French title: Aimez-moi ce soir! (Love Me Tonight)
Swedish title: Din för i kval (Yours for an Evening)
German title: Schloss im Mond (Castle in the Moon)
Story by Léopold Marchand and Paul Armont, based on their play, Le Tailleur au Château (The Tailor in the Castle), Paris, 1924. Screenplay: Samuel Hoffenstein, Waldemar Young, and George Marion Jr. Music: Richard Rodgers. Lyrics: Lorenz Hart. Photography, Victor Milner. Art Director: Hans Dreier. Sets: A.E. Freudeman. Orchestra Arrangements and Music Supervision: Nathaniel Finston. Costumes: Edith Head and Travis Banton. Cameramen: William Mellor and Guy Roe. Sound: M.M. Paggi. Editor: Rouben Mamoulian. Cutter: William Shea. Western Electric Noiseless Recording.
Maurice Chevalier (Maurice Courtelin)
Jeanette MacDonald (Princess Jeanette)
Charlie Ruggles (Vicomte Gilbert de Vareze)
Charles Butterworth (Count de Savignac)
Myrna Loy (Countess Valentine)
C. Aubrey Smith (Duke d’Artelines)
Elizabeth Patterson (Aunt)
Ethel Griffies (Aunt)
Blanche Frederici (Aunt)
Joseph Cawthorn (Dr. Armand de Pontignac)
Maj. Sam Harris (Bridge player)
Robert Greig (Major Domo Flammand)
Ethel Wales (Mme Dutoit, the dressmaker)
Marion “Peanuts” Byron (Baker’s wife)
Bert Roach (Emile)
Tyler Brooke (Composer)
Clarence Wilson (Shirt maker)
William H. Turner (Boot maker)
Tony Merlo (Hat maker)
Rolfe Sedan (Taxi driver)
Gordon Westcott (Credit Official)
George (Gabby) Hayes (Grocer)
Mary Doran (Madame Dupont)
George[s] Davis (Pierre Dupont, the chauffeur)
Edgar Norton (Valet)
Cecil Cunningham (Laundress)
Herbert Mundin (Groom- cut from print)
Rita Owin (Chambermaid)
Mel Kalish (Chef)
Tom Ricketts (photo of Jeanette’s dead husband)
Carrie Daumery (Guest)
Jeanette appeared in at least two Paramount publicity one-reelers, in one of which she did a specially filmed promo for Love Me Tonight. The series was called Hollywood on Parade, and consisted of specially filmed scenes or interviews combined with newsreel-type footage, actual scenes from films, and even screen tests.
In Hollywood on Parade, Number 5, Jeanette sings a steamy version of the title song, “Love Me Tonight.” This short opens with Roland Young (Jeanette’s costar in Annabelle’s Affairs, Don’t Bet on Women, and One Hour with You) who displays his toy penguin collection. Then cowboy star Ken Maynard examines an outdoor sculpture of a roundup that he has commissioned to dress up a vacant lot and playfully rides one of the cement horses. Next, page girls appear with a giant magazine cover of Jeanette which dissolves to an orchestra, conducted by Nat Finston. We see Jeanette in a tufted satin bed. She rises, dons a negligee, and then leans over the foot of the bed, gazing directly into the camera, as she sings both verse and chorus of the title song. Then the scrapbook pages turn again, introducing the final segment with Maurice Chevalier who sings “Louise,” apparently a screen test.
In Hollywood on Parade, Number 8, Jeanette is seen in newsreel footage entering a costume party. Frankie Darro, playing a fan, asks for her autograph, but she denies her identity: “Tonight I’m Anna Held.” Nevertheless, she signs graciously.
Both these Hollywood on Parade one-reelers are currently in the U.C.L.A. Film Archive, and seen occasionally on the American Movie Classics television channel.
If you ask “noted authorities,” critics, film writers, and just plain musical nuts to agree on the ultimate musical, Love Me Tonight will top nearly every list. They might prefer a Judy Garland vehicle, adore a Busby Berkeley spectacular, sway to memories of Fred and Ginger, or become misty-eyed over a MacDonald-Eddy operetta, but it is Love Me Tonight that all musicals are measured to and from, like some kind of international film musical dateline.
Unlike any other film hit, Love Me Tonight has had no imitators because, well, it is inimitable (unless you count the Wheeler and Woolsey parody in Diplomaniacs with Bert Wheeler mimicking Jeanette).
Director Rouben Mamoulian, like Lubitsch, had created a classic with his first sound film, Applause (1929), with Helen Morgan. He had done only two films after that, City Streets (1931) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), which won an Oscar for Fredric March. In between films, he had been active on the New York stage. Over the years, his stage successes included Marco Millions, Porgy and Bess, Oklahoma!, and Carousel.
Love Me Tonight was the third MacDonald-Chevalier film, with Charlie Ruggles doing a ne’er-do-well aristocratic playboy, quite a change from his rôle in One Hour with You. The top-notch cast included Myrna Loy in one of her ever-more-frequent Caucasian rôles, C. Aubrey Smith, and the ultimately wistful comedian, Charles Butterworth. Chevalier’s bubbly performance is even more remarkable when one realizes that he was still profoundly depressed over the death of his adored mother.
Love Me Tonight represents the fusion of centuries of stage artistry and artifice with the unique infant, film. Like nearly every classic, its whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The characters are actually caricatures, two dimensional representations of all the stock stage personalities of operetta, yet the human qualities they mirror are so strong, we must identify with each of them.
The Princess in the tower is a pathetic remnant of aristocracy, doomed never to marry because there is no one left who is her social equal. (Compare this to the situation of predominantly female European royal houses after World War I who could find no princes for their eligible daughters.) The commoner is a hard-working tailor, poor because the aristocracy cannot pay its bill (social unrest, Bolshevism, unionism—all forces in the 1930s). The three witches or fairy godmothers of legend are the maiden aunties in the tower, providing a Greek chorus of comment and response to the action. Add to this the irascible uncle, the booby suitor, the playboy comedian, and nymphomaniac comedienne, all stock characters.
One of the script writers was George Marion Jr. who created the unforgettable lyrics for Let’s Go Native. He had been a prominent title writer in silent days on such great films as It with Clara Bow and The Son of the Sheik with Rudolph Valentino. He later scripted The Gay Divorcée for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
The songs of Love Me Tonight are superb and inseparable from the story line, each advancing the action, or, in the case of “Poor Apache,” establishing a character more specifically and hauntingly than any dialogue. (Curiously the one song in the film that is “thrown away” is the immortal “Lover,” a song that has enjoyed constant rediscovery with new arrangements and performers.) Rodgers and Hart created the original film score as they had for The Hot Heiress (1931) in the earlier musical cycle. (Five of their stage musicals were also converted to the screen in 1929–30.) The songs “Mimi,” “Isn’t It Romantic,” and “Lover” are standards and several others should be.
All these ingredients were brought together under the direction of a man with the strength of steel and the lightness of a flower, and called Love Me Tonight.
Paris at dawn. Silently we look out over the jumbled rooftops to the Eiffel Tower in the distant haze. The city begins to come slowly to life. The plunk of a pick. The swish of a broom. The scrape-plop of a shovel. The squeak-shush-squeak of a grinding wheel. The sounds cross each other in subtle rhythms, each new one adding an element to the fugue until a charming soubrette drops the needle on her phonograph and an orchestra joins the sounds. The city is awake. (Mamoulian used a similar sequence in his first New York stage production, the Theatre Guild’s Porgy.)
The camera tracks to an empty window. A hat rack can be seen supporting a straw hat, and a crack on the wall looks suspiciously like the profile of our hero. A figure appears, struggling into a turtleneck sweater until the head, boyish and tousled, emerges. It is Maurice Courtelin (Maurice Chevalier). (Performing stars, as opposed to acting stars, almost invariably retained their first names in early films. Al Jolson, Harry Richman, and Eddie Cantor were generally “Al,” “Harry,” and “Eddie.”)
Maurice joins the city of Paris in “The Song of Paree.” In what Lorenz Hart lovers cherish as a “Hart lyric” he tells us:
It has taxi horns and claxons
To scare the Anglo-Saxons.
That’s the song of Paree.
(Copyright Famous Music Corp.)
Maurice dons his jacket and emerges on the street, greeting merchants and passersby in song:
How’s your business?
How can it fail?
How’s your grandpa?
He’s back in jail.
(To a pretty girl) Hello, my coy friend,
Some other boy friend?
(Her escort, sternly) This is my wife!
(Fleeing) How are you?
Bon jour, Monsieur Cohen.
How are things goin’?
(with Yiddish accent) Comment ça va?
(Maurice, laughing, to the whole world) How are you?
(Copyright Famous Music Corp.)
Maurice enters a tailor shop, vanishes into a dressing room, and reappears in a flawless cutaway and striped pants. He is a tailor. Business will be brisk this morning. First Emile (silent comedian Bert Roach) comes to claim his wedding clothes. A flurry of activity outside attracts their attention.
It is the Across-Paris run. The crowd cheers the racers as they flash past the window. But one of the racers is dropping out. He is coming into the shop. It isn’t a racer at all. It is the Vicomte Gilbert de Vareze (Charlie Ruggles), dressed in boxer shorts and clutching a fruit peddler’s price sign to his chest. It seems a husband had arrived home unexpectedly…does Maurice have any of his suits ready that he can wear in this emergency? Proudly Maurice opens a closet revealing a dozen finished suits. Gilbert chooses a suit, borrows some ready cash, and departs, shirtless and tieless.
Emile emerges from the other dressing room in his wedding clothes. “A tailor’s art for your sweetheart…the love song of the needle united with the thread. Isn’t it romantic?” Sitting before the dressing room mirror, Maurice and his three images elaborate on his romantic ideal:
Isn’t it romantic?
On a moonlit night she’ll cook me onion soup.
Kiddies are romantic,
And if we don’t fight, we soon will have a troop.
We’ll help the population.
It’s a duty that we owe to France.
Isn’t it romance?
(Copyright Famous Music Corp.)
Emile leaves the shop, happily humming the catchy melody. The song is taken up in turn by a nearby taxi driver (Rolfe Sedan) and his composer passenger (Tyler Brooke) who is on his way to the railroad station. The train wheels throb rhythmically as the composer begins jotting down the melody, surrounded by soldiers on their way to rural maneuvers. They join him in the chorus, then, to a military beat, they march across the fields, declaring the romance of being a soldier. A passing gypsy hears the song and rushes to a firelit grove where his violin pours out the romance of the night. On the balcony of a nearby château, the beautiful Princess Jeanette (Jeanette) hears the melody and is moved to burst into song. Her idea of romance is somewhat different from Maurice’s:
Brought by a secret charm
Or by my heart’s command,
My prince will ride in arm—
or just to kiss my hand.
(Copyright Famous Music Corp.)
Her reverie is interrupted by a ladder thumping against the balcony. It is the Count de Savignac (Charles Butterworth), come to join her in a little chat before dinner. Jeanette, however, has had another fainting spell and is going straight to bed. The Count offers to entertain her with his flute, but Jeanette isn’t up to it. Nor is she up to any more of his lovemaking. He is about to leave when he loses his balance and topples backward, ladder and all. “Ohhh,” he calls from below. “I’ll never be able to use it again.”
“Oh, Count, did you break your leg?”
“No, I fell flat on my flute.”
The camera leaves this little scene and tracks around the castle to a tower window. There we discover three elderly ladies (Elizabeth Patterson, Ethel Griffies, Blanche Frederici), like the weird sisters in Macbeth, crouched over a steaming kettle. They are mixing a cure for the Princess’s fainting spells.
Downstairs the elderly Duke (C. Aubrey Smith) is tending to more practical matters. A vivacious young lady archly informs him that he can be rid of her for twenty thousand francs. She is, however, merely his niece, Valentine (Myrna Loy), asking for an advance on her allowance. The Duke refuses, saying she’ll only go back to Paris and her frivolous life. They are interrupted by the major domo (Robert Greig) announcing the new footmen. Valentine inspects each of the venerable old men. “Can’t we ever get a footman under forty in this place?” she snorts and exits.
There is very little under forty in the entire château. The drawing rooms are filled with yawning ancients playing bridge. (“A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” is played as a dirge behind this scene.) Suddenly a flurry of violins announce the arrival of the Vicomte Gilbert. He has apparently spent what Maurice gave him for he orders the taxi to wait while he borrows money from his uncle. Encountering the dozing Valentine on the grand stair, he urges her to lend him the money, and they can both return in the taxi to their beloved Paris. Valentine tells him that she is already over her allowance and Uncle won’t let her have any more.
Gilbert is confident that he can get around the Duke. “I’ll tell him I need the money for charity…to provide good homes for bad stenographers.” The Duke overhears and sends the taxi away, furiously threatening to cut Gilbert off if he runs up any more debts. Several of these debts are about to come home to roost, however. Upstairs, the Princess is asleep on her satin pillow, a mournful look on her pretty face.
Back in Paris, Maurice is surrounded by his fellow tradesmen, the hat maker (Tony Merlo), the shirt maker (Clarence Wilson), and the bookmaker (William H. Turner), who have done work for the Vicomte Gilbert on Maurice’s recommendation. They want their money. Maurice assures them that the Vicomte’s trade will make all their reputations. Sure enough, a distinguished gentleman (Gordon Westcott) arrives to inquire if Maurice has made suits for the Vicomte. He is not a potential customer, however, but a bill collector. He has come to warn Maurice that the Vicomte never pays.
They are all ruined! Angrily the tradesmen plan a course of action: “Let’s go down and storm the château like in the old days,” but Maurice cries that he will do it alone. “I’ll be a one man French Revolution!”
The whole neighborhood turns out to see him off. Maurice is resplendent in one of the Vicomte’s best suits plus his own inevitable straw hat. An obliging neighbor (Mary Doran) tells Maurice that her husband must deliver his employer’s car to Biarritz and would love to drop Maurice at the Chateau. “Pierre, tell Maurice you’d love to drop him.” “I’d love to drop you,” growls Pierre (George Davis.) Maurice departs to the cheers of the throng.
The cheers fade into a steady tap-tap. The elegantly garbed Maurice is seated on a log while Pierre lies under the car, trying to make repairs. A distant melody is heard. It is the beautiful Princess, out for a carriage ride through the woods—and she is singing:
Lover, when you find me
Will you blind me with your glow?
Make me cast behind me
(Copyright Famous Music Corp.)
The road is narrow, and as she attempts to pass the stranded car, the rear wheels slip off the road. Her horse rears, the lady tumbles into the ditch, and Maurice leaps into action. He rescues the lady, losing his straw hat in the process.
She is more or less grateful until he begins to make love to her: “Give me just a moment to sing to you…Mimi.” She tells him archly that her name is not Mimi, but he launches into the song that would become a Chevalier standard. The fellow is insolent, but the Princess Jeanette hears him out, even repressing a smile at his audacious charm. But when he tells her he’d like to have “a son of a Mimi,” she becomes indignant. She drives off in her now-righted carriage, the wheel neatly dissecting Maurice’s straw hat. Pierre whoops with glee at this desecration of the ubiquitous boater, but Maurice rescues the princess when her carriage overturns in a ditch, losing his most precious possession in the process. Maurice, undaunted, pulls a fresh one from his luggage. “Now we can go on.” The two songs delivered in this scene, “Mimi” and “Lover,” both became classics.
Jeanette gets only as far as the foyer of the château before she faints again, collapsing daintily on the floor. Everyone rushes to her side, the three aunties uttering little birdlike chirps of distress. Gilbert seeks help from Valentine, napping on a nearby settee. “Valentine, could you go for a doctor?” She rouses, smoothes her hair, and gives him a dazzling smile. “Certainly, bring him in.”
The doctor (Joseph Cawthorn) arrives, all whiskers and efficiency. In song (“A Woman Needs Something Like That”), he asks the Princess to remove her clothes which she does with élan. After he and the camera have had their fill of her lingeried charms, he questions her as to her love life, in verse of course. It seems the sad lady has been a widow for three years, at sixteen she was wed. Her bridegroom dear was seventy-two!
PRINCESS: Why do I lie awake in bed?
And why does blood rush to my head?
DOCTOR: At night?
PRINCESS: Quite right, at night.
And why does music make me sad?
And why do love songs drive me mad?
DOCTOR: At night?
PRINCESS: Quite right, at night.
(Copyright Famous Music Corp.)
The doctor’s diagnosis is simple: “With eyes and red lips and a figure like that…you’re not wasting away. You’re just wasted!” The cure is obvious. The Princess, he tells her anxious relatives, ought to be married…to a man of her own age.
The Duke explains that there are only two men in France of equal rank to the Princess. One is eighty-five and the other will be twelve on his next birthday. The doctor prescribes the only alternative: “Exercise!”
The plaintive little Count seizes this opportunity to urge the Duke to consider him as a prescription. After all he would have been a prince if his family had not been badly gypped during the Crusades, and besides… He whispers in the Duke’s ear, and the old gentleman draws back with respectful astonishment: “Marie Antoinette?” Impressed the Duke consents to the Count continuing his suit…but not this afternoon. The Count makes a half-completed little gesture of triumph, reminiscent of Harry Langdon. “Of course, but that’s me—always impetuous.”
To a martial strain, the repaired limousine arrives at the enormous doors of the château. After several futile knocks, Maurice slowly opens the door and finds himself in the mammoth foyer. Hesitantly, he starts across the marble floor, slowly at first, then with the spirit of the chase, more and more eagerly as he searches for signs of life. No one is in sight. To a happy gallop, he starts up the grand staircase, finding deserted hallways at each landing. Finally in a burst of speed, he completes the stairs and has reached the attic. With a shrug and a skitter of violins, he returns to the main floor where the somnambulant bridge players are just emerging from a side room.
Valentine spots this exciting stranger and rushes up to him. “Are you alone? In life, I mean?” He assures her he is unmarried and she dashes off upstairs to change. The major domo directs Maurice to the drawing room in his search for the Vicomte Gilbert.
On his way, he passes the three aunties, sitting formally together like a row of china pug dogs, stitching on a tapestry. “Do we bore you with our sewing?” “Sewing?” “Quite so.” “Oh, no! A needle is magnetic.” “How true! And how poetic!” He has won them over completely and their burbles of approval can be heard as he continues down the hall.
In the drawing room, Maurice discovers an old man polishing a suit of armor. Never use silk, Maurice tells him. Always flannel. They are happily conversing when Gilbert walks in and pales. Maurice has been chatting with the Duke. Maurice pales too, but the Duke assures him he is the first of Gilbert’s friends the Duke has liked. Gilbert pulls Maurice to one side and begs him not to tell his Uncle about the bills. Maurice is adamant. He won’t leave without the money. Then stay a few days, Gilbert urges, until he gets his next allowance.
Valentine and the aunties swarm in, and Gilbert introduces his friend “Baron Courtelin.” All urge Maurice to stay, but he refuses…until the Princess appears. He has found his “Mimi.” “I’ll stay!” he cries to the obvious joy of everyone but the Princess.
The sun rises the next morning on quite a different group of people. The exuberance of the visiting “Baron” has melted even the frosty Duke. He leaps from bed and begins singing “Mimi.” Down the hall, Gilbert takes up the strain as he deftly lathers his face and shaves with a flourish. The three aunties are back at their embroidery, giggling and singing “Mimi” with Elizabeth Patterson managing a Chevalier imitation. Finally, the Count, in silk pajamas, accompanies his devastatingly funny morning workout with miniature dumbbells and a final chorus. He finishes and takes up a giant hunting horn, giving it a practice bleat. The noise and image dissolve into an imposing huntsman sounding the call against a blazing sky. The hunt is forming.
The Count, however, has decided to do his hunting in the library. He has never heard of the Courtelins, he tells the Duke. He has gone through eight volumes of French genealogy before breakfast and not a Courtelin. Of course, there are still thirty-six more volumes to go.
Maurice appears for the hunt wearing Gilbert’s riding habit which he has altered to fit himself. His mount is less conventional—a bicycle. Maurice has never been on a horse in his life. The Count offers him a mount “worthy of a Courtelin”—Thunderbolt. Maurice is trying to refuse the offer gracefully when Princess Jeanette rides up and announces that she has also selected a horse for him—Solitude. He is saved. Happily he accepts her offer. Gilbert whispers grimly that the horse is called Solitude because it always come home alone.
A frantically bucking horse is brought out and saddled. But this is only Thunderbolt. Solitude is still kicking the sides out of the fortress that serves as his stall. Finally he is saddled. Jeanette’s eyes burn through Maurice. With a swallow, he squares his shoulders and mounts. Jeanette’s disdain turns to genuine fear, but it is too late. At top speed, Solitude is gone, Maurice clinging to his back.
To a rollicking melody, the stag, dogs, and horses leap, scramble, and gallop over the sunlit countryside. The dogs close in on the door of a rustic cottage. Jeanette thrusts them aside and enters. Maurice is feeding the stag a pan of oats. She upbraids him furiously for mocking the tradition of the hunt. “You need some lessons!”
And she needs lessons in being a woman, he tells her. She knows everything about etiquette and tradition, but nothing about style, charm…love. Her hair is too prim, her riding habit is not in the mode. He closes his eyes and smiles. He is thinking of her without these clothes. “Open your eyes at once!” she orders. In different clothes, he explains.
The hunt arrives, and Maurice urges them to go back, quickly and quietly because the stag is asleep. Laughing, they take off in slow motion. Maurice and Solitude have parted company, so he joins one of the aunties on her horse for the languorous gallop back o the château.
The Count has found no Courtelins in the genealogy volumes, not even among the better class illegitimates. The Duke turns on Gilbert, but Gilbert bluffs his way through. “I don’t think I better tell you. It wouldn’t be safe.” He implies that the Baron is royalty incognito. “He has the Hapsburg lip,” nods the little Count.
At a costume ball in the “Baron’s” honor, the guests waltz with dirgelike slowness. The Duke asks the Count to entertain, but he replies that he has been helpless since his accident: “I fell flat on my flute.”
The “Baron” appears, and the bored company comes to life. His costume is the most novel of all, a common Apache. (He is wearing the clothes he wore in the opening scene of the film.) “How unusual!” “How intriguing,” the ladies cry. The Princess is not impressed: “How common!” She detests the Apache and his attitude toward women. That is only because she doesn’t understand, says Maurice, and offers to explain, to the delight of the other ladies present.
I’d love to treat her pretty
And take her round the city,
But what’s a poor Apache to do?
With one deep sigh,
I must black her eye.
While other men are dancing
And tenderly romancing,
I’ve got to throw her body around.
The spot that no one dares touch,
The spot that only chairs touch,
Is frequently touching the ground.
He tells them of the life of the Apache as his shadow growing taller on the wall behind him:
I was found in a basket in front of a church
But my childhood was not very sainted.
I didn’t know my mother who didn’t know
My parents were not…well acquainted.
And of his career, his shadow now huge, dominating the room:
And when at last I’m led off
To where they’ll chop my head off,
I’ll tell the executioner this:
“Nuts to you.”
And then I’ll close my eyes of blue.
He bends forward, and, with a jerk, his cap falls from his head in heart-stopping imitation of the guillotine:
Sad but true,
That’s what a poor Apache must do.
(Copyright Famous Music Corp.)
The audience shudders, then shaking off the grimness of the moment, bursts into delighted applause. Valentine is in hot pursuit of the “Baron,” but he eludes her and follows the Princess into the garden. She has fled the crowded ballroom and runs along the leafy paths until she faints in a conveniently secluded bower. Maurice finds her, starts to revive her, then sinks down and kisses her. She awakes and slaps his face. He kisses her again. She slaps his face again. “How dare you! Why did you do that?”
“Because I love you,” he says simply. She flings herself into his arms and returns his kiss passionately. They love each other. He warns her that his hands are empty, but she tells him his arms need never be empty of her. But what, he asks, if he were not what she thinks him to be? “Whoever you are, whatever you are, wherever you are, I love you.”
“Then,” he says, “Whatever happens tomorrow, love me tonight.” The camera pans discreetly up to the brilliant moon, then dissolves to the sleeping Jeanette, now smiling on her satin pillow as her voice on the soundtrack sings “Love Me Tonight.” Maurice’s voice joins hers, and the screen divides to show him in his own bed, also smiling in his sleep. In his dream he confesses he is only a tailor. “A tailor!” she thrills. “Isn’t it romantic!” They both snuggle happily into their pillows.
The next morning, Jeanette has taken Maurice’s advice to heart. She sends for him to inspect her new riding habit. His admiration for its wearer is cut short when he notices that the collar rides up. Professionally he rips it off and begins taking the jacket apart. The dressmaker, Mme Dutoit (Ethel Wales), is scandalized and takes her leave. Never mind, Maurice tells the clinging Jeanette, he will make her a riding habit that will tame Solitude.
The dressmaker’s cries of outrage rouse the castle. “Mme Dutoit has been insulted,” wail the aunties, rushing down the hall like a trio of yipping Pekingese. “At her age? Remarkable!” says the Count. “Some men have no taste,” sneers Valentine. “The old girl must have something,” says Gilbert agreeably.
The Duke leads the assembling crowd to find out what has happened. They discover Maurice embracing the lingerie-clad Princess. Frantically she tries to hide behind the detached collar of the jacket. The Count is all for killing the “Baron,” who tries to explain that he was only fixing her riding habit. He’ll prove it. Give him two hours and he will remake the entire habit. Gilbert accepts the Count’s fifty-thousand-franc bet that Maurice will fail, and the Duke reluctantly agrees to the challenge. Illogically but necessarily, Jeanette and Maurice are left alone.
But rather than making love, Maurice begins measuring the astonished Princess. Two hours later the new riding costume is finished. “It’s perfect,” cries Jeanette joyfully. Then bewilderment sweeps over her face. How she asks was he able to do it? “Because…I am a tailor.”
She is dumbfounded, laughs hesitantly, then realizes he is telling the truth. He reminds her of her pledge in the garden, but she runs from the room in horror. The aunties rush in, and he repeats his confession. They go off amidst an ever-rising chorus of little yelping sounds. In a long overhead shot, we see Maurice slowly pull the tape measure from his neck and drop it to the floor.
“Help, yelp,” squeak the aunties, informing the Duke and the entire château that the “Baron” is actually a tailor. With a gigantic outpouring of scorn, they heap abuse on the impostor: “The Son of a Gun is Nothing but a Tailor.” In a delightful patter song, we learn that the servants are even more outraged than the Duke. They have been waiting on an equal! The chambermaid (Rita Owin) moans:
I used to flirt until it hurt
While he stood there in his undershirt.
And the laundress (Cecil Cunningham) rages over her washboard:
Down upon my hands and knees
Scrubbing out his B.V.D.s
Is a job that hardly pleases me.
If I’d ’a known, I woulda tore
The buttons off his panties, for
The son of a gun is nothing but a tailor.
(Copyright Famous Music Corp.)
Upstairs, Jeanette paces her room to the melody. “Nothing but a tailor!” she cries in anguish. Maurice is seen crossing the grand foyer with his suitcase. A whispered chant follows him: “Nothing But a Tailor.” In her room, Jeanette recalls her vow of love the night before. Superimposed over her tear-stained face, we see the distant figure of Maurice walking toward the railroad station. A train is heard over the music. He boards it, and the train pulls out as Jeanette hears her own voice singing “Love Me Tonight.” It is too much.
The double image vanishes. To a cacophony of train whistles, Jeanette runs downstairs and out to the stable. The roar of driving train wheels punctuates the cross cutting between Maurice on the train and the Princess on a galloping horse, Faster and faster, the music races as we cut from pounding hooves to driving pistons. Jeanette pulls abreast of Maurice’s window. “Stop the train! I’m going with you.” “No, I love you too much,” he shouts. She gallops ahead to the engine and repeats her order. “What’s the trouble?” calls the engineer.
“I love him!”
“That’s not a railroad problem,” he replies shaking his head.
With a mighty burst of speed, Jeanette turns her horse aside and cuts across the field, reaching the far curve of tracks a minute before the train. She leaps from her horse and stands on the tracks, hands on hips, head high, silhouetted against the sky as the music pounds majestically. The engineer frantically blows his whistle, but she will not move. The train screeches to a stop just in front of her.
Maurice runs down the gravel beside the train and takes her in his arms, lifting her to safety beside the engine. A great burst of steam engulfs them as they embrace.
Back in the castle, the three aunties have finished their embroidery. “Once upon a time there was a Princess and a Prince Charming…who was not a prince…but who was charming.” They shake out their tapestry to reveal a Prince on a white horse beckoning to a Princess high in the tower above, and we assume the two will live happily ever after.
Love Me Tonight was to be Miss MacDonald’s last film at Paramount. The most perfect of film musicals had required little of her. Indeed her part could have been played effectively by someone possessing the thespian skills of the average debutante. Her costumes were unbelievably dowdy, and she was frequently badly lit. Possibly these factors made her want to seek greener pastures elsewhere.
Rodgers and Hart remained at Paramount to write The Phantom President starring George M. Cohan and then did Hallelujah, I’m a Bum, an overlooked classic with Al Jolson, for United Artists. For MGM they wrote Nelson Eddy’s second screen song, “The Rhythm of the Day,” in Dancing Lady. Eleven years later. Rouben Mamoulian would stage Rodgers’ first post-Hart effort, Oklahoma!
In early 1933, a bombshell called 42nd Street burst over the box offices of the nation’s theatres. Warner Bros. had come up with a new musical formula and regained the musical ground they had lost since their early success with The Jazz Singer. Basically, the new formula was a perfection of the fast-paced backstage story plus ultra-stunning production numbers by Busby Berkeley. Their equally bright Gold Diggers of 1933 followed four months later.
A minor player in both films, Ginger Rogers, then went to RKO in the fall for another great musical, Flying Down to Rio. In it she partnered a prominent Broadway dancer, who had been badly underused in his previous film, MGM’s Dancing Lady. (Also nearly unnoticed in Dancing Lady was baritone Nelson Eddy.) Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were only supporting players in Flying Down to Rio. The romantic leads were played by Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond. Four years later, Jeanette would become Mrs. Raymond.
Jeanette’s departure from Paramount didn’t leave them musically destitute. Mae West made her first starring vehicle that year and young Bing Crosby was catching on. Late in 1933, Paramount produced a delightful descendant of the sung dialogue in Love Me Tonight, the classic Duck Soup with the Marx Brothers. It would be their last Paramount film also. Like Miss MacDonald they would go to MGM for their greatest success and eventual decline.
Most reviewers were disappointed that Lubitsch was not at the helm of Love Me Tonight. “A strange alliance,” said Mildred Martin of the Philadelphia Inquirer. She found Mamoulian “merely an unoriginal and uninspired substitute”!
Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times was a voice for the minority when he said that Mamoulian “gives to his scenes a charming poetic suggestion,” although Hall too felt that “he may not reveal Ernst Lubitsch’s satire and keen wit or René Clair’s clever irony.” It would take a number of years before Love Me Tonight (and Mamoulian’s earlier Applause) would get the reappraisal they deserved.
(See Discography for further information)
“Isn’t It Romantic” (MacDonald, also Nat Finston and the Paramount Orchestra, also Eddy with Gale Sherwood in 1964)
“Love Me Tonight,” (MacDonald)
“N’est-ce-pas poetique?” [Isn’t it Romantic] (MacDonald)
“Poor Apache,” (Chevalier)
“Je suis un méchant” [I’m a bad one – Poor Apache] (Chevalier)
“Veux tu m’aimer,” [Do you want to love me? – Love Me Tonight] (MacDonald)
All music is by Richard Rodgers and all lyrics by Lorenz Hart. In listing performers after each title, “and” denotes a genuine duet, while commas between names indicate a sequence of singers.
Overture: a lovely melody not used elsewhere in the film.
“Song of Paree” (Chevalier)
“How Are You?” (Chevalier, Marion Byron, “Gabby” Hayes, and others.)
“Isn’t It Romantic” * (Chevalier, Roach, Sedan, Brooke, male chorus, gypsy
“A Woman Needs Something Like That” (MacDonald and Cawthorn) **
“Mimi” reprise (Smith, Ruggles, Patterson, Griffies, Butterworth)***
“The Hunt” (orchestral)
“Poor Apache” (Chevalier)
“Love Me Tonight” (MacDonald, Chevalier)
“The Son of a Gun is Nothing But a Tailor” (Smith, Loy, Griffies, Patterson,
Frederici, Butterworth, Greig, Norton, Owin, Kalish, Cunningham, MacDonald)
“Love Me Tonight” reprise (Chevalier and MacDonald)
Finale: “Love Me Tonight”
*The melody of the verse for “Isn’t it Romantic?” is lifted verbatim from the verse to “Now I Believe” from the 1931 Rodgers & Hart stage musical America’s Sweetheart. The lyrics of another America’s Sweetheart song, “You Ain’t Got No Savoir Faire,” contain the rhyme “chairs touch” and “dares touch” which Hart used again in Love Me Tonight for “Poor Apache.”
Compare Mamoulian’s spread-the-song sequence to a similar one in the 1930 film, Congress Dances, directed by Erik Charell, in which Lilian Harvey sings from a moving carriage, her song taken up by each group she passes. Two years later, Mamoulian did Charell one better, having the song move on its own. (The dramatic ending of Mamoulian’s eve-of-Waterloo ball scene in Becky Sharp also seems to have been influenced by a similar scene in Congress Dances.)
**“The Man for Me” (MacDonald and Chevalier), cut from release prints, was positioned here. The song was a pleasant, rather syncopated melody in which Princess Jeanette attempts to write a letter to her friend Marie. Maurice interrupts repeatedly, dictating a glowing description of himself. It is probably fortunate the song was cut, for it eliminates the awe of the humble tailor for the Princess, a very necessary ingredient for the “fairy tale.”
***In the March 1973 issue of Film Fan Monthly, Myrna Loy is quoted in an interview with David Chierichetti as saying that she, too, sang a verse of “Mimi.” However, when the film was reissued in 1950, the scene was cut, apparently because her navel showed through a sheer nightgown.