Love Me Tonight – Rouben Mamoulian
The sequence is a masterpiece of writing, acting, musical and lyric composition, editing, and sound recording. In an imaginative and totally cinematic manner, all the major characters are introduced and their relationships with one another are established; and all is accomplished with wit, grace, and movement.
Aside from the charm and audacity of the direction, Love Me Tonight boasts a landmark score by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Although they had earlier written a score fora musical called The Hot Heiress, Rodgers considers this his finest film score—and with good reason. In addition to “The Song of paree” and “Isn’t It Romantic?,” the score includes the waltz “Lover” and a classic recitative of subtle eroticism in which a doctor says to the ailing Princess: “You’re not wasting away, you’re just wasted.” At the Ball, Maurice sings “I’m an Apache” and the title love song “Love Me Tonight.” As he is unmasked, the entire household sings the patter song, “The Son-of-a-Gun Is Nothing But a Tailor!”
More than any other film score, the music in Love Me Tonight acts to propel the plot along; it predates, in this regard, Rodgers’ score for Oklahoma! The script is very witty, particularly in dealing with Myrna Loy as the sex-starved Countess. In one memorable scene when the Princess has fainted, the Viscount says to the Countess, “Can you go for a doctor?” Straightening her hair, she responds, “Certainly, bring him right in.” Love Me Tonight is so full of good humor that it is the only known film in which C. Aubrey Smith, the very symbol of the British Empire, actually sings a song. In fact, he is so flabbergasted by his own rendition of “Isn’t It Romantic?” that he puts his arm in the wrong sleeve of his robe. The gaffe was left in the film.
The supporting cast is first-rate, including Myrna Loy, Charles Ruggles, Charles Butterworth, Elizabeth Patterson, and Ethel Griffies. The physical production is stunning, re-creating Paris streets, bucolic chateaus, and the French countryside on the Paramount backlot. In viewing the film closely, one can observe three zoom shots which are puzzling when one thinks of the zoom lens as an invention of the 1950’s. Mamoulian was once asked about this. Frank Capra was standing alongside him at the time, and when asked why, if the zoom was available in 1932, it was not used extensively until thirty years later, Capra said, “We had taste then.”