a beat. "Dick Haymes." That joke was pretty funny in 1977, but in the 1940s, the popularity race between Haymes and Sinatra would have been a lot closer. Haymes, in fact, was considered on par with singers like Sinatra, and his crooning talent plus his boyish good looks made him a good candidate for stardom in postwar Hollywood.

You can see that understated charm - and take the measure of that singing talent - in the 1946 Do You Love Me, in which Haymes plays Jimmy Hale, a successful singer who woos Maureen O'Hara's Katharine "Kitten" Hilliard, a prim, bespectacled music-school dean who, after traveling to the big city, transforms herself into a desirable, sophisticated lady. Jimmy isn't the only one eager to win Katharine's affections: It turns out smooth-as-silk trumpeter and bandleader Barry Clayton (played by real-life trumpeter and bandleader Harry James) has designs on Katharine as well, even though he'd met her earlier, in her "schoolmarm" period, and insulted her roundly, claiming her blood ran cold in her veins: "If a mosquito bit her, she'd get double pneumonia," he tells a friend.Do You Love Me is a vibrant postwar entertainment whose preposterousness is part of its appeal: It's a movie clearly made for a nation desperate to get back to the business of having fun. Actor-turned-director Gregory Ratoff was the man at the helm: Throughout the 1930s, the Russian-born Ratoff (who had served in the Russian Army during World War I) had smallish roles in a number of films - among them I'm No Angel (1933), with Mae West -- often playing a "foreign" eccentric or villain. In the mid-1930s, he turned his hand to directing. One of this biggest triumphs during the period was the 1939 Intermezzo, with Leslie Howard and Ingrid Bergman. That film's success kept him busy directing movies through the 1940s, making lively, efficiently entertaining films like Do You Love Me. The reviewer for the New York Times called it "a harmless and pleasant enough musical, decked out in gorgeous Technicolor and costuming and full of tuneful songs."

Those "tuneful songs" include novelty numbers like the charmer "Moonlight Propaganda," performed by Haymes and James, along with his band. Haymes is a low-key, appealing performer, and in Do You Love Me, he's cast as the most obviously suitable suitor for O'Hara's high-spirited Katharine. (She has also left a dud of a fianc, played by Reginald Gardiner, back home.) Still, James' Clayton, who clearly has an eye for the ladies, won't take no for an answer, repeatedly sending flowers - ferried over by embarrassed singing delivery men -- to her hotel room. As Clayton, James is handsome but wily looking, and his tendency toward womanizing is treated as a great gag, culminating, at the very end of the movie, in a surprise cameo by a very special guest: Betty Grable, to whom James was married at the time.

O'Hara, the flame-haired, Irish-born actress who'd had her initial screen success with actor Charles Laughton in the 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame and later appeared in John Ford's Academy Award-winning 1941 How Green Was My Valley, was also a trained singer. In fact, she had always said singing was her first love. But studio brass weren't interested in those skills, and O'Hara doesn't get to sing in Do You Love Me.

But then, she really doesn't need to. You can see why O'Hara's Katharine - it's Haymes' Jimmy who insists on giving her the playful nickname "Kitten" - would have two guys chasing after her, particularly with her Technicolor-ready Titian tresses. The costume designers on Do You Love Me -- Kay Nelson, Edward Stevenson, and, most interestingly, Bonnie Cashin, who would later become a formidable force in American sportswear -- clearly had a field day dreaming up unusual tonal combinations to play up O'Hara's coloring. Most of these are combos that wouldn't work in real life - not even on the wildest pages of the J. Crew catalog - but they sizzle on the screen. In one scene, Katharine wears a sweeping, absinthe-colored dressing gown with a giant script "K" embroidered on the shoulder; in another, she dons an evening gown accessorized with a whimsical glittery headpiece that winds its way behind and beneath one ear, almost like a stylized G-clef. But the most outlandish and wonderful getup is a day outfit consisting of a fitted gabardine blouse in lilac and chartreuse, matched with a skirt of bright magenta. These are the kinds of crazy color symphonies Technicolor was made for, and O'Hara does them proud.


The New York Times

Producer: George Jessel
Director: Gregory Ratoff
Screenplay: Robert Ellis, Helen Logan, Bert Granet (story), Dorothy Bennett (additional dialogue), Frank Gabrielson (uncredited)
Cinematography: Edward Cronjager
Music: David Buttolph
Film Editing: Robert Simpson
Cast: Maureen O'Hara (Katharine "Kitten" Hilliard), Dick Haymes (Jimmy Hale), Harry James (Barry Clayton), Reginald Gardiner (Herbert Benham), Richard Gaines (Ralph Wainwright)

By Stephanie Zacharek

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