Love Me Tonight (1932) has been described as Rouben Mamoulian's first flawless masterpiece. This musical is based on a play by Leopold Marchand and Paul Armont. The screenplay was written by Samuel Hoffenstein and the lyrics by Rodgers and Hart. The nine songs are integrally linked with a brilliantly witty script that is cast in the conventions of Thirties musical comedy, and sends them up at the same time. The Princess, for example, is wasting away from an unknown malady. But the doctor who examines her offers an unmistakable diagnosis: 'You're not wasting away,' he says, 'you're just wasted.'
The film opens with the 'symphony of noises' from Mamoulian's 1927 stage production of Pori>y and Bess: an orchestration of street noises as Paris comes alive at the start of a new day. The music gathers in the sounds of a street gang repairing the road, snores from a sleeing Negro, a woman sweeping steps, a knife sharpener, a shoemaker and a woman beating rugs. The rhythm changes from 4:4 to 2:4 to 6:8 and includes syncopated and Charleston rhythms.
Mamoulian is attempting a subtle and complete relation between music and drama, as he explained. "I was already seeking a truly dramatic theatre. A theatre that would combine all the elements of movement, dancing, acting, music, singing, decor, lighting, colour and so on.'
This sequence in the film shades into the 'Isn't it Romantic' number which grows out of a conversation between the tailor (Maurice Chevalier) and his customer Emile (Bert Roach) for whom he has just made a wedding suit. Emile walks off in his new clothes, and the musical theme is interwoven through his trip to the station, and then on board the train. It is taken up bv soldiers home on leave. and a passing gvnsy violinist. This shot leads into the gypsy camp and a vast. Gothic castle nearby where Princess Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald) is singing a sweet soprano version of the song on the moonlit balcony. She is rudely interrupted by the Count de Savignac (Charles Butterworth) who's brought his flute along to enliven the evening.
This grand musical sweep has linked tne tailor and languishing princess, and we are now prepared for their inevitable meeting. From the balcony, a swift cut take.; us to a rooftop eyrie in the castle where three old ladies, huddled round a cauldron, are invoking spells for the health of Princess Jeanette. From here to the ground floor where the Duke (Sir C. Aubrey Smith) is directing his underlings. He dismisses the hopes of his sulky niece (Myrna Loy) who complains "Can't we ever get a footman under forty in this place?' and reproves his nephew the Vicomte de Vareze (Charlie Ruggles) who happens to owe Maurice a considerable sum for tailoring.
Mamoulian cuts back to the three old aunts who are conjuring a knight on a white charger, and then to Paris, and an unlikely fairy god-mother in the Credit Manager of the Association of Retail Merchants. He appoints Maurice to collect monies owing to the Association from the Vicomte. Maurice then meets, enchants and maries his Princess, despite some when the Duke he is only a tailor.
'Rodgers and Hart, of course, provide a wonderful springboard with their brilliant music and lyrics, but the wit and flourish of Love Me Tonight are uniquely Mamoulian's own. Even the impeccable cast are handled like instruments in an orchestra, so that the chirruping aunts, gruff Sir Aubrey Smith, manhunting Myrna Loy, Robert Greig's sonorous butler, and the twin gloom and irrepressibility of Charles Butterworth and Charlie Ruggles, are woven like recurring motifs into the texture, whose main purpose is a merciless send-up of the immaculately conceived heroine of convention.'
Tom Milne, Mamoulian
'The most endearing and enduring of Thirties musicals about a Parisian tailor who is mistaken for Prince. The Mamoulian touch proves even defter than Lubitsch's; and the film dazzles with visual and aural jokes.'David Robinson, National Film Theatre