One of the most overlooked directors in Hollywood history, Rouben Mamoulian played a key role in the early years of sound in American cinema. With his debut feature Applause (1929), Mamoulian’s insistence on a fluid camera would open up new possibilities in storytelling that he would put to great use in films like City Streets (1931) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931); for the follow up on the latter, the director would bring that fluid camerawork to Love Me Tonight, which would be the his main contribution to the Hollywood musical genre. Kino had already released the movie on DVD, but has revisited it for its Blu-ray debut.
The Production: 5/5
For carefree Parisian tailor Maurice Courtelin, no good deed goes unrewarded; that’s something he finds out when he helps out the Vicomte Gilbert de Vareze (Charlie Ruggles) with a suit that’s paid on credit. When the Vicomte doesn’t come through with the payment, Maurice leaves Paris for the Vicomte’s family chateau to collect the overdue money. However, Maurice comes across something else: the widowed Princess Jeanette, who is put off by Maurice’s bold charms – at first. While he manages to charm her family, can Maurice be able to succeed in wooing her while playing along with the deception that’s he a prince without revealing the truth?
Love Me Tonight is more than just a movie that broke new ground in the musical genre, it’s one of the greatest movie musicals of all time. While most movie musical of the early 1930’s were mostly stage bound revues with mostly static camerawork, the film gets creative with the camera (courtesy of cinematographer Victor Milner) in some sequences allowing for fresh spontaneity; look at the beginning of the acclaimed “Isn’t It Romantic?” sequence where the camera uses an improvised triptych involving a mirror and then moves to each reflection of Maurice delivering a stanza of the song. Also, Rouben Mamoulian’s staging of the sprightly and witty Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart score allows for character development in a flawless way; again, “Isn’t It Romantic?” provides us our first link between Maurice and Jeanette through the song being passed on from minor characters – even a platoon of soldiers! – to create a connection while the use of the now standard “Lover” for comedic effect is another tribute to the talent of this woefully underrated director. If there’s only one real quibble here – other than the fact that the original pre-Code version of the movie is sadly no longer available (barring of course the trimmed material or an uncut print of the film turning up somewhere in the future) – is that the movie ends too soon. However, with the ebullient score and inimitable charm of its two leads, Love Me Tonight helped to pave the way for movie musical to be more expressive in visual terms while standing on its own as one of the greatest the genre has ever turned out.
While Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald are the main draws here, the film is also helped by a strong supporting cast. Charlie Ruggles has one of his best character roles as the Vicomte; he would be better known for his appearance as a big game hunter in the Howard Hawks classic Bringing Up Baby (1938). Another notable comic character actor, Charles Butterworth would also have one of his best roles as the ineffective suitor of Princess Jeanette; one of his more notable roles came later as the bugle playing private Eddie Dibble in Irving Berlin’s This is the Army (1943). Myrna Loy – at the height of her vamp powers here – makes for a bewitching Valentine while the venerable C. Aubrey Smith is notable as the crusty Duc d’Artelines. Rounding out the cast here are Elizabeth Patterson, Ethel Griffies and Blanche Friderici as the three aunts, Joseph Cawthorn as the doctor who sings “A Woman Needs Something Like That”, Robert Greig (later a member of Preston Sturges’ unofficial stock company of actors in his movies) as the majordomo, Bert Roach as a customer of Maurice’s and an uncredited appearance by veteran western sidekick George “Gabby” Hayes as the grocer during the “That’s the Song of Paree” opening number.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 1:37:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new 4K master of the 89 minute re-release print. Film grain is organic, with fine details and grayscale both given a faithful representation; there’s minimal cases of dirt, dust, tears or scratches present. Overall, this is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video and an improvement over the previous Kino DVD.
The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue is both strong and clear, with the original sound mix and the effervescent Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart score both given faithful representations. There’s very little in terms of distortion, hissing or crackling present here which means that this track is a major improvement over the previous Kino DVD and likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video.
Special Features: 4/5
Commentary by film historian Miles Kreuger – Carried over from the Kino DVD, Kreuger delves into great detail about the movie’s production from Mamoulian’s personal notes and recollections.
Excerpts from Hollywood on Parade newsreels – Two separate newsreel excerpts showcase Maurice Chevalier (2:06) and Jeanette MacDonald (2:18) and the their singing talents, the latter singing the movie’s title song while former croons “Louise”.
Deleted Scenes – 36 stills of screenplay excerpts detail what was cut out from the movie on subsequent re-releases.
Production Document Stills – 25 stills show some of the casting calls, budgets, and schedules from the movie’s production.
Censorship Record Stills – 21 stills detail some of the cuts requested by the censorship boards of US states like Pennsylvania and Ohio as well as the Canadian province of Ontario during initial release.
Theatrical Trailer (1:46)
Bonus KLSC Trailer – The Song of Songs
Love Me Tonight is one of the greatest musicals to ever come out of Hollywood and a feather in the cap of its director, Rouben Mamoulian. Kino has done justice to the movie with a great HD transfer and carrying over the special features from the previous DVD release. Very highly recommended and worth upgrading from said DVD.
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