Monday, October 6, 2008

Grey Market Cinema: She Loves Me Not (1934)

Cabaret dancer Curly Flagg (Miriam Hopkins) witnesses a gangland murder and takes it on the lam; her limited financial resources, however, can only take her as far as Princeton University, where she crashes the dorm room of senior Paul Lawton (Bing Crosby). With the help of his pal Buzz Jones (Edward Nugent), the two men disguise Curly as a male and attempt to keep her under wraps (flirting with expulsion, as Princeton had yet to go co-ed at this time) until they can find her a safe haven. Buzz’s father (George Barbier), a bigwig at a motion picture studio, sends his ace PR man Gus McNeal (Lynne Overman) to the college to get Curly’s story while Paul falls in love with Midge Mercer (Kitty Carlisle), the daughter of the Dean at Princeton (Henry Stephenson). The mug sent out to silence Curly (appropriately named “Mugg,” and played by professional movie goon Warren Hymer) is rounded up by the constabulary, but Paul and Buzz have been ordered out by Dean Mercer for violating the rules. As a large group of students and supporters rally to the two students’ defense, they are reinstated and Paul and Midge live happy ever after.

Well, it sounds like a blueprint for the classic screwball farce Some Like It Hot (1959)—and it pretty much is, only from the distaff side—but She Loves Me Not is also a breezy, entertaining trifle that’s most enjoyable providing you don’t think about it too much. (I haven’t been able to decide what’s more unbelievable: somebody Der Bingle’s age still in college or Hopkins getting away with her male masquerade.) It’s pretty typical of the Paramount musical comedies made by Crosby during the 1930s (College Humor, We’re Not Dressing): a paper-thin plot that’s mainly used as a peg to hang charming musical numbers on. Among the songs in Loves Me Not: I’m Humming, I’m Whistling, I’m Singing, Straight From the Shoulder, Right From the Heart and the best-known of the bunch, the Oscar-nominated Love in Bloom. (Both Bloom and Straight from the Shoulder are duets by Crosby and Carlisle). This tune would later become the theme song for a famous radio comedian, described once by his nemesis Fred Allen as “an itinerant hawker of gelatin desserts.”

Every now and then a question will come up on a bulletin board or blog asking if you prefer Crosby or Frank Sinatra…and I generally go with Crosby, because I’ve always been in awe of his talent. The trick to Crosby’s style is that he always made it seem so effortless, which is why it’s interesting to note his performance in this movie as a slight departure from his usual screen persona (he looks as if he’s trying a bit too hard, not quite having found his niche). The Old Groaner and Kitty do make a pretty convincing couple, though I will say I was a bit surprised that he didn’t end up with Hopkins since most of these film plots seem to work like that.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Savannah’s native daughter Miriam Hopkins (bet ya didn’t know she hailed from the State of Chatham, huh?) but it’s not because I don’t think she’s talented (I think her performances in The Heiress [1949] and especially The Mating Season [1951] are first-rate) so much as her reputation for being a bit of a pill behind the scenes (there’s a well-known anecdote about her working on Barbary Coast [1935] and being accidentally “decked” by co-star Edward G. Robinson in a fight scene…the results of which had the crew bursting out in spontaneous applause). But Miriam is very good here; bubbly, ebullient and clearly having the time of her life in a fun role. I particularly enjoyed her chemistry with Lynne Overman, one of my favorite character actors.

The plot of Loves Me Not was successfully recycled for two subsequent films: one released by Paramount in 1942, True to the Army (with Judy Canova in the Hopkins role…only as a circus tightrope artist), and the better-known remake from 20th Century-Fox, How to Be Very, Very Popular (1955) which was to star Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell (after the success of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) but the studio had to settle for Betty Grable (in her final feature film) and Sheree North. I’ve seen Popular (though it was many, many years ago and I don’t remember being particularly impressed with it) but I’m curious to check out Army; Canova’s a guilty pleasure of mine, and just glancing at the cast—Allan Jones, Ann Miller, Jerry Colonna, Clarence Kolb and William Demarest—has piqued my interest.

I purchased my copy of Loves Me Not from one of my favorite online dealers, Vintage Film, which specializes in a lot of 1930s pre-Code rarities and divertissements. The quality of the film is good, though it has a few rough spots at the beginning—but overall it’s a most worthwhile inductee to any classic film fan’s DVD collection.


Anonymous said...

I believe that "She Loves Me Not" was considered "lost" until a print was discovered in Crosby's own collection back in the 1960s. Of all the major studios, Paramount was perhaps the worst at maintaining prints and negatives of its earlier releases, so many of the lesser titles (read "not so likely to be re-released for a second 'round of cash at the box office") seem to have survived more by accident than by design.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Thanks for the additional information! I'm assuming that in choosing to remain anonymous it must have been of a highly sensitive nature...

Anonymous said...

No, it's just that I seem to have forgotten my user name and password... :0)