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Love Me or Leave Me (1955) was the second time Doris Day and James Cagney had appeared together in a film but it was their first feature for MGM and quite a departure from The West Point Story, an innocuous musical they made for Warner Brothers in 1950. For one thing, Love Me or Leave Me could not be classified as a musical despite the inclusion of several nightclub numbers. It was a dramatic biography of Ruth Etting, the Prohibition-era torch singer whose career was promoted by Chicago gangster Marty Snyder. The latter was known by his nickname "The Gimp" because of a pronounced limp in his left leg.
The film was also a departure from Doris Day's previous films for Warner Brothers where she was usually cast as the cheerful, pretty girl-next-door. As Ruth Etting, Day had one of the most challenging roles of her career and risked alienating her many fans with the hard-edged subject matter. In fact, in the biography, Doris Day: Her Own Story by A.E. Hotchner (William Morrow & Co.), Day describes a powerful scene with Cagney that was trimmed by the censors: " He attacks me savagely; and the way Cagney played it, believe me, it was savage. He slammed me against the wall, ripped off my dress, my beads flying, and after a tempestuous struggle, in which I tried to fight him off with every realistic ounce of strength I had, he threw me on the bed and raped me. It was a scene that took a lot out of me but it was one of the most fully realized physical scenes I have ever played...it wasn't until I saw the movie in its release that I became aware that most of the scene had been cut. I was told that it couldn't get. "
Love Me or Leave Me was an unqualified success and earned six Oscar® nominations including a third Best Actor nod for James Cagney. It might have turned out differently if the director had been George Cukor with the Etting role played by Ava Gardner, both of whom were originally considered for the film. One person who wished it HAD turned out differently was Ruth Etting, who reportedly said, "I never at any time was a dancehall girl. It was just a means of working in "Ten Cents a Dance;" They took a lot of liberties with my life but I guess they usually do that kind of thing."
A final irony about Love Me or Leave Me is the fact that the relationship between Ruth Etting and Marty Snyder had some disturbing parallels to the relationship between Doris Day and her husband Marty Melcher. Like Snyder, Melcher also controlled Day's business affairs, made creative decisions for her even though he had no musical experience, and lived through her work. When Melcher died in 1968, Day discovered that he had mismanaged her entire life savings of $20 million dollars, leaving her completely broke.
Director: Charles Vidor
Producer: Joe Pasternak
Screenplay: Daniel Fuchs, Isobel Lennart
Cinematography: Arthur E. Arling
Editor: Ralph E. Winters
Music: Nicholas Brodszky, Percy Faith, George E. Stoll
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Urie McCleary
Cast: Doris Day (Ruth Etting), James Cagney (Martin Snyder), Cameron Mitchell (Johnny Alderman), Robert Keith (Bernard V. Loomis), Tom Tully (Frobisher).
C-123m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe