Sunday, December 5, 2010

Day and Cagney an Odd Pairing, But Yet Work Well

Doris Day has her signature song "Que Sera Sera". Cagney is known as a character actor who was typically cast in gangster roles. This film from 1955 "Love Me, or Leave Me" has a little bit of everything; music (courtesy of Day) comedy, drama and suspense. But it all works together, as all actors portray their respective roles well.

This film is a fictionalized story of 1920's jazz singer Ruth Etting. Etting begins her career as just another girl in the chorus. She has aspirations to be something more. A chance meeting with manager Martin Snyder, played by Cagney, soon changes both of their lives, but not in a favorable way. True to form, Cagney plays Snyder, a brilliant business man, albeit one with gangster tendencies and a hot temper. Snyder's obsession with his new protege culminates in a tempestuous marriage, one that he makes Etting believe she owes him, since, without him, she would still be just another chorus girl. When Etting falls for her show's piano man, Johnny, played by Cameron Mitchell, a story of a light-hearted vaudeville show with a suspenseful undertone becomes just the opposite. We eventually see Snyder's true colors shine, and Cagney's most famous persona, that of a cold hearted gangster, comes to light.

Cagney's performance is certainly worthy of his Academy Award nomination he garnered for his performance as Martin Snyder. As any other role I've seen him in, especially one in which he plays this type of character, his role as Snyder gave me chills. Not only do we see that Snyder is a man who is used to getting his way (strangely enough, so was Cagney) but we see an underlying vulnerability. Cagney played his numerous gangster roles with equal parts ruthlessness and humanity. While Snyder is ruthless, stopping at no lengths to keep his wife from leaving him, he also shows sorrow and regret for his actions. Doris Day was a seasoned actress when she made this film, with several successful films to her credit. She was certainly able to hold her own with Cagney. However, while Etting's story is certainly dramatic, I felt that Day's portrayal was slightly over dramatized. There's much to be said for subtlety. Many of Cagney's female co-stars did very well opposite him, and were able to play their roles dramatically, yet subdued. Most notably was Margaret Wycherly's role as Cagney's "Cody" Jarrett's mother,'Ma' Jarrett in "White Heat". Ma was just as ruthless as her son, and her calm demeanor made the role all the more chilling. While Day certainly went on to become famous in her own right for her music and films, I believe this role could have been played down and still been just as effective. Despite this, she performs well and is able to hold her own against Cagney's larger than life, egotistical Marty Snyder, which was undoubtedly not easy.

While this film was certainly over dramatic at times, it's certainly worthy of the praise it received, having won the Academy Award the following year for best screenplay. Cagney and Day performed well opposite each other, and the supporting actors played their roles with equal aplomb. There's is certainly something for everyone in this film. I definitely recommend it.

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