MGM produced the Ruth Etting story as a Technicolor blockbuster titled Love Me or Leave Me, the title of a popular Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn torch song. The screenplay which won the Oscar for Best Motion Picture Story is by Caftan Woman favourite Isobel Lennert (Holiday Affair, The Sundowners, East Side, West Side) and Daniel Fuchs (Cross Cross, Storm Warning). Charles Vidor directed with his usual sure hand that guided such films as Gilda, Ladies in Retirement and Blind Alley.
Who to star? Adding another of his real-life portrayals to his resume (George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy and later Lon Chaney in Man of a Thousand Faces) and returning to the gangster role, but one quite different from his early psychos, was Oscar winner James Cagney. Cagney was thrilled to have such a strong role and to work with Vidor whom he described as "a nice version of Michael Curtiz". The leading lady? It would have to be someone special. Someone who audiences would root for. Someone who could carry off all of the great songs that Ruth sang. Of course, Doris Day! Away from her home studio of Warner Brothers, Day was given the role of a lifetime.
A scene in the movie that makes me chuckle about how little the world has changed is when Alderman, who is playing piano in a Snyder run club, is asked by The Gimp to work with Ruth on her singing. After listening to her Alderman assumes his boss will want to know if the girl can sing or not. Cagney/Snyder responds that it doesn't matter. You put a pretty girl up on stage and tell folks she's a singer - that makes her a singer. As the saying goes, no one ever went broke underestimating the public. In this case Ruth and her public were on the right track. The woman could sing and her popularity was well-deserved.
If all you were looking for in the biography of a singer as popular as Ruth Etting was great songs, this movie is filled with them, including You Made Me Love You, Ten Cents a Dance, Mean to Me, Shakin' the Blues Away, At Sundown, I Cried for You and more, plus an original song I'll Never Stop Loving You by Nicholas Brodszky and Sammy Cahn that was nominated for a Best Song Oscar. The winner was Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster's theme for Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.
James Cagney would receive his third and final Oscar nomination for the role of Snyder. The winner that year was Ernest Borgnine for Marty. Doris Day was overlooked at award time and would receive her only nomination a few years later for Pillow Talk. As a fan I am pleased that her comic abilities were acknowledged, but also as a fan I am surprised that her sterling dramatic turn as Ruth Etting was overlooked.