Paris. The city of romance and, in Rouben Mamoulian’s musical, Love Me Tonight, the city where music is sung like a game of tag – one person starts. Then the next person takes over. What’s great about this technique is it allows for more than just the stars of the film to carry the singing. Actors in smaller roles get solos as well. Even the everyday noises of Paris are turned into music under Mamoulian’s hand.
Love Me Tonight is centered around Maurice (Maurice Chevalier) and Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald). All charm and accent, Maurice is a tailor who talk-sings about traditional gender roles and being with a different woman every night, yet he’s so disarming (and Lorenz Hart’s lyrics so clever) you almost forget to be offended
Meanwhile, over in the countryside Princess Jeanette is suffering from fainting spells and told by her doctor (Joseph Cawthorn) that marriage is the cure. Her father, the Duke (C. Aubrey Smith), is adamant her husband must be royal. A tailor wouldn’t do.
The reason Jeanette and Maurice meet is because Maurice is having trouble getting the Duke’s nephew (Charles Ruggles) to pay for his suits. Unable to wait for him, he decides to go to the castle himself with the bill.
Film historian, Miles Kreuger (who describes Mamoulian as a father figure and Richard Rogers, the composer, as a mentor), provides a commentary track for Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray and does a great job explaining how the different songs function in the film.
On paper, three bonus features where you have to read through text using the arrows on your remote control might not sound like anything to get excited about and, admittedly, it is a very ‘back when DVDs first came out’ kind of bonus feature. As soon as you start clicking through, though, the quality of the content far supersedes any doubts you might have about the format.
The text is big enough to read and so many of the documents are pure gold, from budget and shooting schedules, to requests from various censorship boards for the film to make changes (Ontario’s was especially strict for some reason). The tone of these letters is fascinating, too, as they usually start off complimentary (or at least for Love Me Tonight they do) but then there’s always a “but” coming where they state the actual reason they’re writing. It also shows how valuable Chevalier and MacDonald’s screen personas were, in allowing films to get away with making off-color jokes. Even in these letters you see board members commenting on the fact that certain lines probably don’t sound as salacious coming from Chevalier or MacDonald.
Finally, in the “Screenplay Excerpts of Deleted Scenes” section there’s a great exchange between Maurice and Jeanette that didn’t make it to the final film. Basically, Maurice is advising Jeanette on what she should write in a letter to a friend and Jeanette decides to go her own way.
Love Me Tonight is available on Blu-Ray now from Kino Lorber. The songs don’t always send the right message, but they’re not necessarily meant to be taken seriously and the film really is a great example of the musical form.