Time once again for the monthly Pre-Code Crazy pick from me and my blog friend Karen of Shadows & Satin, when we each choose one gem from this era that’s showing on TCM.
This month I picked one I’ve never seen before and what a charming and madcap romance it was; a perfect treat and funny fairy tale for the Holiday season and one of my favourite finds of the year. Love Me Tonight is a sort of gender-switched and class-conscious Cinderella tale, with delightful, memorable music by Rodgers and Hart (including the well-known “Isn’t It Romantic?”), plus fabulous cast and direction by Rouben Mamoulian.
Maurice Chevalier plays jolly, unsinkable Paris tailor Maurice Courtelin, whose customer, wealthy playboy Viscount Gilbert (Charlie Ruggles) racks up a huge unpaid bill. This type of behaviour by the royalty comes as no surprise to Maurice’s tradesman and merchant pals, but he won’t stand for it and goes to demand payment. Maurice travels to the Viscount’s sprawling estate, and while there he meets the stuffy Duke (C. Aubrey Smith), Gilbert’s man-eating cousin, Countess Valentine (Myrna Loy), and the love-starved widow Princess Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald). Maurice has already run into Jeanette on the road to the estate, when his car broke down (along with her uptight air, after he started flirting with her). In order to mingle with the nobility long enough to get paid, Maurice is presented as a Baron, and that title along with his magnetic personality, wins him the respect of the snotty aristocrats and eventually, Jeanette’s affections. Come the stroke of midnight, Maurice’s carriage turns into a pumpkin when the truth comes out, at which point we discover whether true love can really triumph between such social opposites.
Everything about this movie is so playful, witty and sophisticated. The way the city wakes up in the morning, its sounds escalating from the odd hammer ping to a joyful cacophony of workers happily toiling away. The lovely melody of “Isn’t it Romantic?” moving virally from Maurice to cabbie to soldiers to gypsies to Jeannette, with each performance revealing its performer’s culture, concerns and personality. The nerdy persistence of Jeannette’s suitor Count de Savignac (Charles Butterworth), whose gift for research uncovers Maurice’s non-existent connection to nobility. The sly (and not even that naughty) gags about falling flat on your flute or needing exercise, the slapstick provided from a wild ride on a hellhorse with the deceptively sweet name of Solitude (because it always comes back without its riders) and sight gags like the crushed straw hat that momentarily threatens to put a damper on Maurice’s unique charisma (lesson: always bring a backup).
The trio of embroidering aunts repeat each others’ observations like a perpetually flustered Greek chorus, and songs are passed around, as with “Mimi,” to reveal the characters’ thoughts (Smith getting out of bed to croon is fun), or as with “The Poor Apahce” used to bring the hardscrabble punk realities of the streets and lower classes into the palace during a ritzy ball. After Jeanette’s apparent rejection of the Son of a Gun who ain’t “Nothing but a Tailor,” she pursues him, chases down his train and stands astride the tracks to force it to stop (!) so she can reunite with her Cinderella man. Such a playful, rewarding movie with which to end another wonderful year of rewatching pre-Code faves and discovering new ones!
Watch it on TCM this Friday Dec. 9th, and now please click here to see which film Karen has picked for your viewing pleasure.