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Masquerading as royalty leads to a romantic encounter between a tailor, Maurice 'Baron' Courtelin and Princess Jeanette in France. Tired of extending credit to Viscount Gilbert de Varze, a womanizing aristocrat, Courtelin pursues him to a remote chateau, where he's mistaken for one of the man's friends. Desperate not to have his philandering and bad debts exposed, the viscount begs the baron to go along with the charade, which he's only too happy to do once he falls in love with the Princess.
Producer-Director: Rouben Mamoulian
Screenplay: Samuel Hoffenstein, Waldemar Young, George Marion, Jr.
Based on the play Tailor in the Chateau by Leopold Marchand and Paul ArmontCinematography: Victor Milner
Editing: William Shea
Art Direction: Hans Dreier
Music: Nathaniel Finston, Richard Rodgers
Cast: Maurice Chevalier (Maurice Courtelin), Jeanette MacDonald (Princess Jeanette), Charlie Ruggles (Viscount Gilbert de Vereze), Charles Butterworth (Count de Savignac), Myrna Loy (Countess Valentine), C. Aubrey Smith (The Duke), Elizabeth Patterson, Ethel Griffies, Blanche Frederici (Aunts), George "Gabby" Hayes (Grocer), Mary Doran (Madame Dupont), Cecil Cunningham (Laundress).
Why LOVE ME TONIGHT is Essential
Critics and industry members like director Vincente Minnelli and composer Kurt Weill have hailed Love Me Tonight as the perfect screen musical because of its tight integration of music and story.
Love Me Tonight is considered the screen's first integrated musical, in which script and musical numbers are so closely related that every number serves a dramatic purpose. As such, it was actually the precursor to the stage's first integrated musical, Oklahoma!, by a decade. Among the film's innovation were the use of rhyming dialogue and blank verse to connect songs and the use of song to define character and bridge scenes. One number in particular, "Isn't It Romantic," is carried through a variety of locales as different characters hear it and pick it up, starting with leading man Maurice Chevalier and ultimately ending up being sung by Jeanette MacDonald, who will become his love interest later in the film.
This was director Rouben Mamoulian's first screen musical. He would go on to direct some of the greatest musicals in American theatre history -- including Porgy and Bess, Oklahoma! and Lost in the Stars. His big screen musicals included The Gay Desperado (1936), for which he won the New York Film Critics Award for Best Director, and Silk Stockings (1957).
Composer Richard Rodgers considered Love Me Tonight his finest work in motion pictures, in a career that included the original screen musicals Hallelujah, I'm a Bum (1933), Evergreen (1934) and State Fair (1945).
Love Me Tonight gave Maurice Chevalier his signature song, "Mimi," by Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Many critics consider it his best Hollywood film.
This is one of the first films to display Myrna Loy's gift for comedy. At the time, her home studio, MGM, was putting her into a string of roles as either colorless ingnues or villainesses, often of Asian heritage. Her role in Love Me Tonight as a man-crazy countess not only gave her an elegant wardrobe, but the chance to show what she could do with polished comic dialogue.
by Frank Miller
Love Me Tonight (1932)
Jeanette MacDonald belied her strait-laced image in a promotional short publicizing Love Me Tonight. In it she offered a sizzling rendition of the title song while crawling around a satin-draped bed.
To re-issue the film after the institution of strict Production Code enforcement in 1934, Paramount had to cut eight minutes of risqu lines and revealing shots of the female stars. Among them was Myrna Loy's chorus of the song "Mimi," because her gown was too low cut. The cuts are now considered lost.
The opening sequence scored to street sounds would inspire Mamoulian's stage direction three years later of a similar scene, scored to the cries of street peddlers, in George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess on Broadway in 1935.
Several of the songs from Love Me Tonight are now considered classics, though they were not as popular when the film was first released. "Isn't It Romantic" became a jazz standard after Ella Fitzgerald included it in Ella Sings the Rodgers and Hart Songbook, with later recordings by Peggy Lee and Rod Stewart. "Lover," originally sung to a horse, was also included on Fitzgerald's album, though its most famous recordings are a 1948 instrumental by Les Paul and Peggy Lee's 1952 version, set against a frenetic string accompaniment.
Composer Hugh Martin and playwright Marshall Barer wrote a musical called A Little Night Music in the early '60s as a vehicle for MacDonald. One number, "Wasn't It Romantic," was intended as a counter-melody to "Isn't It Romantic," with the latter playing on a projection screen while MacDonald sang in harmony with herself. She turned the project down. It finally debuted in a Los Angeles concert performance in 1998 under the title Happy Lot!. The performance was dedicated to MacDonald.
by Frank Miller
Love Me Tonight (1932)
Paramount Pictures President Adolph Zukor had just survived a major corporate purge triggered by the studio's declining box office in the early years of the Depression. One financial problem he had to deal with was the inactivity of two of his biggest stars, Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, who were drawing large salaries ($10,000 a week for the former; $5,000 for the latter) with no film assignments planned for either. The team's usual director, Ernst Lubitsch, was in the midst of contract negotiations and playing hard to get. Desperate to put the stars to work, he turned to Rouben Mamoulian, a stage director who had scored at the studio with the innovative sound films Applause (1929) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931). Although exhausted from his work on the latter film, Mamoulian couldn't resist Zukor's offer of a free hand in choosing and shooting the picture.
Playwright Leopold Marchand suggested that a piece he had written with Paul Armont, Le Tailleur au Chateau, might provide Mamoulian with the perfect plot for his musical. The director agreed that the tale of a tailor passing as nobility would have just the kind of fairy tale quality he was looking for, a reverse-gender Cinderella story. Mamoulian then chose one of Broadway's top songwriting duos, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, to write the score. In a rare move for a film or stage musical, he had them write the songs first, making sure that each lyric related closely to plot and character. He also had Hart write rhymed dialog for some scenes. Only then did he put the screenwriters to work. The result, Love Me Tonight, was a peerless integration of script and score, perfectly fitting the director's concept of the film as an illustrated musical score.
Mamoulian arranged to borrow Myrna Loy, whom he had dated on occasion, from MGM for the role of Countess Valentine, MacDonald's man-crazy cousin, because he thought she had a knack for high comedy. At the time, she was primarily cast as Asian temptresses, but two years later she would live up to his expectations when she starred as Nora Charles opposite William Powell in the screwball comedy-mystery, The Thin Man (1934).
Initially, Chevalier insisted that Mamoulian give him a chance to work on the script and score, but the director refused. When the actor insisted he could not make a film on which he had no input, Mamoulian told him to go to Zukor and refuse to make the movie. "I'll be most grateful because I don't want to do this picture in the first place." Instead, the star gave in, albeit reluctantly.
Mamoulian spent so much time writing and re-writing the script of Love Me Tonight that the start date was pushed back several times. As a result, Paramount had to pay off theatres that had engaged Chevalier to perform during what would become the shooting period. That helped drive the budget close to $1 million.
by Frank Miller
Maurice Chevalier by Michael Freedland
Love Me Tonight (1932)
On the first day of shooting for Love Me Tonight, director Rouben Mamoulian was surprised to realize that the off-screen Maurice Chevalier was nothing like his screen image. The real man was sour and unhappy, sulking around the set between shots. Only when the director called "Action!" did his star turn on the joie de vivre.
Paramount executives thought Myrna Loy's character, Countess Valentine, superfluous and tried to make him cut her from the script. Instead, he sent out official scripts in which she had no lines, then privately sent Myrna Loy her scenes. When she started turning up in rushes, the executives were so happy with her performance, they stopped trying to eliminate the role.
For Love Me Tonight, Paramount assigned Mamoulian most of the crew that had worked on Ernst Lubitsch's musicals. Used to the congenial atmosphere of the other director's sets, they greatly resented Mamoulian's more somber approach. Before long the crew's hostility toward Mamoulian came out into the open. One day a lamp fell perilously close to the director, and later a soundman kept a sneeze on the track for a scene. Concerned about his poor rapport with the company, Mamoulian finally turned to MacDonald, who was also displeased with his methods. She told him to lighten up. "We are supposed to be making a comedy, a gay picture full of laughter. But it's almost impossible in the funereal atmosphere you're creating." He took her advice and the problem faded.
The biggest problem Mamoulian had with MacDonald was the constant presence of her manager and future fianc, Bob Ritchie, on the set. Ritchie kept trying to direct her performance from the sidelines. Finally, Mamoulian had enough and had him barred from the set.
Originally the costume designer put MacDonald and Loy in similar gowns for the masquerade sequence, but seeing how good Loy looked in hers, the star demanded it for herself. Instead Mamoulian and Loy found an old black dress in wardrobe. Not only did it stand out perfectly, but it also stood out from MacDonald and the rest of the cast because Loy was the only one dressed in dark colors.
To appease the French consul in Los Angeles, a scene in which MacDonald strikes a servant was cut.
Paramount sold Love Me Tonight with the tag line, "Warm Love! Hilarious fun! Sweet music! Hot lyrics!"
MacDonald took off for a European tour after completing the film, declaring that if she ever returned to the movies it would be in dramatic roles. She also stated that she had no interest in playing any more risqu roles: "I just feel I have gone far enough in lingerie."
When Chevalier divorced his first wife in 1932, rumors spread that he had left her for MacDonald. At first they tried not to let it affect their friendship. When MacDonald toured to Europe after finishing Love Me Tonight, Chevalier offered her the use of his villa near Cannes, which outraged her manager, Bob Ritchie. To quell the rumors, MacDonald decided to decline his offer, though she still met with his family while there.
by Frank Miller
Hollywood Diva: A Biography of Jeanette MacDonald by Edward Baron Turk
Love Me Tonight (1932)
With the language of motion pictures now so indelibly fixed in ourcollective consciousness, it's hard to imagine that early filmmakersactually had to sit down and construct that language. D.W. Griffithmay have pioneered such all-important filmmaking techniques as close-ups,tracking shots, and cross-cutting. But, outside of stationary theatricalproductions, there was simply no guideline for telling a story on filmthrough the use of music. That's why Rouben Mamoulian's Love MeTonight (1932) is considered a pivotal moment in movie history. With thispicture, Mamoulian, as much as any other director, shaped the language ofmovie musicals. In fact, many critics would argue that its dazzling openingsequence has never been equaled for sheer resourcefulness.
The narrative, unlike Mamoulian's technique, is simple enough. A jovialParisian tailor named Maurice (Maurice Chevalier) is forced to approach oneof his customers, the Vicomte de Vareze (Charles Ruggles), for payment of abill. When Maurice visits the Count's estate, the Count is embarrassed toadmit that he can't pay him. In an attempt to make it up to Maurice, theCount introduces the tailor to his royal friends as a Baron. PrincessJeanette (Jeanette MacDonald), who took no notice of Maurice when he was acommoner, now finds herself falling for him, and romance ensues. Myrna Loyis also on hand as a nymphomaniac Countess who delivers an armful ofmemorable zingers before everything reaches the expected happyending.
The opening sequence that people are still so enamored of consists of twolengthy songs, and several snatches of dialogue, that introduce a vast arrayof characters while simultaneously conveying the environment they inhabit.Mamoulian's camera journeys from the rooftops of Paris (actually aremarkable facsimile built on Paramount's backlot) to a crew of workerspaving a street, then on to some shoemakers whose hammers join the symphonyof construction sounds. We then see and hear bums sleeping in thestreet, a woman shaking out some bed sheets, and cars with horns that honkout another counterpoint to the building rhythm. Finally, we come to reston Maurice, who's getting dressed for the day. But this virtuoso piece offilmmaking is only just getting started!
Maurice will begin singing "The Song of Paree" while leaving hisapartment, and several other characters will get introduced. Eventually,Maurice will have reason to croon Isn't it Romantic, and the songitself will travel across the city, taking on different arrangementscourtesy of, among others, a platoon of marching soldiers and a gypsyviolinist. Before it's over, MacDonald, Charles Butterworth, and Loy will also beintroduced. This elegant sequence puts today's slash-and-burn style ofstorytelling to absolute shame. It's what people mean when they reference"the magic of movies"- you can only accomplish this kind of thing onfilm.
Actually, it's a bit surprising that Mamoulian was so audacious. He madehis name in the musical theater, first with an opera that was produced inRochester, New York, then with several successful Broadway shows. But ofall the theater directors who eventually ventured into movies, Mamoulian wasthe first to realize cinema's music-related possibilities.
Mamoulian's other groundbreaking move on Love Me Tonight was tofinish the script after Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart completed theirsongs. In this way, he was able to see to it that the tunes moved the plotalong, rather than simply appearing out of nowhere, as if pasted into astoryline that could have just as easily existed without them. It workedlike gangbusters, and became one of the central techniques of greatHollywood musicals. In later years, Mamoulian would bring his talents backto the stage, where he would direct such legendary musicals as Porgy andBess and Oklahoma!.
Though such diverse experts as Kurt Weill and Vincente Minnelli would callLove Me Tonight the greatest musical ever made, its production wasn'tcompletely smooth. Mamoulian never really got along with MacDonald, whofound the director to be dry and humorless. And most of the crew agreedwith her. One electrician even dropped a lamp dangerously close toMamoulian's head, and a sound man purposely allowed some audio mishaps (like a sneeze) to be recorded on thesoundtrack.
Mamoulian finally approached MacDonald for help, and she told him, "Rouben,we are supposed to be making a comedy, a gay picture full of laughter. Butit's almost impossible in the funereal atmosphere you're creating."Mamoulian listened, and soon thereafter saw to it that a more relaxed working environment was in place. It certainly shows in the finished product.
Produced and directed by: Rouben Mamoulian
Screenplay: Samuel Hoffenstein, Waldemar Young, and George Marion, Jr.
Songs: Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart
Photography: Victor Milner
Editing: Rouben Mamoulian and William Shea
Art Director: Hans Dreier
Sound: M.M. Paggi
Cast: Maurice Chevalier (Maurice Courtelin), Jeanette MacDonald(Princess Jeanette), Charles Ruggles (Vicomte de Vareze), CharlesButterworth (Count de Savignac), C. Aubrey Smith (The Duke), Myrna Loy(Countess Valentine).
by Paul Tatara
Love Me Tonight (1932)
Awards & Honors
Love Me Tonight was voted a place on the National Film Registry in 1990.
Critic Reviews - LOVE ME TONIGHT (1932)
"It is one of the best, if not the very best, of the Maurice Chevalier pictures -- and not the least of the cause is the brilliant direction of Rouben Mamoulian." -- Jerry Hoffman, Los Angeles Examiner.
"What a picture. First, you have Chevalier (and last, you have Chevalier, and all through this riot entertainment you have Chevalier). And adding her beauty and lovely voice, you have that delightful Jeanette MacDonald." -- Photoplay.
"A gem of a class production, and, with that aura that surrounds Chevalier, a cleanup for the run theatres...Mamoulian reveals a shrewd flair for novelty angles, notably in the fascinating opening sequence designed to sound a key motif for the gay symphony that it introduces." -- Variety.
"...Mr. Mamoulian never neglects an opportunity to conjure with the microphone or make the most of the camera." -- Mordaunt Hall, New York Times.
"The songs develop the action and characters, the dialogue is witty and rhythmic, and the entire film, with its fine score by Rodgers and Hart, is a charming, tongue-in-cheek fantasy that never descends into syrupy whimsy." -- Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide.
"For street-wise punk poetics amidst the posh pompadours and fancy bodices; for a brilliantly paced scenario and score; for Maurice and Jeanette in their pluckily playful prime; for crusty, bushy-browed C. Aubrey Smith getting out of bed to sing "Mimi"; for the Mamoulian film that Mamoulian actually did pull off, spectacularly: you're gonna just love Love Me Tonight." - Peter H. Kemp, Senses of Cinema
Compiled by Frank Miller