One of the gutsiest movie musicals of the 1950s, Love Me or Leave Me is the true story of 1930s torch-singer Ruth Etting, here played by Doris Day. While working in a dime-a-dance joint, Ruth is discovered by Chicago racketeer Martin The Gimp Snyder (fascinatingly played with nary a redeeming quality by James Cagney).
The smitten Snyder exerts pressure on his show-biz connections, and before long Ruth is a star of nightclubs, stage and films. Ruth continues to string Snyder along to get ahead, but she can't help falling in love with musician Johnny Alderman (Cameron Mitchell).
After sinking his fortune into a nightclub for Ruth's benefit, Snyder is rather understandably put out when he finds her in the arms of Alderman. Snyder shoots the musician (but not fatally) and is carted away to prison.
Upon his release, Snyder finds that Ruth is still in love with Alderman; he is mollified by her act of largesse in keeping her promise to perform in his nightclub at a fraction of her normal salary.
No one comes off particularly nobly in Love Me or Leave Me, even though the still-living Ruth Etting, Martin Snyder and Johnny Alderman were offered full script approval. The fact that we are seeing flesh-and-blood opportunists rather than the usual sugary-sweet MGM musical stick figures naturally makes for a more powerful film.
In his autobiography, James Cagney had nothing but praise for his co-star Doris Day, and bemoaned the fact that she would soon turn her back on dramatic roles to star in a series of fluffy domestic comedies.